|A Soundless Dark|
|Things Were Better Then|
|Written:||May 31 - June 1, 2015|
|Released:||June 1, 2015|
|Theme song:||Only in Dreams|
|Things Were Better Then track listing|
This story's theme is Only in Dreams.
Blood ran down the cracks in the mirror to the tiled floor, red on black. Mr. Satan stared at the image of himself, fractured, broken, bloody, and took another drink. His face twitched when his throat began to burn, and he realized it had been a long time since he’d gone this far. He could hear his heart beating deep and slow, as if it was trying to break free from the cage that was his body.
The pill bottle was half full, which was too full for Hercule. He popped open the cap and downed four of the little blue pills and sighed, waiting for them to take effect. It was cold as bone in that room – a familiar cold, but not unwelcome; the light flickered and danced, and Hercule knew it would give out soon. The walls were unimaginably dirty, but with black tile, even the grimiest of bathrooms looked alright. It was a clever, sorry trick. Noticing his hand leaking blood all over the floor, Mr. Satan unhooked a roll of toilet paper and wrapped it around his wound. It was a good feeling, the pain. It helped him forget a little bit.
Sleep was a capricious thing, so the man decided to take a walk along the moonlit docks. The sea gave the air a soft, salty smell, and that calmed Hercule a bit. He found an old izakaya on the water’s edge and went inside. Sitting down in the dim light, Mr. Satan ordered a drink and some sushi and watched a band play old hits. The musicians were all women, young, pretty and confident, and that made Mr. Satan wistful. He was reminded of the last time he’d entered this place, but that had been many years ago, before Videl had been born, when he had been young and confident himself.
A waitress in a black dress served Hercule, and after she handed him his drink, she lingered, chewing on the nail of her little finger. “Hey… I know you, don’t I?”
Mr. Satan traded stares with her. “I don’t think so.”
“Didn’t you used to come in here all the time with a–”
Hercule slammed his glass on the table, cutting her off. Several patrons looked over at the noise before hastily turning away, lest they be caught in their spying ways. “I don’t think so,” he said gruffly.
“Oh, okay. Well, if you need anything else, just give me a holler!” she said as cheerfully as she could, but Mr. Satan noted how forced her tone was.
The man nodded and drank his black soda and wondered whether he would be able to sleep soon. The band began to play Maybe I’m Amazed and Hercule nearly began to cry. But he was a man, a warrior, so he bit his tongue and pushed his feelings deeper inside until not even he knew where they had gone. He had heard that song maybe a dozen times in here before, back when the room had been lively, lit up, full of people and vigor. And now, no more than five other patrons were eating and enjoying the music, and they were, all of them, alone.
He didn’t remember when he left. Mr. Satan found himself sitting on the concrete dock, just to the left of a large bridge. Cars danced across the land tether like coruscating shooting stars, burning red and white and then fading out into the black stretch of night. He swung his dangling legs over the dark-as-pitch water and felt the wind scream through his hair. He remembered the last time he had been here. It had been after a ferocious fight, a backstreet brawl, where his foe had broken Mr. Satan’s nose and tried to rip off one of his ears. Hercule had broken his opponent’s jaw with one of those devilish kicks of his, sending him tumbling into the water, and the crowd had gone wild. Time had been most unkind to Hercule in recent years, but even it had let him keep that one memory, that one moment of triumph, untainted and pure.
Here now was Mr. Satan, an accomplished martial artist, but by no means a champion. He wasn’t even as good as his brother had been when he had lived. Hercule was a ticking time bomb, a fading star, just waiting for the last of his light to stretch across the sky in one brilliant flash and then be gone for good. At least then, people would have something to talk about.
“I thought I’d find you out here,” the waitress said as she sat down next to Mr. Satan. “Cold night, eh? Chilly!” she shivered and laughed.
The sea breeze was the only thing cooling Hercule’s heart, the only thing from making him go mad. Maybe he already was mad. Maybe he couldn’t sleep because he didn’t want to see what awaited him in his dreams.
“Look, I know who you are. I ran your name on the receipt. You’re Hercule Satan!”
The man nodded, running a hand through his ragged beard. His eyes were hurting now. They were screaming at him to sleep, but his brain would have none of that. Mr. Satan was too weary to argue with either of them.
“You won the regional tournament in Orange Star City, didn’t you?”
He nodded again. “That was years ago,” he said hoarsely. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Everythin’ goes away, ya know. Nothin’ matters.”
“Are you going to compete in the World Martial Arts Tournament?”
Emotion rippled across the man’s face for a fraction of a second. “I doubt it.”
“Well you should. I think you could do well.”
“I haven’t won a fight in half a year.”
“I heard about what happened to you in the paper. That was five months ago, right?” her voice was careful and cheerful, deceptive as honey and wine. When Mr. Satan didn’t respond and instead grabbed a nearby rock and skipped it across the obsidian-polished waters, she spoke again, this time with greater sympathy. “I… I’m sorry about what happened to you. I can’t imagine going through something like that.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Hercule said sadly.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.
“No,” he replied solemnly. “But if ya wanna stay, I won’t stop ya.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“The sunrise. We used ta watch a lot of them back in the day.”
“I’ll stay then,” she said. “Hey, in the morning, what do you say we grab some coffee?”
Mr. Satan stared out over the water. The city lights and stars reflected in the dark water. A seabird flew silent and low across the unbroken surface, scanning for fish. He tried to focus on his breathing, but that wasn’t helping. He wanted to succumb; he wanted to slip away; but his body refused to fall asleep. So he stayed with the waitress and felt a small measure of comfort, for she reminded him of someone he used to know.
The morning rose in a pale pink mist, and the two watched the fog dissipate and the ships come in from long nights at sea. The sun burst out from over the horizon, and the sky opened up. It was a light blue, with a single puffy cloud hovering in the midst of it. The sea winds carried that away with haste, and soon it was just an open blue expanse, a frontier of young joy. Mr. Satan threw up into the sea.
That woke up the waitress, who had fallen asleep on his shoulder. “H-hey, are you alright?” she yawned.
“I’m just tired,” he replied distantly. “I just need to sleep.”
“I used to have the same problem. The way I tricked myself into falling asleep was to stop thinking about anything. I know it’s hard,” she said, smiling, “but the fastest way to get to sleep is to forget everything that’s troubling you.”
“It’s not gonna happen.”
The two of them stood up, watching the city wake up around them. The early morning is not good for the tired, and Mr. Satan felt a migraine coming on. The day was bright, but it was too early to be warm; the biting cold was worse than getting punched in the face by a half-drunk lunatic.
“So what do you say about that coffee? the waitress yawned again. “I’m buying.”
“I don’t want coffee.” That was the last thing he needed.
They looked into one another’s eyes once again. Hers were so dark brown they looked almost black. Hercule knew his were bloodshot. There was something flickering in her eyes – was it pity? Sympathy? Longing? What Mr. Satan wanted more than anything else was to reach out and make things go back to how they once had been. He was too tired to stop himself.
The man lunged forward and attempted to kiss the woman. She backed off and slapped him across the face.
“Whoa, not cool! What was that for?!”
Mr. Satan’s eyes were watering. He was confused and delirious. “But…”
Her face reddened with anger. “I just wanted coffee. You’re taking things way too fast! What are you, some kind of creep?”
“You thought?!” she yelled, causing a few passersby to glance over at them. “Yeah, I bet, you pervert. Only in dreams. It’s not gonna happen.”
She gave him the finger and walked off into the burgeoning day. Mr. Satan’s vision began to swim and he knew it was time to get home. The universe was out to get him, he thought. Time had not been kind to his prospects nor to his state of mind. And now he couldn’t even sleep. He had a martial arts tournament tomorrow. If he wasn’t well-rested, he would lose, and he wouldn’t get paid. He needed that money to survive. He needed that money to feed his newborn daughter.
Mr. Satan blinked furiously and shook his head. The waitress had taught him one valuable lesson, even if it wasn't the one he had hoped it would be. He didn’t have time to feel bad about messing things up with her. He needed to end the pain. He needed to fix himself. “Okay,” he said aloud. “Just clear your mind. Clear your mind! Don’t think about anythin’!”
It was so hard not to think about it, like ignoring your arm being on fire. There was pain in knowing, and even more pain in forgetting. But for his sake and his daughter’s, Mr. Satan closed his eyes and thought of nothing. How long it took him to pass out on the docks cannot be said, at least not by Mr. Satan’s own calculations. He receded into the darkness of his mind and shut off all thought. He was an animal, a series of organic processes. He was human, but it was killing him. He had to let it go.
The darkness was not total, nor was it static. Mist swirled about, great sparkling blackness erupting in plumes of stardust. Shapes of impossible distortion danced in and out of sight like leaves along an autumn path. They were there; he knew, but sight was the wrong word to describe how he knew. He felt them. He knew she was there too, lurking in the shadows, but why wouldn’t she show herself? He could smell her in the air, feel her movements as he swam into the starless veil. The shapes touched him and filled him with a sense of need. Faster, they urged, but he had not the strength. He knew what that meant. The man began to cry great drops of ink. He was freezing up. He was losing his opportunity. Reality had dissolved away, like salt into water, and all that remained were the shapes who knew him. They were hunting him, as they had hunted her. The man’s sobs echoed through nothingness.
And then through the stillness, came a figure, like broken glass, slender and deadly. Her features were so vivid, that for a moment, she seemed to radiate the only light in the whole damn miserable world. He reached out to touch her, and she reached back. Their hands touched. He felt warm and free. Unfocused, distant lights trembled across the ancient sky like candles. He took her other hand in his and felt her body press up against his. This is how it’s supposed to be, he thought. I never want to leave here. She smiled sheepishly and twirled around him, the light reflecting off her crystal form. You have to let go, she implored. Ice filled his veins. No, I can’t. You must. I can’t! She smiled again, that same smile that had won him over on their first date. That same smile that had put him beyond the point of no return. Please. But as they danced, the lights faded, the dark shapes dissolved, and even the darkness itself began to fade into a grey-bleak nothingness. It was over. No! he implored, reaching out for her again. Please, you can’t go. She danced away from him and smiled knowingly. Let go, Hercule. Let it go. The man swam forward, desperation driving him. Please just once more. One more dance. She shook her head. Once but never again. It’s too late. His wife exploded into a sea of blue crystal stars, flaming out into oblivion, the last few bits hovering in silence, and burning, burning, burning to the beat of his own heart before bursting again into nebulous streaks of white that soon encompassed everything, and he knew it was time to wake up.