Chapter 5 - The Calm Before The Slaughter
I have to wonder what those creatures were, what the last of the weapons represented, and where I was. I wait for Mochta to regain his composure in the bathroom mirror across the hall. Shortly after, he places a laptop before my crisscrossed ankles on the sheen of silver sheets.
“Can I ask what you wanna use it for?”
“I saw things that I don’t understand.” My fingertips eagerly reach for the smooth pastel keys adorning the device like childish jewelry. Mochta takes a bashful seat next to me, propping up a pair of pale, ruffled pillows against a padded backboard. “Like what..?”
“I was standing on a huge slab of stone in the middle of magma and a ring of fire... All I could see when I looked up was darkness and there were these.. people that turned into monsters with giant mouths and like 3 rows of teeth.” I begin to type away in a frantic search for unworldly answers within the first internet browser I lay my eyes on.
“It sounds like hell.”
“Yeah... I suppose.”
“I mean literally, it has to be, right?”
I delay my pursuit and turn to stare into Mochta’s crystal, sky-blue irises. “No. I- I don’t think so. Death--Mors is.. dark but... he’s not Satan. There’s something I’m missing, there has to be.”
“So... have you passed out like that before?” Mochta’s expression turns to a pout, I assume out of concern.
“A couple times. Right after I got stabbed, then, when I fell asleep in the hospital. The second time was weird. When I woke up, nurses were surrounding me in panic because they thought my heart stopped.”
“Shina...” Mochta hangs his head. “I tried not to think about it, but.. when I was holding your arm earlier, I couldn’t feel a pulse.”
“That actually.. makes sense.” Even the thought of facing inevitable demise induces fear. I’ve been taking it all lightly this far, as if I’ve cheated Death... It’s probably best if I slow down. I clutch my sternum and close my eyes. Nervous pants gradually evolve into deep breaths. One... Two... Three... Four...
What’s that? My chin pivots a mystified squint over my shoulder to catch Mochta stroking the rich and pure array of feathers that coat my wings. “...What are you doing?”
“Oh,” He retracts his palms hastily. “Sorry.”
I wander in a realm of contorted speculation until another interruption occurs.
“I think you deserve to take a break.” A comment from Mochta sedates my pace while I disburden a heavy sigh off my ego. “You’re probably right.” I stretch my forearms above my head and let my fingers hit the wall behind me, my spine carelessly smacking into the backboard.
“Why are you so hard on yourself? You act like a workhorse, but forget you’re also the rider.”
“I don’t know. I guess... What comes naturally to me is asking myself a thousand questions a day, what comes naturally to others is riding a bike.”
Mochta scratches his temple and groans slightly with a thought bubble floating in the vicinity of his tilted cranium. “Are you just.. trying to tell me you don’t know how to ride a bike in a way that makes you sound really smart?”
I peer at him with my arms folded in skepticism. Who does he think he is? “Shut up.”
Mochta’s eyes light up as he starts to laugh. “Seriously? How do you not know how to ride a bike?”
A wisp of air from my lips dissipates with a mild scoff. “So... What am I supposed to do during this ‘break’?”
“It’s sad that you have to ask me that.”
I wonder how many more times he’s going to annoy me while I’m here--however long I’m here... How is all this going to play out? I find myself looking upwards in desperation at the ceiling.
“I wish we could still go clothes shopping.” Mochta leans on my shoulder. Why is he so touchy? I would always look at the girls in my school who would hold each other’s hands and sit in each other’s laps and wonder what was wrong with them. They obviously didn’t like each other that way, always talking about boys... Then again, I feel like a hypocrite considering my actions lately. My chin tips down and turns to him, close enough to notice the starchy scent of whatever product he puts in his hair. I watch his eyelashes gently flutter while he yawns, coinciding with the hovering palm of his hand. His skin looks like porcelain; I expect it to be cold to the touch like a doll’s. Does he wear makeup...?
God, I have so many questions. Now might be the perfect time to ask them. “You... smell like toothpaste.” What is wrong with me? It’s unforgivingly odd how my brain wants me to say one thing, but I end up vocalizing something completely different.
“Huh?” Mochta lifts his head up to solve my puzzled expression. “...I like mint.”
A loud knock on the front door resonates through the hall and makes its way up my backbone. Mochta jumps up and frantically stumbles out of the room, then pokes his head in, grabbing one side of the doorway. “H-Hide in the closet or something!” I nod with a face like a deer in the light of impending slaughter and heed his instruction. Dashing into the overstuffed closet, I’m soon surrounded by a dusty air tainted with the stench of perfume. I leave one of the doors cracked open; I can’t stand being completely in the dark.
“Auntie May!” Mochta’s voice is a faint ring I can barely hear over my own disquieted breaths. Then a much louder, chipper voice chimes in like a dozen songbirds in unison. “Hi, sweetie! Sorry I missed your birthday. There was a Clydesdale in critical condition, I had to operate all night!”
“Wow.. aren’t those horses gigantic? How did you manage that?”
“Pretty well actually, I would have been more afraid to operate on a goldfish. But enough about me... Here!” I pick up a subtle thump against what I conclude to be the kitchen counter. “I got you an ice cream cake, and a gallon-sized daiquiri!”
Mochta croaks nervously, “A-Are you sure I need a gallon?”
“It’s for your 21st birthday, of course you need a gallon! But, maybe it would be better if you had someone to share it with...?”
“May..” Mochta sighs, “Stop with the whole matchmaker thing, will you? I don’t believe in finding someone to ‘settle down with’.”
“I know, coffee bean, but I just want you to be happy. You’re going to get hurt if you keep playing around with your feelings.”
“I love you, Auntie May, but you still treat me like a kid...”
“Maybe if you learn to respect yourself more, I’ll treat you like an adult, but you’ll always be my baby.”
There’s a soft shuffling noise and long pause. “Well.. I’ll put this stuff in the fridge. Thank you, May.”
“You’re welcome, I have to use your bathroom, then I’ll be out of your hair!” The volume of her footsteps quickly escalates along with my heart rate. I have a feeling I can’t be relieved just yet.
After a toilet flush and a nearly silent door-hinge creak, I hear continued footsteps, drawn out as if the person to whom they belonged were trying to be sneaky. A soft grate of springs beneath the mattress peaks my curiosity. I step aside minutely to peer through the crack between Mochta’s closet doors. That must be Auntie May. She has naturally wavy, dirty blonde hair, a lot like Mochta's, and she's an adorably plump woman. Is she looking at those photos on the wall I noticed last night?
I bring my hand up to the bridge of my nose in response to an itch, and the clothes hangers beside me clatter against each other. Shit. I hold my breath as I watch Mochta’s Aunt turn a stare right towards me. She’s getting up now. Please don’t walk over here, please please please please don’t. I stay still and obedient like an oak tree’s trunk in the midst of a hurricane. There’s nothing I can do. I can see the rise of her chest through the small oblong window I have while she takes in a deep breath. Upon swinging open the closet doors, I choke on my anticipation and freeze. With a shout, she hops a foot backwards, “Goodness!”
Honestly, I was expecting worse. Yet, I still pant from fear and the dread of knowing she’s seen me in this mutated body. But, she just swivels herself around and calls for her nephew. That’s it? It’s not long before Mochta comes running in, he must have heard her initial reaction. “Oh, uhm... You-- uh... This.. this is...” Mochta’s clearly stumped.
“Coffee bean,” May’s eyes keep darting between the two of us as she gingerly raises her arms, one hand for Mochta’s shoulder, and one finger for pointing at me. “Why are you hiding a girl in your closet?” Her voice quiets tremendously, “I thought you were gay.”
“Oh.. so you.. you don’t see the...” Mochta slowly looks to me in astonishment. All eyes are on me now, and I don’t feel good about it.
“What? Ohh, are you trans?” May’s eyes light up with the spirit of inquiry as she gives me her full attention.
“No! N-No, May.. she’s just a friend. I just... I figured you would ask a million questions so I told her to hide so you wouldn’t scare her.”
“Mochta!” His Aunt suddenly smacks him upside the head with her palm. I can’t resist stifling a laugh as my hand presses against my lips. Auntie May persists, “You shouldn’t hide beautiful women!”
“You don’t have to be so hard on him... It was mostly my fault. I’m uh.. really shy.” I finally decide to speak up and end their bickering. “Well, there’s nothing to worry about now!” Auntie May shines a bright smile into my gloomy aura, and reaches her welcoming hand out for me to grasp. “Can you tell me your name?” Meanwhile, a glimpse of Mochta looms over May’s shoulder with a pitiful expression as if he’s trying to apologize for his Aunt’s gaudy behavior. I submit my focus to May and pleasantly answer her, “Shina.”
“What a lovely name! Where are--” I can already tell Auntie May is the type to eagerly get to know everything about everyone, but a persistent, pitchy beeping sound interrupts her interrogation. Her hand slaps against her front pocket where her phone must be. “Oh! I have to get back to work, you two probably want me to leave you alone anyways!” She spins quicker than a fluorescent strobe and captures Mochta in a tight embrace. “May..--” Mochta stutters as his Aunt lets go just as fast and heads hastily for the door, “G’Bye!” She shouts. With the echo of a slamming door, Mochta is just as speechless as I am startled. “That was.. sudden.” I express my observation.
“She’s a bit much, and... hard to adjust to. But, she basically raised me when she didn’t have to, and I love her. She’s like my mom, I guess.”
“She seems pretty motherly to me, and now I see where you get your personality from.” I utter with a smirk.
Mochta laughs, somewhat nervously. “I’m not as bad as she is.” The smile he gives me after this phrase could convince me of anything. “Right. Well, anyway... Now we know no one else can tell you’re an angel!”
“Oh,” My eyes grow in shock as I recall May’s retort when she came upon me. “Yeah, it was like she just saw the old me; maybe my wings and everything else are invisible to other people... But, then...”
Mochta cocks his head to the side restlessly.
“Why can you see them?”
“I don’t know.” Mochta shrugs with a fine sigh, “Does it really matter?”
“I hope not...” I put my curled fist to my chin, buckling it in with the tip of my thumb as I veer my eyes sideways.
“Then, you know what this means?!” Mochta rushes into me and thieves my hands away to bind with his own. I lean my face back a little while I stare at him with even wider eyes full of bewilderment. What is wrong with this man?
“Wh-what?” I timidly counter.
“We can go shopping!”
“Y’know.. I actually don’t really like--” Before I can finish my complaint, Mochta is already rummaging through his closet like a sprightly chipmunk in a mound of fall leaves. “There’s gotta be an open back tee in here somewhere...” Mochta’s chin is a gentleman’s cap as it tips down to greet his shoulder while he glances back at me. “Shoot, you have a tail too.. how is that gonna work?” He gazes again into the closet for guidance. “...How have you been using the bathroom?”
“I.. haven’t yet but... Th-that’s none of your business!” Jeez. Is he gonna try to embarrass me like this all the time?
“Sorry~” Mochta suppresses a laugh and replaces it with a drawn-out, singsong apology.
Mochta emerges from the closet with an orange shirt and a pair of blue, cotton shorts in hand. “I have an idea...” He mumbles. On the other side of his room, a small area with a glossy table painted pearl white, a petit cloth and a sewing machine on top starts to come into view. Spools of thread in a rainbow assortment along with a tomato-shaped pincushion full of needles sit impatiently in a firm, wicker nest. Mochta makes his way over to his miniature crafting station and reaches for a long, measuring ribbon bearing the color of limes. He’s heading back to me, promptly. “I’m gonna have to measure around your tail.”
“O-Okay.” Hopefully this isn’t too awkward. Mochta looks at me somewhat sternly and points his finger with a downward, circular motion, directing me to turn around. I sigh beneath an exhale as my neck aches for me to look over my shoulder. He crouches down and seems to measure the distances he’s searching for in a V-shape perimeter. My nerves take to the minuscule brush of his knuckles and fingertips each time he sets down the tape measure. “I’m.. not sure I could stand wearing something like this... i-in public.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you something to cover up with, like a loose cardigan. That shouldn’t be too bad in this weather. It could slip past your shoulders and I could give you something kind of sheer... It would be flow-y, so if your tail moves it won’t be suspicious.” Mochta rises to his feet and I rotate to meet his eyes with a gentle smile, which I’m oblivious to at first. He smiles back reassuringly before he gets to work.
These past couple days have been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I feel like I’ve changed as a person, or I’ve started to change. I can’t tell yet if that’s good or bad. I’m worried but I’m also.. happy. “Mochta...” Sitting on the edge of his mattress, waiting patiently, I speak up.
“Hmm?” He replies belatedly, immersed in his task.
“Thank you... So much, for everything.”
“Hmph.” Mochta lets out a foxy little chuckle before pausing his craft and turning in his chair to look at me. “You really are adorable.”
My lips part and I have no words, but even though I’m flattered... I’m not sure he would think the same.. if he saw the things I did in Hell. “Thank you.” I mutter to the floor with a tinge of rose in my cheeks. “Wait--!” I almost forgot. I feel horrible already. “Yesterday, was that your birthday?”
With his back facing me once more, he tries to hide a disappointed exhale. “Yeah. I try my best not to make a fuss about it...”
“Why? I think you more than deserve at least a day where everyone dotes on you.” Speaking from the heart seems to be a habit similar to sickeningly sweet icing.
“Um..” Watching him carefully, I notice him gradually tilt his head upwards. “It’s just a... thing I have, y’know? Nothing to worry over.” He dives back into his stitching.
“Oh, okay.” I look down at the soft, coral-toned rug on the floor in front of the bed. It’s just beneath my bare feet, and too fuzzy and tempting to resist. Of course, I get the feeling Mochta’s holding stuff back, but that’s none of my business. I can tell whatever it is, it’s the kind of thing that you can only reveal on your own time.
“Really? That was fast.” I chirp curiously and glance over to investigate. He rises from his chair, reaching out with pride and a pair of uniquely tailored shorts in hand. They look... slutty. Yeah, yeah, I know they have to be that way to fit properly but.. alright, damn--Just say “Thank you,” Shina.
“You’re welcome!” Mochta’s joy sheens off of his glowing exterior.
☘︎︎ ☘︎︎ ☘︎
Without any say, I’ve been dragged into a mall lined with preppy young adults, children, and over-priced shops. I’m doing my best to keep my wings closed in and my tail dragging strictly behind me. I’m sure there would be a price to pay if I happened to hit someone or knock something over with my invisible limbs.
“Hey,” Mochta pokes at my attention, “Why do you look so gloomy?”
“I don’t know... That’s just my resting face I guess.”
“Come on.. I’m buying you new clothes, the least you can do is give me a smile!” When Mochta smiles it looks so easy, like he’s meant to be happy. I try, but I’m sure it appears to be very forced. Now, he gazes at me with even more concern, and possibly disgust. I sigh loudly, “I appreciate it, but.. I didn’t ask you to do this. Why can’t I just wear your clothes? You have plenty.”
“Because I think it’s important for everyone to find their own style, it makes you more confident--”
“What if my style is wearing your clothes so I can be a lazy hermit?”
Mochta strains to keep walking even though I surmise that he wants to stop and scold me with his expression.
Finally, we arrive at “Jealousy’s Boutique... Ugh,” I grimace. I don’t even have to use the corner of my eye to sense Mochta’s disappointment.
“Alright, let’s go, grouch.” He takes my hand more firmly than I would ever expect him to. And here we are again, in between isles of pretty tees I can’t picture myself in. I look behind me where Mochta has placed himself like a queen on a chessboard after he releases my hand. He folds his arms and his mood is indistinguishable.
“Y-You’re not going to help me?” I stutter.
“Nope.” There’s that sly grin. “You’re on your own now...” Meanwhile, I pout. “Find at least two outfits.” Mochta sets the requirements. I groan and ultimately fixate on some darker-toned shirts. Eventually, I find myself gently sliding hangers, checking each item for a spot that would let me poke my wings through. This is exhausting, because although I despise the strenuous act of clothes shopping, I remain picky and perfectionistic. I end up in the fitting room multiple times, wandering about the clouds of my thought concurrently. How is Mochta waiting so long for me? Why is he so intent on helping me become more comfortable with myself? Why does that even matter? I glance upwards to face myself in the mirror, when it begins to fog. That’s... Odd. I’m barely close to it. The circle of condensation grows larger even though I’m stepping back. What is this...? I’m feeling a series of chills now and I can’t take my eyes off the sight. Letters begin to appear, like someone’s tracing them individually with their fingertip. G-Ghost...? Are.. ghosts real?
“K-...I-..L- L-... T-..I-...M-..E-”
“Kill time?!” I manage to whisper. What the hell? We have to get out of here! But, just as I start to turn, my knees fail me and pull themselves to the floor. I grunt and clasp my hands on either side of my head while my vision is transported to another channel. What am I seeing?