Chapter 1: Blur
"Why can't we be rewarded with forgiveness for truly realizing our mistakes?" Den woke up in his room, alone again. Three nights ago he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend Alliyah. She had learned that he had made the big mistake. Heart broken and tears filling her hazel eyes she fled the apartment building.
Den arose from the soft king sized bed, a pillow-top because that's what she wanted. Placed his two bare feet on the cold marble tile, causing a shiver to spread up throughout his body. Yawning he looked over at the time on the mild oak dresser next to him near the bed. The iridescent four-fifty two gave the room an eerie darkness. Den stood up and stretched and opened up the curtains bringing a soft blue into the room. Den opened the sliding glass door, which had led to a porch that looked down upon the quiet street. Leaning on the wooden rafter, he gazed across to the beach. It had a serene beauty to it, empty with the waves whispering, moving peacefully along the shore. The first hint of a splendid sun rising out of the ocean and seagulls happily sang salutations in the distance.
Den inhaled a long draft of clean crisp air, which removed some of the sad depression that comes with waking up and being alone. He turned back into the bedroom closing the glass sliding door and went into the kitchen fixing a bowl of warm cereal, and a hot pot of coffee avoiding the bag of gourmet beans that Alliyah had purchased but never got the chance to enjoy. With his coffee was brewing, Den went into the living room and sat on the black sofa placing his feet on the white footrest. He gazed around, taking in the modern theme full of bright accent pieces that were her touch to the neutrals he had originally chosen. . The black furniture complimented the white furniture with a sort of yin and yang feng shui balance.
Den thought to himself of how the black and white seem so disjointed now. Even the bright colors gave him unpleasant shocks, where they once could cause the corners of his eyes to crinkle in a smile. He reached over to the small table near the sofa and turned the  plasma screen t.v. on to the news. A blonde woman with "sexy librarian" glasses was in the middle of posing a question to her competition about the bill of rights.The two people sharing the plasma screen continued their debate for ten minutes following commercials.
Uninterested, Den walked back into the kitchen where the pot of coffee was nearing its final drips, exhaled steam and made pops indicating its finished work. Den grabbed Alliyah's white "I love my hubby" coffee cup from the cupboard, and filled himself a cup of the black, medium strength liquid. Every sip fills him with a sense of warmth and longing. Den diverted his eyes from the smiling, worn face on the mug to the plasma blaring in the living room hanging openly over the fake fireplace.
"We are now taking test subjects in the Los Angeles area". "Do you want to discover who you truly are?.. "Uncover your deepest thoughts?" "Are you doing some soul searching after a deep emotional disruption?" Well now you can help yourself!"," Delve into each emotion and allow yourself to see the truth!" We are now looking for people in your area who want to take part in the ‘Advent experiment' If you are interested, please contact 954-344-366"You don't want to miss out on this life changing opportunity to discover yourself today!"
Den didn't usually care for such ads claiming to help people. Like when they declare the cure to breathing troubles, Insomnia, to erectile dysfunction. They all proclaimed they could help people when really they were selling a product that might work, but only with the trade-off of side effects that do a lot more harm than the problem they cure. This time the shouting man got his attention. Den thought about it for five minutes or so before calling the number.
"Hi" Den said in a precautious tone to the woman on the other side, which robotically announced her name as Maxy.
"I was curious about your ad and wanted to know more"
The woman on the other side replied in a casual tone,
"I'm sure you do, My name is Maxine but you can call me Maxy".
"Okay well.. Hi Maxy" Den replied.
"Well', let's see.." Maxy started.
"Our program we are experimenting with is very new, the purpose is to give an individual a chance to discover him or herself by delving into each individual emotion we as humans possess".
"Each emotion represents a different part of you as a whole and is directly linked to you memories".
"The idea is to ‘travel' through your emotions related to your memories, except we change the formula for this "journey" a little bit.
"And what's that?" Den said.
"Now, don't worry" Maxy soothingly replied,.
"We make it so when you're in a specific emotion you play out a scene feeling a different way than you originally did, almost like you're in someone else's shoes, but you are in your own body still."
This helps you truly get in tune with an emotion"
Den thought it over in his head as he listened to Maxy vocalize the programs intentions and ideas. He was abruptly shook from his thoughts when he realized Maxy was speaking to him directly
"You still there?"
"Yes I'm here" Den replied reassuringly, swallowing the last gulp of coffee as he holds the phone away from his ear politely.
"I like the idea of it, tell me what to do to sign up, or join or whatever"
"Okay", I want you to write this address down, you got a pen?" Maxy replied.
"Ya" Den said reaching across the kitchen counter for a pen in a red cup underneath the cupboard.
"Okay here is the address, 1224 Morningstar Road ask for Lucy Phifer. We are having the meeting tomorrow evening at six, be there if you want to know more"
"Thanks, well it was nice talking to you, bye" Den replied in a thoughtful tone.
Have a nice day!" Maxy responded,
followed by the awkward disconnection of the phone line as Den stood there staring straight ahead the dial tone sounding in his ear. When the same commercial came on, he set down the phone on the counter, finally clicking the end button.
Den peered at the time on microwave clock, his eyes registered six thirty-two. He drank another cup of coffee before doing the dishes, not even bothering to use the dishwasher. one person never uses enough dishes in a single day for it to be worth running the humming machine. He headed back into his lonely room to dress into some shorts and t-shirt for his morning run, which he used to look forward to as he pulled Alliyah out of bed laughing at her growling and kissing away her grumpiness. They would run a mile to the pier and walk the docks gazing out at the brilliant ocean sparkling from the waking sun. His arms wrapped firmly around her from behind her as if afraid the sun would take her away from him as it spread across her face, a splendid golden glow.
Once there they would chat about the news and work. Alliyah worked as a secretary for a law firm in the mid-afternoon, and would always have an entertaining piece of gossip to share with her lover. Such as the day she caught her boss sneaking bites of candy from the drawer of an overweight associate known for stuffing his mouth with at least two king-sized Snickers bars during court recesses. Den would tell her of the various people he would meet as a tour guide to the city, all the foreign tourists who asked silly questions. Alliyah would laugh when he would talk of Bob. Bob was a kooky old overweight man who donned a Santa Claus beard and always dressed in a one size smaller pink t-shirt with Hawaii in the middle. Bob had a taste for twinkies or zebra cakes, which Den allowed him to eat on the bus even though food wasn't allowed. He was a regular on the bus who shared interesting stories of the various women in his life and how they would love to rub his beer belly and fall in love with his wits, belly, and beard. Every time Bob got rejected Bob he would say "Fine!", You don't get to rub Buddha's belly!".
Alliyah always knew the ending punch line to the end of one of Bob's "amazing" feats of seduction and talent that Den spoke of and in unison the would say, "You don't get to rub Buddha's belly!" They both would break into laughter sitting on the docks, running shoes off, feet dipping into the cool clear water beneath them.
Den had gone to the bar with his old high school friend Jack. Jack had flown into town to visit some family and meet up with his old buddy at the neon lit bar Chameleons.
"Well this year I will beat youwa" Den remembered Jack replying as he took his tenth shot, clearing his throat as the whiskey burnt its way down his esophagus.
"Urr not gowin to make it" Den had laughed at his droopy eyed friend, a little too loudly attracting the attention of the few others in the bar, mainly old men who took off their shirts at least once every night to show off their battle wounds. When Jack wasn't there, Den would listen to their battle stories as he watched whatever Irish team the bar owner had on the TV that no longer produced any sound. He knew most of the stories by heart, and at times wanted to ask them if the way they told a particular story on Saturdays, when there were a few of their sons there to get away from their wives and children, was the truth or if they exaggerated from the real story that was told every other night of the week.
The two friends continued taking shots until they reached their fifteenth shot. By that time they had attracted the continued attention of a small group of people.
When the bar closed and the patrons were kicked out, Den had stumbled along towards the hotel across the street. He remembered feeling himself being led by a small soft hand, but not recognizing the person attached to it.
"Alliyah?" he had called out trying to make out the blurred figure leading him into the hotel and towards the elevator.
"Don't worry Shug I'll take care of you". Sweet scents followed.
More blur then blackout... sleep.
Den ran alone letting those thoughts and memories slip in and out of his head on the run. Den was given a break from work after Aaliyah left. He had exploded on a group of college students disrupting his tour by being loud ,and rude on the bus ride. He had put up with the jokes at his expense, but when they threw pieces of a soggy hotdog bun at Bob, he couldn't take it. Den's boss Larry suggested he see a therapist for his sudden aggressive behavior and take a few weeks off. Den promised he would check into it immediately on his break, emotionlessly. He lied. "Who needs that stuff anyways? That idiot doesn't know anything…"
Den's thoughts continued to circulate within his head as the pier loomed closer and closer. Before he knew it, it was right underfoot.
The pier, it all looked the same. His fingers traced their initials carved deeply into the old, slightly rotting wood and he walked along the wooden boards slowly taking in the morning view, ahead of him the dock seemed to await his arrival. Den looked ahead and saw at the edge a white rectangle.
He walked out to the edge of the dock focusing in on it -
White sealed envelope, damp from who knows how many morning dews, and carefully placed at the edge, held down with scotch tape.
It was written in a familiar cursive: "To Den".
Den felt apprehensive butterflies flitting in his stomach. He carefully removed the envelope from its scotch tape edges and read the letter Aaliyah had left.
There isn't a word I could use to express how I feel right now. You meant the world to me and leaving you has forced me to realize how much I needed you and already miss you…
How can I forgive you for cheating? How do you fail to realize how much I love you and you love me? And how our love affects us in ways we don't understand yet. I can't possibly understand why you did it, and drinking alcohol isn't an acceptable or valid excuse. You gave up on yourself, me, the love we shared, and everything we had built together. I am staying uptown with my friend's mom. Don't worry about who it is because you don't know her and I don't want you looking for me. I want nothing from you, especially your love.
Den almost forgot to breathe and his heart felt as if it skipped some beats, he carefully tucked the letter into his red running shorts and ran back home with his thoughts keeping him company. He ran faster than he had in a while. His legs carried him forward without any muscle complaints. Den spent the rest of the day cleaning up his house, picking up the clothes that he had taken to leaving wherever they landed, and removing those burnt black surface stains around the stove burners leaving a clean white polished shine.
Chapter 3: Grey
The next day passed by quickly as he anxiously waited for his meeting with the company from the commercial and Den felt a nervous rush when it came time to leave his house in the evening to meet with Lucy Phifer. Den felt the thick warm air as he walked outside towards his silver sedan. The grey clouds were heavy, ready to release raindrops at any second.
"This one's going to hit us hard"Den thought to himself before entering his vehicle, placing his shaking, left leg against the bottom of the steering wheel in an attempt to control his body.
He turned on the radio to some random rock station and left to seek out 1224 Morningstar road with the help of his GPS, which he had switched from the female voice to the male voice, because hearing the feminine tones had only made him believe that if he looked to his right Aalliyah would be there smiling at him. He drove out of the city, with the road leading into a forested area full of lively green pine trees mixed in with old dying oaks and other trees which seemed to lack life. It was an odd mixture that made Den think that the pines were sucking the life out of the other native trees.
After a fifteen-minute excursion Den arrived at the building and gave his name to an intercom on a thick red brick wall next to two large steel gates. The facility was impressively large and looked like a brand new factory but there was a dome attached giving the structure a white-house like look when seen from the front driveway. Den parked his car behind a colorful mixture of other cars, clicked the lock symbol twice waiting for the quick beep to make sure it was locked, and went through the glass doors into a large entryway with a service desk at which a secretary was busy filing her nails and reading a woman's magazine, probably Oprah's O magazine just like the one Aalliyah read religiously.
There were lots of cars outside, but Den didn't see anyone occupying the black marble chairs in the large room he had entered from glass doors. He wondered if he had heard the time wrong and he was terribly late. This made him fear his immediate dismissal from the program he hadn't even decided if he was actually going to complete.
"May I help you?" The black haired lady replied applying the file to the tip of her thumbnail.
"Yes, I'm here to see Lucy Phifer," Den answered after clearing his throat like a prepubescent teen.
"Oh great, she is expecting you in the Pontius room. Please head right and into the hallway and it will be the only door on your left"
The lady ignored his gratitude and continued filing, even placing the headphones he hadn't seen earlier back into her ears.
"What a rude bitch" Den thought to himself walking towards the hallway. He found the Pontius room with ease since it was the only room before the hallway ended with a window that looked out towards the road surrounded by forest, the pine trees peeked out along the sides giving off a sense of seclusion to the building.
Den pushed on the cold steel handle and entered a room that was all grey and a circle of round glossy white chairs with a large metal table that held a set of white roses in the middle. Den proceeded to sit in the closest seat and wait for someone to enter.
After what seemed like an eternity to Den a woman walked in wearing a white gloss lab coat and white gloves, her hair was in a ponytail and was pure white, her caramelized tan skin seemed to glow, she had on pitch black lipstick and carried herself promiscuously, and her clipboard was balanced in her left arm with precision, this woman had a very seductive presence about her. The nametag proclaimed her as Lucy Phifer, which was pinned on her gloss coat.
"Hello Den dear, how are you?"
"Um, good…" Den answered. He slowly got to his feet, and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants before taking her outstretched hand.
"Fantastic well shall we get started?" She asked as she let go of Den's hand after giving him an extremely firm handshake, that almost made Den feel like he was the one who should be wearing the skirt.
Lucy pulled out a pen and wrote some notes then looked up at Den. "We will start by putting you into a deep sleep using a special injection of spiral…"
"Whoa! I'm not so sure about that."
"Relax dear. You see this will run smoothly and you won't feel a thing. It will put you into a deep sleep in which we move you to the cycle room and attach you to our terminal, from there you will be in a dream like state to meet your emotions as separate manifestations face to face, your goal is to deal with them to in sense control them, our program benefits from seeing people leave knowing themselves better than they ever did".
"I think it sounds all right I guess," Den replied nervously.
"Good!" A smile formed at the sides of Lucy's face that made Den feel like the rooms temperature had risen.
"When you arrive in the emotional environment your brain has placed you in, you need to seek out your emotion and deal with it the best you can, the best technique to keep in mind is that of opposites, so if you see for instance hate you would need to use love or vice versa. Everyone has a different emotion set that they need to improve on, based on what your brain's feedback says you reoccurring deal with the most. We cannot choose which emotional environment you will end up in but the idea is to embrace the opposite, are we clear?"
"Yes" Den replied, but he had more questions in mind. He decided to quell them and let Lucy continue.
"Now, the only drawback to this system is that if you fail to console an emotion it can leave you trapped in your mind and we plan to bring you back if that happens".
"Your safety matters greatly to us and we only want to help you, and in turn help us with our research".
Den acknowledged her words and felt confident in dealing with his emotions. He had always thought he could control his emotions pretty well even in the midst of a bad break-up but he was curious as to what emotions he needed to explore more. He figured this couldn't take too long, since he obviously didn't have very many uncontrolled emotions.
Out of her glossy coat pocket she pulled out a needle which was already pre-filled with a strange clear-orange like liquid.
"So your going to stick me with that thing?". Den spoke as she approached him confidently.
"Yes, but I assure you, you wont feel a thing."
Den held out his arm.
"No dear, maybe this will help if you close you eyes".
"Um okay…" Den closed his eyes feeling very nervous about where the needle was going to be stuck.
"You, will feel a little pressure but it will be okay I assure you", Lucy cooed into Den's ear.
Den could feel a pressure instantly upon his left closed eyelid but no pain as the needle pierced his closed eye and through his pupil inside.
A cold rush went through his head as Lucy pressed the liquid into his eye and it caused Den to get the goose bumps, and the hair stand up on his neck.
"Good now all done," Lucy started talking but Den could feel drowsiness hit his body instantly and the previous cold feeling changed to a warm feeling making him fall into a deep sleep.
Chapter 5: Anger
Den woke up in a patch of red grass. He got up and looked up to see he was at the foot of an active volcano . It was hot and he started sweating he turned around to see a red grass valley, the sky was a brick red and the sun was a blazing blood orange. Den heard a bloodthirsty scream that nearly stopped his heart. He turned back up and saw at the tip of the volcano a large man wielding two silver short-axes. The man exhaled and steam spouted from his snarling nose. He was pissed and his bloodshot eyes were marked on Den.
"I AM ANGER!I WILL FUCK YOU UP!" The man started running fast down the volcano towards Den.
Den started running fast as Anger pursued him getting closer faster than Den could think.
"Okay think quickly Den," he said to himself, trying to start some kind of brain function, since his brain seemed to be working against him, making itself blank so he could rely only on the urge to run.
"Shit!" Den said, seeing Anger approach at full speed, quickly closing the large gap between them. Den turned and ran down the volcanic bottom toward the valley skipping over large black rocks and pebbles.
He felt something poke him in the back-pocket of his jeans as he ran downhill and pulled it out hoping maybe he could get something to defend himself from the onslaught from the man now about 300 yards away screaming out at him.
He pulled out a piece of paper as he ran fueled off of adrenaline and rapid heartbeat. "Here is your hint: Relax," he read out loud from the paper. He wasn't exactly sure how he had gotten this piece of paper, but whoever it was sure didn't know what it was like to be chased by a beast wielding two gleaming, sharp battle axes. He couldn't really see how relaxing was going to help."Well I don't have many other options than my inevitable death", Den said to himself. He stopped abruptly letting his heart catch up with his rapid breathing. Now only a short distance away he could see the large red skinned man with hair that burned like fire start to slow down some. Den slowed down his breathing and noticed the more he did the more Anger would slow his pace, almost as if he was pressing slow motion on the TV during a football game.
"Wait.. I got it!" Den thought as he remembered what Lucy had said about opposites.
Anger realized his inability to speed up and stopped abruptly. Hot with fury, he yelled out, "I WILL KILL YOU!!!" Anger changed his stance and gripped his left axe so hard it caused his hand to bleed. As the blood began to drip from the monster-man's and, the volcano started to erupt in a similar fashion, spewing lava and blazing balls of fire into the air that descended upon it's rocky red volcanic surface.
Den could see Anger from thirty yards away and felt his heart automatically beat faster but didn't run since he knew that would only make things worse. Anger's left arm bulged and he pulled his arm back and flung the short-axe directly at Den.
"Focus!!" Den told himself.
Be calm. Den closed his eyes and breathed slowly once again starting to soothe his heartbeat. The short-axe slowed down its force but was getting closer to Den; now only five yards away. He slowed his breathing down even further and used yawns to help. The ax tip met with the edge of his eyebrow before abruptly stopping as he opened his eyes.
"YOU BASTARD!" Anger dropped his other short-axe, And fell to his knees. His body melted into a dark blue viscous puddle staining the red earth.
Clouds formed above Den and started raining. The blue that used to be Anger spread fast like an infection throughout the valley and volcano, causing everything to turn blue. The volcano almost instantly became a snow-topped mountain. The grass in the valley where he currently was turned a light blue color with frost glittering off the tips. Each drop of rain brought relief to Den as he noticed he was currently covered in sweat, and very hot after his trial with Anger.
Silence fell upon him as the rain stopped. Not a single blade of grass moved. There was no wind, not even the slightest breeze to move the air that oppressed him, causing him to feel as if he were being compressed into a very tight space. He didn't dare take deep breaths in fear of making too much noise. He was well aware of the way the world he was in seemed to be waiting for something to happen, while at the same time he wondered if he wasn't just stuck. Lucy had warned him about it. But, before he could get too worried the silence was suddenly destroyed by the loud mourning cry of a teenage girl who appeared an arm's length away in torn jeans, a loose-fitting long-sleeved black shirt that two black feathery wings appeared to sprout from at some point in her curved back. She looked so young, with her long black hair that was braided into thousands of tiny braids that hung about her as if they were streaks of rain dropping from the sky. Her skin was the color of ash, and she looked so out of place in these bright surroundings that Den couldn't understand what she was doing there, until she lifted her head and he could see that out of her dark, almost black eyes tears streamed down her face endlessly, and softly she whispered, "I hurt. You hurt. I hope you suffer from all your pain and sorrow."
Den felt tears flood his eyes, as the world around him turned a dark, midnight blue. The once fluffy clouds, now hovered almost within reach, as they swiftly firmed into one giant expanse of bruise-colored power. Pellets of icy rain pounded Den and he raised his arms up in an attempt to shelter his face. His blood turned to ice and its once too fast rushing, now became too slow. He could feel his toes and fingers turning numb. But more than the physical pain he was feeling, he hated the emotional torment the girl's weeping caused him to experience. With every whimper he heard whispers, "Your mother's dead." And with every sob it became louder, until through her shrieks of sorrow he could clearly hear voices shouting, "YOUR MOTHER'S DEAD!"
He was transferred back into the child he had been at six, when he had been pulled from his field trip to the park because his mother had died suddenly, in a car accident. He was too young to understand she wasn't going to come home again. For hours he asked when his mommy was going to come home. His dad got tired of hearing it and tried desperately to explain how," mommy had become an angel because she had a bad accident and she would have to look after him from above". He cried, even though he didn't get it. He cried because accident meant his mommy was hurt and he didn't want her to be hurt.
When relatives and family friends had started arriving, he asked each and everyone of them if they knew where his mommy was because he wanted to "kiss her boo-boos to make them all better". Each one of them had sadly told him his mommy was dead in various ways, but each arriving at the same conclusion: she wasn't coming home. By the end of the night, people had stopped answering his questions. And when everyone else had left, his father had lost his temper at his son's unwittingly persistent questioning and shouted, "Your mother's dead!"
The adult Den trapped in this cold, stormy world cried. He wept and fell to his knees. The sleeting rain turned to icy crystals of snow that seemed to stick to him, cloaking him in a depressing blanket of sorrow. And as he cried harder and harder, so did the girl. The voices in the wind seemed to come from every angle. No matter how he tried to stuff his fingers into his ears, the voices rang loud and true within him. He heard the words and remembered the loss. The loss he's felt every day since.
"Let me out! I can't do this! This isn't fair!" Dan screamed out, hoping Lucy would hear. He couldn't overcome this heartbreak. He felt everything in his body becoming colder and colder. His frame shook from the cold. And the tears he cried turned into icicles that hung down from his cheeks.
"NO!" screamed Lucy's voice. It echoed upon the frozen tundra. He couldn't tell where that voice was coming from, but he knew it was hers. "You won't get out at all. You're trapped here!"
Den felt despair creep into his system. He curled up into a ball among the snow and closed his eyes, willing his body to freeze with death soon. The whispers only got louder and louder the harder he cried. He closed his eyes to welcome the peace of death.
But, instead of slipping into an empty deathlike state, he saw more visions. He saw visions of Alliyah, the woman he still loved even after she hurt him. And instead of experiencing the pain their breakup had caused him, he experienced the pain he caused her.
He saw the way she had stayed up for him that night he went to the bar. He hadn't known until now. She had put on a new red bra and thong set that set off her curves so well. She he had cooked him a nice dinner, complete with the romantic candlelight and soft music that he had always done for her out of habit. Now he appreciated it. He couldn't help but feel the throb of guilt as she danced around the room with a huge smile on her face singing loudly into the spatula she was going to use to dish up hamburger lasagna, his favorite. And that throb worsened into pain that felt like muscle cramps all throughout his body, because he saw how she looked at the clock an hour after he should have been home. Her face dropped as she checked both the home answering machine and her cell phone. He hadn't called her. And thirty minutes later, she changed into the sweatpants and sweatshirt she had stolen from him that she didn't know he knew of. She blew out the candles, but not before that dim light let him see the tears that streamed down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry Alliyah," he moaned out loud. He buried his head in the palms of his hands, his shoulders visibly shaking from the raking breaths he was taking.
Den felt so guilty. He had been in some other woman's bed as his beautiful Alliyah laid alone, curled up, crying herself to sleep in his clothes, wondering where he was and if he was alright. When he hadn't come home by one, she had called some of his friends, wondering if they knew where he was and if he was okay. She said she would rather he show up drunk than not show up at all, because she was worried about him. By two she had drank half the bottle of brandy she had gotten, because he didn't like wine and she had wanted to keep the meal classy. Finally, at 3:56 am, she fell asleep on the couch listening to the playlist she had made with all their favorite songs. She had skipped over everyone of her favorite songs until her swollen and bloodshot eyes finally lost the battle against sleep.
Den opened his eyes with a start. He hated himself. He hated the way he hurt her. He loved her, and of this he was sure. He would never ever love another woman the way he loved Alliyah, and he was going to get her back one way or another. He would spend every day of the rest of his life making it up to her if he had to, but somehow he would do it.
Seeing the crying girl in front of him, he remembered the image of Alliyah crying and suddenly felt the need to comfort her, to make everything better for this girl. He rushed over to her as fast as his stiff, frozen joints would let him. He felt the sharp pricks of frostbite in his feet as he crossed the short distance to her and wrapped his arms around her.
At first, she stiffened, her body becoming rigid and her cries becoming louder and more persistent. They deafened him, but he resisted the urge to fall back into his despairing sadness, even as the cries became more and more like Alliyah's stifled sobs as she lay in their bed alone, her face in his pillow. He fought the anger that overcame him, remembering that anger didn't solve anything. He had to be calm and rational. He couldn't fix things with Alliyah until he found a way to get out of this nightmare and maybe this suffering girl could be the key.
He held her tight in his arms and quietly talked to her. He sympathized with her and told her how he had a girl that he loved so very much but he had made her cry like this. He told her about his mom's death and the way he had cried as a child over it. When none of that helped, he began telling her stories about his mom. The stories started off sad, moments when he had wanted her so badly to be there, and she wasn't. Then it turned into moments when he was angry at her, stupid things that he regretted. Finally, he told her of the good times, like sharing ice cream cones on hot summer days when they would have to eat the mint chocolate chip ice cream as quickly as possible so it wouldn't melt and get all over their faces and hands. Or when his mom had taken him and his dad out fishing for the first time, neither of them has ever gone before. He had a green Snoopy pole that was about half the size of his mom's, but he caught the first fish. His mom had giggled uncontrollably when he squealed, and dropped the tiny crappy after it's tail slapped him in the face while he held it up for them to take a picture.
Slowly, she relaxed in his arms as he told story after story, feeling more at peace the more stories he told. Once she relaxed enough to lean back on him, he pulled her into his lap, cradling her like a baby; like the baby Alliyah had always wanted but he was scared to give her. He would give her anything now, if she would only let him back into her heart.
The snow had stopped and the clouds had risen higher into the sky, less oppressing than before. Some of the snow had started melting and instead of turning into slush or rivers of freezing water, the mounds just slowly disappeared. He felt elation at the thought that maybe this was working. Yet, just as his heart started pounding with a happier tune, he heard the girl's cries grow again. In his silence, she had become sadder.
In desperation, he did the only thing he could think of: sing. He softly crooned the love song he sang to Alliyah on their one year anniversary, trying to be romantic but feeling way more cheesy than sweet. She had cried when he sang, but not because of sadness.
As he sang, he pictured Alliyah in his arms, her warm and loving body snuggling into his chest as he sang her to sleep. He rocked the crying girl like he would've rocked Alliyah had he made the right decision and come home that night. He felt the need to comfort this girl because he hadn't chosen to comfort the girl he loved.
As he sang and rocked, the girl's sobs became quieter. If he had opened his eyes, he would've seen the clouds slowly dissipate, the snow disappear, and the mountains digress into mere mounds. But he didn't open his eyes, too focused on helping this girl since he couldn't help Alliyah. The only thing he noticed was the temperature increase until it was at a cold, but reasonable 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Den sang song after song after song, until the girl was no longer audibly crying and his sadness had totally disappeared.
He felt a rush of wind, and a weird sensation in his stomach. His arms suddenly felt empty and he knew something big was happening.
He opened his eyes and immediately felt disoriented. He was no longer in the winter landscape. He was back in the grey room with its circle of white, glossy chairs. The roses still sat in the center of the table, and just like before he took the seat he had originally been in, waiting for something to happen.
It took ten minutes before Lucy Phifer came strolling into the room looking angrier than ever. She slammed the door shut and just stood there glaring at him. Den could almost feel her anger radiating off of her like heat waves. Some sick part of his mind wished he had marshmallows he could roast from her fiery madness.
"Hello. How are you?" Den finally asked after he couldn't stand the tormenting silence any longer, pretending to be calm and collected even though inside he felt on edge. His veins pumped adrenaline throughout his body and every muscle in his body was tensed like prey waiting for its predator to make the first move.
"Don't fucking hello me! You cheated you, son of a bitch!" She yelled. Den was taken aback by her swearing,and shouting. He had expected her to be pissed, but this was more than just pissed. "You weren't supposed to cheer that girl up! Now not only are you not trapped in that world like you were supposed to be, but you ruined this module so I can't even market it now that the boss is done with it! All these weeks of hard work out the door!"
"Wait, you're not the one in charge?" Den asked, leaning forward in his seat.
"No! Hell no! I'm just the designer. I was commissioned to make this module by the boss. She told me that there was a special plan and I had to make the module and get you to go through it. Then I was supposed to trap you in sadness and make you feel all that pain over and over again!" She screamed. Then she stopped, her cheeks turning first pink then white, so white they became almost translucent. "Fuck…" she whispered.
Den knew she had said too much. He jumped up from his seat and slowly crept towards her. He was the predator now and she knew he had her trapped in a corner. "Why me? Why was this whole thing developed for me? Who wanted me to feel the pain of sadness until it killed me? Who is your boss?"
"I can't tell you. It's confidential. That was the number one rule. I couldn't ever, ever, EVER, say who she is."
"Fine. I'll figure it out myself." Den said, making Lucy tremble.
"Please don't. Forget I said anything. You can just leave and forget everything," Lucy begged.
Den ignored her pleading. "Let's see… your boss is a female. You've called her she this whole time. She has had you working on this module for weeks so it can't be anyone who I've pissed off that recently, but obviously it wasn't that long ago either, because they would've tried this before now."
"She wants me to be sad, really sad". "And she doesn't want to deal with me anymore, but she obviously can't kill me herself."
"Stop… its better for both of you if you don't know…" Lucy pleaded. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
"Its better for both of us? How? How can it be better for both of us? I've obviously hurt this woman pretty badly if she wants me to suffer so much. And she knows a lot about me, because she knew about my mom's death. I don't tell that story to many people. I don't want to relive it, and she knows that. Plus, she knew about Alliyah…. Wait!"
"NO!!!!" Lucy shouted lurching at Den. Den sidestepped her and turned to face her as she lay on the floor.
"It's Alliyah isn't it!? She wanted to hurt me like I hurt her!" Den shouted. He felt so dumb for not figuring it out earlier. The emotions he had dealt with were her emotions. She had been angry at him after he had cheated on her, then she was sad, and hurt. She wanted him to know what she had felt. His heart broke, not because he felt betrayed, but because he understood. He understood her, probably for the first time since they had started dating.
"Bring me to her," Den quietly commanded. He wasn't forceful, but the demand was clear. Lucy didn't know what else to do, so with tears streaming down her face, she opened the door and led him out of the room. They walked silently down the hall, Lucy's heels clicking to the soft plod of Den's sneakers. She took a sharp left after two doors, and pressed her badge to the keypad on the right side. The doors opened, and Den was stunned by the technological display in the room. There were monitors all over the center wall, all showing the winter world where he had been before he had beat the game. On the center island were millions of buttons that he couldn't even start to guess what they were for. The most impressive thing he saw was the woman who stood with her back to him, her shoulders shaking silently as she stared at the largest monitor. He noticed that she still wore the silver bracelet he had gotten made especially for her on her last birthday. On the outside it said: "Make every moment count". On the inside he had paid a lot of extra money to get the jewelry store worker write: "My love will last forever "– Den. He yearned to run up and surround her in his arms and prove to her that his love would last forever, but he knew he couldn't just do that. So he stood silently watching her while he tried to figure out his next move.
"Well, what did you do with him?" Alliyah's voice rang out. Den felt his heart jump. He had missed that voice more than he ever realized.
"I'm right here," Den answered for Lucy, who seemed completely at a loss for what to say. In fact as her boss whipped around, she slid out the door. Fortunately for her, Den and Alliyah were too busy staring at each other to even notice her disappearance.
Alliyah looked pissed, which Den expected. He knew she wouldn't just forgive him right away. He hadn't done anything to make her forgive him. Plus, he had ruined her whole game.
"I get it," Den whispered. He didn't make any move. He always watched the guys in the movies who started moving closer to the guy who wanted to jump off some bridge or twenty-story building and thought they were idiots. If it weren't a movie that person would've instantly jumped. He didn't want to scare Alliyah or make her feel trapped. He wanted her to come to him, and if that didn't happen he would spend his whole life waiting.
"You get what? You get the game? Well congratulations! Do you want a trophy? Maybe I should just find you a hooker? That would make you happy!" Alliyah's voice dripped with sarcasm and her arms were crossed over her chest.
"No. I get why you did all this…"
"No you don't! You never got it!" Alliyah interrupted. As frustration started eating away at Den, he had to consciously remind himself that in order to beat anger he had to stay calm and just take the hits.
"I didn't. I'll admit it. I never got it till now. I didn't understand you. I'm sorry."
"Words don't mean shit coming from your mouth!" Alliyah had tears in her eyes and that broken feeling was creeping back into Den. He wanted so badly to rock her like he had that girl.
"I'm sorry, Alliyah. I hurt you really badly. I did the worst thing a man could ever do to the woman he loves. I cheated on you."
"Don't say it," Alliyah screamed but her voice wasn't hateful. It was full of pain.
"I cheated on you. You were waiting at home for me with dinner and sexy lingerie, but I got drunk and slept with another woman. "A woman who meant nothing to me. But I let her come between me, and the woman I loved. I'm sorry."
"Den, stop it. Just leave. I don't want to do this. It hurts…"
"Alliyah, I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't understand how I felt. I didn't realize how you felt. I know now that I loved you, I still love you, and I always will love you."
"How can I trust you?"
Den suddenly felt elated. She wasn't pushing him away anymore.
"You won't. Not right away, but I'll show you that I can. I'll be there with you every night. I won't ever spend a night out of our bed."
"Stop making promises you can't keep, Den. I don't want to hear it. You hurt me. I can't look at you without feeling that pain. Every time I close my eyes, I see you and some girl fucking in some dingy motel room. Do you know how that hurts?"
"I'm not making promises I won't keep. I know I hurt you, but baby you're my everything. You're the woman I'm going to marry. And we're going to have a family. I want kids, Alliyah. I want to see you holding that baby in your arms and know that we made it. Together. But most of all I want to take away that hurt. I can't erase it. I'm not that stupid to think that I can. But, I can make that pain disappear, just like I did for that girl in there. She was you Alliyah. I made it better. I pictured you while I held her, and I sang her our song because I wanted to sing it to you. Let me show you how much I love you. Let me hold you."
Alliyah broke down. The tears she had been trying so hard to hide couldn't be disguised anymore. They ran down her face freely. She seemed to crumple in front of him. She swayed on weak legs and her arms clung tightly to one another as if she was holding onto the pieces in order to stay whole. It broke Den's heart to see her like this, because he knew he was the cause of it.
He reached out to her, pulled her into his arms, and held her tight. As she weakly fought against him, he resisted until she gave in and let her head fall onto his chest and her tears wet his shirt. He soothingly rubbed her back, whispering how much he loved her in her ear.
Sobbing turned to infrequent whimpers, and he sang their song, except this time he tried to put all his love into the song. He hoped it was a manifestation of his feelings for her, or at least enough to show her how much he really loved her.
The crying stopped. He started the song again. This time he danced with her. First he just swayed, then Den started slowly turning her in a circle, and when Alliyah relaxed into the music, he pulled himself slightly away from her. He placed her left hand on his shoulder, and wrapped her small right hand in his, and then he danced with her. He didn't do any fancy turns or dips. He just moved his feet and led her, and she followed. Alliyah trusted him enough to let him guide her, and for now that was a big enough step for Den.