The sharp, piercing sound shatters the silence that envelopes Xiu Xi’s home and she jolts awake, adrenaline coursing through her veins though her eyes are muddled with sleep. Moonlight cuts a decisive line across the wall opposite her bed and the clock reads 3:42 am. She brings a hand up to her face, willing herself to calm down. There is sweat beading at the back of her neck and the blankets curl menacingly around her feet. She kicks them away, sighing when her feet come into contact with the cool floor, some lightness returning to her aching arms and legs.
Her hand is on the doorknob when another sound scratches through the air. This time, she is awake enough to know that she had heard it, not dreamt it. Her fingers tighten around cold metal, feet frozen in place on the marble floor. Her heart thumps an erratic rhythm against her chest and she swallows, turning the knob just slightly.
Thankfully, the door does not creak on its hinges. As she inches out, Xiu Xi grabs the vase in her corridor because the light in her hall is glaring at her and she most definitely switched it off before going to sleep last night.
Her toes creep around the corner. The vase leaves her hands before her mind catches up with her actions and she lets out a blood-curdling scream of terror when the vase crashes against the intruder’s head and she most definitely did not intend for the vase to hit his head. She was just scared.
The intruder barely reacts even as glass showers around him like confetti. Exactly like confetti – like the confetti Yi Chen used to catch in his hands and crumple between his fingers, chuckling at the ephemeral joy they bring, filling concert halls and event venues with seconds of euphoric laughter. Exactly like how the intruder is doing. Exactly like –
“Yi Chen?” Xiu Xi chokes out, eyes widening into saucers when the intruder turns on his heels, the whites of her eyes so visible against the ebony of her eyelashes.
“Hello.” Yi Chen replies, the effect of his mischievous grin curling across his face dulled slightly by the sickly parlour of his skin. Xiu Xi stares with increasing horror, the blood rushing past her ears and thundering in her chest as she fights the urge to hurl. There is an almost violent tugging at her heart, and she has to force herself to keep still. Tears are finding their way unwittingly down her cheeks, pooling at her bottom lashes and spilling down, catching the light. Yi Chen tries to imagine how he would look like to her. He had no chance to look at himself in the mirror since he – well – since he –
“I’m not human anymore. Remember that the next time you want to punch me in the face.” Yi Chen tries for a joke, regretting his words the next instant when Xiu Xi scrambles away and the sound of retching can be heard from the washroom. He shuffles his way over to the corridor, peeping into the bathroom. He catches sight of himself in the mirror then – bloodshot eyes and sickly grey-tinged lips. Xiu Xi is pulling herself up to the basin with trembling hands, and when she catches sight of him in the mirror, a broken moan wrenches its way out of her throat. Yi Chen looks away, snatching his gaze from drinking in the lifts and dips of her face and focusing on the plain white walls instead.
Xiu Xi groans, holding her head in her hands. “Yi Chen, what are you doing?”
His eyes flash fire at her and she flinches backwards, bottom lip trembling again.
“I’m the one who had to make my way back here from the cemetery. Don’t ask me what I’m doing.” He hisses. Now that their reunion is over, going exactly how he did not plan for it to go, the confusion digs its claws into his long-still heart, causing him to lash out vindictively. He is alone.
The silence between them drags out. Xiu Xi thinks that she can hear the clock in her bedroom, their bedroom, counting out the seconds. How long will you – Questions flood her mind, questions she is unwilling to answer. The gaping hole in her chest that has been gnawing at her since his funeral a few days ago makes its presence known again, but to a much lower intensity.
“Yi Chen,” she then breathes out, hand reaching out instinctively for him.
He flinches out of her reach, catching the searing hurt in her eyes, a perfect reflection of his when their gazes met in the mirror.
“I’m dead,” he snaps out. Xiu Xi recoils at that, fingers wrapping around her own wrist, as if physically stopping herself from reaching out to him again. “For all you know, I could be here to rip you apart and bring you down with me.”
Her breathing hitches and Xiu Xi feels like her heart is being squeezed into oblivion in Yi Chen’s balled up fists. She tries to catch his gaze through the curtain of tears over her eyes but the search is futile. “Don’t, you wouldn’t.” She returns instead, barely flinching even as his silhouette advances on her. When he is close enough, she throws herself bodily at him. The warmth she had come to expect never comes. Instead, she inhales the scent of freshly cut grass and dirt – so much dirt. Yi Chen stills when her arms wrap around him and her still-warm cheek presses against his stone-cold chest.
“What’re you doing,” he gets out, voice purposely pulled flat. He wraps iron fingers around her arms, but they lack resolve. Xiu Xi stays plastered to him. A wet patch soaks into his chest. They stay like that for what seems like an eternity, Yi Chen unable to bring himself to hold on or let go, and Xiu Xi attached like a barnacle to her dead husband. Everything about this evening screams irrationality, but Xiu Xi is willing to have rationality fly clean out of her window if it meant that she would get Yi Chen back. This must be it, she must have lost it. Have they both stepped out of time?
“Where do I go from here?” His voice is raspy, trembling, and Xiu Xi catches a timbre of something that was not there before – deep and woody. She holds him tighter, the silence between his ribs hanging in the air between them. She shakes her head. “Please don’t leave.”
The sun peeks shyly above the horizon. The neighbourhood is just bustling awake. There is glass scattered across Xiu Xi’s pristine white tiles. Soil finds itself in a sickening trial outside of her house. Mrs Hu, the neighbour, pounds on the door mid-morning, hollering for Xiu Xi to clean up the mess, “The corridor is a shared space damn it! Just because your husband is dead doesn’t mean you can drag the rest of us down your rabbit-hole of hell!”