Yong Luodeng knew that he didn’t have time for this.
It was Halloween, for heavens’ sakes, and he was a broke college student in his final year. He was supposed to be studying for midterms, not messing around with the occult or the supernatural. At least, that was what his parents would have said.
It was only once, Luodeng had told himself. Perhaps, if this succeeded, then he wouldn’t have to worry about midterms anymore. He wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore.
Already, he could see trick-or-treaters outside on the sidewalk, ghosts, vampires, pumpkins, pretending to be monsters only for tonight. Wrong neighborhood, kids, he wanted to say. The houses here were rundown and bare of decorations. Not many would have candy to spare.
The other students in the share house had wanted to put up some pumpkins, at least, and Luodeng had been tasked with finding some fake spider webs or other seasonal decor from the attic. Luodeng’s family didn’t celebrate Halloween, but seeing as he was on his own, and the others didn’t pay attention to him, he went.
He hadn’t been up in the attic before, because he had never had the time nor felt the need to explore, but as he climbed up the creaky old wooden steps, he started to wonder what he would find. Hidden treasure, maybe? But he had laughed at himself. This wasn’t a fairy tale. He was just a broke college student who needed more sleep.
As he pushed open the splintery trapdoor, he was immediately showered with dust, and he coughed heavily. There had better not be any spiders up here…
But after an hour of sifting through all the junk that was up there, he only found spiders and no Halloween decorations. Absolute waste of an afternoon. He could have been studying for midterms instead of messing around.
But there was one thing…one thing which caught his eye.
Had it been because it was Halloween related? Or had it been the golden edges on it that were probably made of real gold? Either way, Luodeng picked it up, and examined it carefully.
He couldn’t tell just exactly what it was supposed to be; was it a mirror? But only a small portion of it had a mirror on it, and it was barely enough to reflect someone’s face; when he held it up he could only see one of his fatigued eyes. There was a ribbon tied to one end, so perhaps it was an ornament of some sorts? A Christmas ornament? But no, it was too large to hang upon a Christmas tree…
But turning it over, he found a poem inscribed on the back. Perhaps this would give some clue as to what this was…
On All Hallows’ Eve when the sun dies,
Only with blood will you open your eyes,
Bring all your wishes, desires, and more,
Only then will this new life be mine.
It had been a strange poem, and Luodeng had spent the next two days pondering its meaning. Something about the poem sent chills down his spine, sent a tingling sensation over his skin.
But today was Halloween, and Luodeng was sure that he had deduced the meaning of the poem. Or, at least, understood part of it. And with this understanding he came up with a plan. A plan, of course, that would only work if this thing was genuine, and not some elaborate prank from ages past.
Once again, Luodeng made his way up the rickety old staircase hidden in the walls of the old share house. There wasn’t as much dust this time, and as he emerged, his breath caught at the sight of the rays of sun coming in from the filthy windows.
Golden and gleaming, like wheat…
He climbed through, letting the trapdoor fall with a clatter behind him. The attic still looked the same as it had been days before; boxes of junk left by previous residents of the share house, an old sofa, several antiques, and an upright piano shoved in the farthest corner. And the…thing, was still where he had last left it…catching the last rays of the sun.
When the sun dies…
Luodeng sat down on the floor next to it, and pulled out a switchblade from his sleeve. If this really was a prank, then this would be going too far…but if it wasn’t, then this was nothing, compared to what was going to come.
He slashed the blade across the palm of his hand.
Dark blood seeped out, and he quickly cupped it with both his hands, dropping the knife with a clatter, and brought it over the surface of the object, letting it drip between his fingers, splattering like rain. He gritted his teeth at the stinging pain, but this was nothing. It would be nothing…
And he sat there and waited, watching his blood glisten upon the gilded surface of the…thing. The way the sun hit it made it appear to be a puddle of melted rubies. If only it was…
After a few minutes, nothing happened, and Luodeng sighed, feeling foolish. What a waste. He was about to get up and go downstairs for bandages and cleaning supplies, but then…
It must’ve been the sunlight reflecting off of the mirror portion of the object; at least, that was what Luodeng thought. Light filled the room, brighter than should have been possible. He was momentarily blinded, but when he opened his eyes again, a little girl stood before him, where the object had been.
The glow around the girl faded. She looked maybe ten or eleven years of age, wearing a white summer’s dress, a golden butterfly clipped on her black shoulder length hair. Luodeng was reminded of his younger sister when she was still a kid.
The girl looked at him and asked, “Are you a human?”
“A – a human? Yes, I – I am.”
“What is your name then, human?”
“Luodeng. Yong Luodeng.”
“Luodeng…” She repeated his name, as if trying to imprint it in her mind forever.
“And what is your name…my goddess?” Luodeng asked, because it only seemed appropriate to call her so.
She laughed at that. “Goddess? How funny. I guess you could call me that, because where I come from…” She trailed off, lost in thought, but then looked back at him. “My name is Thesis. I have waited for hundreds of years for someone to summon me into the human realm, for this one night, so that I may complete my training and ascend. And since you have so kindly summoned me, Luodeng, for tonight, I will grant any of your wishes.”
“I cannot bring someone back from the dead, nor can I kill them. And if there is anything else I cannot do, I will tell you.”
“I see…” Luodeng looked down at his bleeding hand. “Then…I wish…please heal me.” She looked at his wound, and said, “I must ask for something else in return, however.”
“Do – do tell, please.”
“Right as I was being summoned, an old spirit passing by mentioned something called ‘Halloween’, and told me to enjoy the thrill of it while I can. So please…” She looked up at him with her large, dark eyes. “Show me the thrill of Halloween!”
The thrill of Halloween? Whatever was that? But Luodeng looked at her, and decided that, since she didn’t seem to know anything about this world, it should be easy to accomplish. So he agreed.
“Great!” And she stretched out her small, pale fingers to touch his bleeding hand, and when he looked down, the wound had closed over, with no trace of anything left.
This was for real…
With only red left in the sky, Luodeng realized what little time he had left. No time to hesitate. So he jumped up, grabbing Thesis’s hand. “Come on, then. I’ll show you the thrill of Halloween.”
Along the way out he grabbed two masks that were hanging off of a coat rack in the attic; one for himself, and one for her.
“So, where do you want to go?” Luodeng asked once they were outside.
“I don’t know.” Thesis didn’t seem to know what to do with the mask, so Luodeng put it on her. It was made of old white ceramic, slightly cracked, a rabbit mask matching his own.
“What are these for?”
“Well, since it’s Halloween, you gotta have a costume, no?” Luodeng knew that most of the festivities were on the other side of town. If they got through early then they would have time for other activities…
He picked Thesis up and put her on his motorcycle, then sat behind her. “Hang on,” he cautioned, putting his helmet on her. “Let’s go show you the thrill of Halloween.”
And off they went into the rising night.
The late autumn night air was bone-piercing, and Luodeng regretted not wearing a thicker jacket as they sped along the highway. The wind whipped his hair and clothes around, so that his back was exposed to the night. Few cars were out tonight, and the motorcycle’s headlights shone out far ahead. Luodeng pulled his mask up so that he could see better. Three more exits…two more…one more…
“What is this?” Thesis asked as he pulled off onto the exit ramp. “It’s so fast!”
“This? It’s a motorcycle.” Luodeng braked as they reached a red light in an intersection.
“Haven’t you seen one before?”
“No…they go even faster than horses!”
Luodeng laughed. She really was like his little sister…if it weren’t for the whole “goddess” thing he would have thought her to be merely a human child. Perhaps it was because of this that he found himself beginning to relax around her.
There was a corn maze along with a haunted hayride on the far side of town that Luodeng had seen whenever he took the bus to the university. The thrill of Halloween…this seemed promising. He parked the motorcycle and dismounted, lifting Thesis up and off of the seat.
The smell of ripened pumpkins and freshly fried dough wafted over from the stands on the side. Around the lanterns numerous moths gathered. Luodeng started heading over to the entry line, then, realizing that Thesis was still standing there, turned and gestured her to follow. She held out her hand, and Luodeng hesitated. Then, seeing the numerous people, he took it, and they went together.
Luodeng saw the entry fee, and felt for his wallet. Some loose change and a couple of one dollar bills, nothing more. Right…he was broke, after all.
Luodeng was about to turn away when he remembered the hand that he was holding, and he looked down at the little girl with him. If he could have anything he wanted…then surely it could include something as small like this.
So he bent down, and whispered, so that no one else would hear, “I wish that I had enough money to buy tickets.”
The next thing he knew, he held a wad of money in his hand and they were at the front of the line. “Here are your tickets, sir,” the seller said. “Right this way, please.”
And for a moment, the absolute freedom that came with this wish-granting filled Luodeng with a sense of recklessness.
But it was only a flighty feeling, and after it landed, Luodeng found himself sitting with Thesis in the back of the truck with the dirty hay bales, his knees pulled up to his chest in order to make room.
Luodeng had never been to a haunted attraction before. When he was a teenager he had once almost gone into a haunted house at an amusement park, but his younger sister had started crying, so he had stayed outside with her while his friends had gone in.
“Are you mad at me?” she had asked as they sat on the bench together.
Luodeng had been feeling rather annoyed, but after glancing at those tear-filled eyes of hers he could only say, “No, of course not,” and put his arm around her and comfort her as best as a big brother could do.
That had all been years ago, of course, and Luodeng didn’t understand why he had suddenly thought of this. It wasn’t like he had any regrets about the situation or anything…
Thesis seemed excited, though. As the truck slowly drove along the dirt path, actors dressed as monsters and zombies and serial killers jumped out at them, but Thesis only grinned and waved. It wasn’t that scary, anyway. A kid could handle it. It seemed like the other passengers thought the same.
“Nice of you to take your daughter out tonight,” one of the other passengers, an old man, commented as they arrived at the entrance again and got off.
“Oh…” Was it because of the masks, that the man couldn’t see the tired eyes of a student, and only the weary shoulders of what could be a father? Luodeng picked Thesis up and brought her out of the truck bed so that she wouldn’t get her dress torn. “Have a nice night, sir.”
“Luodeng…” Thesis tugged at his sleeve. “I’m hungry.”
Since he had essentially unlimited cash now, Luodeng bought them some fried dough, and the pair sat down on one of the benches to eat. Luodeng felt the hot wrappings with his chilled fingers…the night was cold.
“So how was that?” he asked Thesis. “Enough of a thrill for you?”
“It was fun,” Thesis replied, taking small bites of her own dough. “But not that scary.”
“Yeah…I thought so too.”
And the two sat there in silence, on the park bench where lamplight couldn’t reach, crumpled autumn leaves all around them.
“Did you…come here for a reason?”
Thesis swung her legs back and forth, and was quiet, folding up the greasy paper from the fried dough into a neat square. “They say…that in order to become a full-fledged goddess…I must learn about humans.”
“They? Who’s they?”
“The other spirits.”
“So you know nothing about humans?”
She looked at him, with those large eyes that so reminded him of his sister’s… “I’m here to learn, aren’t I?”
And she smiled.
Luodeng’s mind worked fast, as usual. He checked his watch; the hayride had taken half an hour, and going there had taken around twenty minutes. There was still a bit of the night left.
Might as well change the world while they could.
Luodeng threw the wrappings away, and took Thesis’s hand, heading back to the motorcycle. “Well, let’s try to find you some thrill later tonight. But for now…let’s head into town.”
Because town was where he wanted to be. Not because he liked it there, but because with what he had gained tonight…perhaps he could change something.
The first person he had thought of was the old homeless lady that he saw every morning on the way to the university. He talked with her occasionally, and sometimes gave her what spare change was left inside his wallet.
There she was, digging through the trash cans underneath the lamplight on the street corner. Shoulders hunched, the old tattered scarf wrapped around her neck and face. Her small, frail body reminded Luodeng of his own grandmother back at home.
“Granny Hui!” Luodeng called, waving as he parked his motorcycle by the curbside. “How are you this fine evening?”
She looked up, confusion etching along the lines on her face. “Luodeng? Luodeng, is that you? You sound so different…”
“Different? I’m still the same me,” Luodeng laughed.
Granny Hui took his hands in her own wrinkled and cold ones. “No…you sound cheerful. Happy. Like something good has happened.”
“Well, something good has happened, Granny…” Luodeng pushed Thesis gently forward, into the lamplight. “Meet Thesis. The answer to all our prayers. At least for tonight.”
“Oh, is this the sister you’ve told me about?” Granny Hui bent down, taking Thesis’s hands into her own. “She looks like you…”
“No, Granny. She isn’t. But she can give you whatever you want, whatever you wish for.” Luodeng looked at the old woman’s face, trying to see her reaction. “So what is it you want? A house? Money? Food to eat? Ask for it, and you will be given.”
“You are such a kind boy, Luodeng, for thinking of me.” Granny Hui smiled. “But there isn’t anything I want. I’m happy where I am.”
“Oh, please, Granny…”
“Though since you have offered me this gift, I will ask for something. So please, little girl…I wish to see my family again.”
Thesis smiled. “Your wish is granted.”
Underneath the flickering lamplight, there was only Luodeng and Thesis.
Luodeng dropped her hand, and could only raise his trembling one to his face, staring at the lines upon it. Disbelief…out of all the things that you could want, and you wanted…
He croaked out first a raspy laugh, then louder, then long and loud, so that all down the street costumed children turned their heads to look at him. But Luodeng didn’t care. He doubled over, laughing, laughing…
Seeing his family…was the last thing that either they or he would want…
“Luodeng.” Thesis tugged at his sleeve. “There’s not a lot of the night left.”
Yes, of course…
Luodeng wiped the corner of his mouth on the back of his cold hand and straightened up. She was right, of course…
But even as he took her hand, he froze, as he heard some familiar footsteps approaching…
“Well, if it isn’t the Rodent. Was that you laughing? We could hear you from two blocks away.”
Luodeng felt the bruises left over from yesterday’s beating start to pound over his ribs. He turned to see the gang’s leader towering over him. Feici, was that his name? He wasn’t sure.
“Where are you going on this fine night? With a costume, no less. And who’s this girl? Your little sister? Taking her trick-or-treating, eh?” Feici grinned. “Oh, wait…she can’t be. Heh. Your girlfriend, then? What were you planning to do with her, eh? C’mon, Rodent, you can tell us.”
Luodeng took a step back. “No,” he said. “I was just taking her trick-or-treating.”
Feici blanked for a moment, then laughed. “Aww,” he said, slinging an arm around Luodeng’s shoulder. “What a nice older brother you are. So considerate. I could never. Why don’t you come with us? We’ll have fun, I promise.”
Luodeng shook Feici’s arm off. “I’m busy tonight,” he said, clutching Thesis’s hand tighter. “Goodbye.”
“Surely not more busy than you should be? C’mon, get us a drink, will ya?” And before Luodeng knew it, Feici had flipped out a switchblade, holding the point at Luodeng’s chest. His face now serious, he said, “C’mon, Rodent. All you ever do is study. You know the routine. Buy us some smokes, and we’ll let you go for the night.”
“I don’t have any money,” Luodeng replied, trying to shield Thesis with his body. “No money? With that butterfly in your girl’s hair? Surely not.”
Luodeng could feel the knife point digging into his skin. “Thesis,” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “I wish to be taken away from here.”
She squeezed his hand, and they were gone.
Luodeng nearly lost his balance as they reappeared on the cracked sidewalk by a cemetery. Ah…the shadows of the tombstones along with the waving branches of the trees unnerved him. Reminded him of things…
“Yeah, no, I’m fine…” Luodeng brought a hand up to his forehead as the scene faded in and out from black, like he had stood up too fast. When he had regained his senses he looked down at her and asked, “So, shall we go trick-or-treating?”
They only went to a few houses down one street, and only half of them were lit. By this point most of the kids had come and gone. They were of the latecomers. Still, a couple of houses gave them some candy. Must’ve been her cute face, Luodeng reasoned to himself. But they were both wearing masks…
When they had gone around the block and had arrived at the cemetery again, while Thesis was looking through the candy with interest, she asked, “Who is this sister of yours?”
Luodeng leaned his elbows on the black metal fence surrounding the burial grounds. “One of my younger sisters. You look like her, I guess.”
“What’s her name?”
“Do you see her often?”
Luodeng was tempted to lie, but he thought of something. Something…perhaps his parents could like him again.
“She’s in the hospital,” he finally said.
“She’s in a coma.”
They began walking down the street again, Luodeng with his hands in pockets, Thesis struggling to catch up with his strides. “What happened?” she asked.
Luodeng kept his mask on, so that nobody could see his face.
“It was my fault,” he said, quietly so nobody could hear. “I told her to go out and get the groceries. A bottle of oil and a bag of grapes. But it was supposed to be me. And on the way home…she got hit while crossing the street.”
He didn’t know how others would know about his sister, since he had never mentioned her, except maybe once to Granny Hui. Feici and the others must have seen that article…
Here he was, in a small town far away from the city where he had grown up. Because he knew that his parents didn’t want to see his face again.
Of course, they never said that blatantly. They only told him to focus on his studies. Study, study, study…now he only went back home for New Year’s.
He turned to Thesis, suddenly. “Would you like to go see her?” he asked.
She smiled. “Just say the word.”
There they were, in the darkened hospital room, only the faint beeping of the monitors around them. Moonlight shined through the window upon his sister’s pale, sleeping face, and with her black hair spread out on her pillow and the wires and tubes coming out of her nose and mouth, she seemed to be a queen of the night flower, illuminated, blooming, delicate, fragrant…
In…out…in…out…Luodeng slowed his breath to breathe alongside her. With every breath…was she dreaming? If so, then it seemed to be a pleasant dream, as her face was calm and peaceful.
Not a nightmare, please no…
“Thesis.” He wet his lips, and swallowed. “I wish…for Luohua to wake up.”
Thesis folded her hands over the white bedsheets, closing her eyes and bowing her head like she was in prayer. But after a moment she said, in that small, clear, child-like voice of hers: “I’m sorry, Luodeng.”
“I thought…I thought you could do anything.”
“They…they say it is not her time to be disturbed yet.”
Luodeng turned away, towards the window. What use was this…if his own sister couldn’t even be woken up? But no tears came. Only the hollowness inside of him, breaking into pieces and falling into oblivion, like he had felt when he had first come to visit her…
Thesis put a hand on his. “I’m sorry…”
“Please take us away from here,” was all he could manage.
His motorcycle was outside under a tree near the parking lot, and he got on and she hung on to him, instead of sitting in front of him…because it was a long way back to town and he needed some time to think…
As they roared down the highway the wind rushed past them, and he heard nothing. He thought nothing; there were only lights from the coming cars, the dead of the night, and the sound of laughter in the distance…
Forget it, he told himself. Forget it. There are better things that you can do.
They pulled back at the share house right before early morning, while the stars were still out. Luodeng was numb, but he wasn’t ready to go in yet.
“Are you cold?” he asked Thesis, and put his jacket around her. “Come on.”
He climbed onto the roof and pulled her up with him. Sometimes when he couldn’t study or sleep he would come out here and lie down on the tiles like this, staring at the stars…
Thesis offered him some candy, and he took a piece. He no longer tasted any sweetness in candy, but still…
How his sister loved candy.
“Why did you ask me to take you away back there?” Thesis asked. “With those people. You could have asked me to punish them.”
“Oh, you mean Feici?” The corner of Luodeng’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Yeah…but do you really think that people like them ought to learn about magic, even if they were on the receiving end?”
He could feel her watching him, waiting for him to ask for something else, but he was tired, and he wanted most to rest. It was the like feeling of having won the lottery but told that you only had one day to spend it, otherwise all the money would be taken away from you. The exhilaration, the excitement, the panic…and once the adrenaline rush was gone there was only numbness, and an empty shell.
“I hate my name.” Luodeng didn’t know where that came from, but he said it anyway.
“Why?” Thesis asked.
“Because it’s hard to pronounce, everyone gets it wrong…you know what it means?”