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ISSUE 2
 

 

The Gift

By Joanne Yu Yan Chan

 

"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.

I'm half crazy, all for the love of you.

It won't be a stylish marriage.

I can't afford a carriage.

But you'll look sweet upon the seat.

Of a bicycle built for two."

Harry Dacre (1892). "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)"

 

Tucked away within an overlooked nation's niche, Somerville—a quaint town—seemed to slumber. Its buildings, puncturing the meandering cobblestone paths, were imbued with earthy charm. Among the quaint village backdrop, on a cobbled street corner where ivy clung to aged brickwork, an unusual storefront bore a name—Daisy's Treasures. The shop's dim lighting seemed to mirror the demure nature of its owner.

A small woman, her garments reflecting her love for eras long past, Daisy moved gracefully amidst the narrow aisles of her shop. Beams of sunlight played tricks in the corners, where relics ensconced tales of their previous owners. A sea of bric-a-brac lay in organized disarray, each piece holding its own history and potential. Her fingers would dance on the worn-out edges of keepsakes, crafting a ballet of shadows against the fading wallpaper. Gossip about her charm and eccentricity swirled around Somerville like a constant wind. 

These whispered rumors formed a shroud of mystery around Daisy, deterring many, yet drawing a few brave or reckless souls. Among those undeterred by the circulating hearsay was Edgar—a young man known for his mechanical skills. He possessed a vast assortment of tools and blueprints detailing the village's layouts and designs, and his stolid demeanor usually contrasted with Daisy's offbeat charms. His heart ached with hunger, but his possessions paled compared to her elaborate relics and gold trinkets. Yet, in the deepest recesses of his heart, he nurtured an offering to Daisy.

Under the canvas of a sky charged with the brewing tension of an impending storm, Edgar unveiled his first gift to Daisy: a tandem bicycle. The sight of the bike stirred something within her, and she delicately mounted the back saddle. Her ethereal form against the backdrop of the summer dusk was like an artist's rendition of serene chaos. 

The wheels began their dance with the cobblestones as a cold wind swept into Somerville. Edgar's pedaling initiated a transformation; the town around him began to alter. Familiar structures stretched into the sky, merging with the base of the lowest clouds, casting thin shadows that seemed to reach out, hungry for familiarity.

Throughout this unsettling shift, there wasn't even a hint of Daisy's breathing quickening. Her quietude created a sharp juxtaposition to Edgar's accelerating heartbeats, as if they were two sides of the same distorted coin. As he pedaled harder against the escalating gusts of wind, he glanced backward. Daisy's hair streamed wildly around her face, yet her eyes sparkled, and a faint smile touched her lips, urging him on. 

 

They left behind Daisy's storefront—a dot in the horizon of the town's shrinking landscape. The charm of the once delightful village had faded, giving way to a strange tableau tinted with unease. As the road narrowed into a thin trail, rain drizzled, dotting Daisy's face. Yet she remained undeterred, gazing forward with intense focus. 

As the tandem bicycle carried them further into the outskirts of the town, the edges of civilization started to blur, giving way to an untouched woodland. As they wove through the countryside, a serenade of nocturnal creatures filled the air, punctuated by the soft patter of rain. With each passing moment, the familiar chorus of their surroundings gave way to a tranquility punctuated only by the mossy whispers of the sparse oaks and pines that were becoming denser around them. Despite the change in scenery, Edgar led their path, his actions dictated by instinct.

From a distance, the trees had appeared as mere outlines. But as they drew near, they transformed into writhing figures with bark resembling ancient, etched skin. The sky darkened to an unnatural shade of violet, casting eerie shimmers. The path ahead seemed a passage into an older, more primordial realm, their only companions the moon's glow and the shadows thrown by the trees across the fields.

Through their strenuous pedaling, time seemed to warp and twist around them. Suddenly, an otherworldly din filled the air—a chorus resonating from the very marrow of Somerville. The tandem bicycle abruptly jolted to a stop as Edgar slammed down his shaking legs and stared with alarm into the sky. He dared not turn back to look at Daisy.

Above, the wind-whipped clouds darkened momentarily, hinting at a distant lightning's flash. After a moment, Edgar resumed their journey with renewed caution. The rhythmic creaking of the bicycle chain kept time with his racing heart. Every turn of the pedal drove them deeper into the abyss, their tale transforming into a fragment of Sommerville’s whispered folklore. 

The farther into the woods they got, the more apparent Daisy's apprehension became. Her silent façade crumbled as quiet gasps began to escape her lips like symphonies of fear the forest breathed. Edgar could no longer ignore the unsettling chill grazing his spine. A thick canopy now covered them, the knotty branches interlacing to blot out the stars’ brilliance. The path ahead was shrouded in shadows that seemed to devour any stray beam of light daring to penetrate their depth. The bicycle built for two had transformed into a spectral chariot navigating a sea of darkness.

The forest floor undulated more violently beneath them, the path rising and falling under the tires. Soon, an unfamiliar shape could be made out behind the thick screen of trees: a solitary, sharp-edged structure that seemed alien in this long since untouched wilderness. The seemingly abandoned house stood with gaping holes in its shingle roof, its wood siding contorted with moss and ivy winding up its walls.

As they approached, the house loomed like an ancient beast rising from sleep. They slowed to a stop before the strange sight, gazing up at it. Edgar reached out, his fingers gently touching the small of Daisy's back, guiding her as she stepped off the bike. Though her hair and dress were drenched with rain, she felt the intimacy of the gesture—how it hinted at unsaid promises.

Edgar began walking toward the door, his steps imbued with certainty. Daisy watched him with wide eyes. The further away he got, the more she was conscious of a newfound vulnerability. The throb of blood in her ears made it hard to pinpoint any sound from among the trees, and she hoped that there was nothing, and no one, out there with them in the woods. 

The bicycle stood forgotten, a hushed spectator to their contemplation of the time-ravaged façade. Edgar stood before the house, his shadow dancing like the leaves above them. He glanced back at Daisy. The growing distance between them and the moon’s luminous cast created a halolike effect over her body. He felt a strange calm settle over him. It was as though he was an actor in a play, his role predestined and immutable. 

His hand trembled as he reached for the worn door, yet his resolve remained.

As the rusted handle turned and the heavy door creaked open, a musty draught seeped into the night, wrapping Edgar in its clammy grasp. The crunching sound of dried leaves under his feet broke the house’s decades-long sleep as he stepped into the front hallway. Daisy lingered a few steps behind, her posture more relaxed. Edgar staggered inside over the uneven floor, leaving her momentarily alone. The unlit interior of the house, a void of inky blackness, swallowed him whole as he took a few steps inside, leaving only the sound of his muffled footfalls as proof of his existence. 

Edgar's feet hesitated with every creak of the ancient floorboards. The interior of the pinewood house was dusty and humid. Moonbeams glimmered through large, bare, dirty windows along its main hall. The dim light caught a sporadic twitch in Edgar’s eye. His fingers drummed a restless beat against his thigh. Beads of sweat pearled on his forehead, betraying the veneer of his earlier composure. As she came up beside him, Daisy's eyes traveled slowly from an amphora vase to an ornate clock that rested on a fireplace mantle. Clearly, no one had been inside this house to plunder its antiques. Edgar, meanwhile, began to move swiftly from one room to the next, his pulse resounding within the larger heart-valves of the forest.

Daisy brushed her fingers against the faded wallpaper, feeling its textured history beneath her fingertips. Memories whispered through the aged fabric—once a symbol of affluence, it now hung in tatters. The damp scent of mold mixed with a faint hint of old books. A grand staircase that had once welcomed guests with extravagance now bore broken steps, and small rodents scuttled in the dim light across the scratched, worn floor. The house, full of its own sounds, seemed to have absorbed all the murmurs of the forest.

Daisy's wavering footsteps echoed amidst the intermittent patter of slowing raindrops. Though the brief storm outside was ending, they continued on. Each step seemed to awaken muted whispers within the dormant structure as their exploration, laden with unspoken curiosity and caution, unfolded in tandem. They stirred up dust, the air dense with black spores of forgotten years. Wandering the corridor, Daisy paused at an entrance to a room, her gaze drawn to the climbing vines that invaded through shattered windows. Inside, an ornate chandelier, its crystals cocooned by cobwebs, hung precariously.

Daisy’s attention shifted as a subtle noise caught her ear. Turning, she realized that their separate wanderings had serendipitously led them back to the same hallway. Edgar stood at the other end, the weight of the house's secrets evident in his stance. Abruptly, they were poised across from one another. A glow from a cracked window draped sinuous, ghostly shadows across Edgar.

Suddenly, his shoulders sagged, and his eyes darted wildly, his hands trembling as if grasped by an unseen force. Daisy stared, backing up into a wall, her breath hitching as the weight of her fear pressed down on her chest.

 

As her gaze met his, she felt a jolt of adrenaline sending her swiftly turning on her heel. Edgar, fueled by frenetic energy, followed. What ensued was a dreadful chase through the gnarled innards of the house. Even the mice and bats stilled, making way for the enveloping silence. The rooms became a maze, the deafening quiet punctuated only by the pounding of their footsteps and Edgar's manic proclamations.

"Daisy, Daisy!" he shrieked, the pitch of his voice mirroring the intensity of his frenzy. "Don't you see? It's always been you! I would do anything for you!"

With a mix of fear and determination, Daisy navigated through the winding rooms, her heart's frantic beats mirroring the man's relentless pursuit. "Edgar, you've lost your mind!" she cried, her voice breaking.

Rushing down the hallway, its wood reflecting a hue reminiscent of her rich auburn hair, Daisy felt an irresistible pull towards a tarnished mirror. Behind her alarmed reflection, the backdrop subtly shifted to display an ancient tablet, its surface inscribed with hieroglyphs—a relic she recognized from her own collection, revered for its protective powers. The house's whispered secrets seemed to harmonize with the beating of her heart. The memories associated with that runestone surged within her, reminding her of her own vast knowledge and innate strength. This momentary link fortified her spirit, even as Edgar, unaware of her introspection, hastened onward, widening the gap between them. The terror in her eyes evolved, replaced by a simmering intensity. The moment by the mirror seemed to fortify her, imbuing her with mystic poise.

Unexpectedly, Edgar stumbled into a room he hadn’t yet seen. It was unlike any other in the house. Dust-covered shelves lined the walls, filled with books with titles in a cryptic language and bottles of various sizes, their contents shimmering in the mottled starlight that filtered through the cracked windows.

From the shadows of the corridor, Daisy inched closer, the deliberate silence of her steps betraying her intent. From the bent doorway, she observed Edgar pick up a bottle of Amor Cantatio. "What is this, Daisy?" he asked. Before he could parse out the depth of his predicament, Daisy raised her hand, gesturing words that seemed to seep into the air around them, unwinding it with their warning.

She whose image had adorned his dreams now stood before him, revealing a stern side that alienated his recollections. She seemed to have a celestial command, making him move and react as if the universe itself willed it.

Edgar's heart pounded against his ribcage as an icy dread bled into his veins. The room spiraled into a surreal vortex of disarray and shifting shadows as a single glimmer of light illuminated Daisy's face, drawing his gaze irresistibly to her. Amidst the turmoil, a moment of clarity blossomed, and she stood resolute, her beauty reminiscent of cold marble.

As the potion's effect deepened in his blood, Edgar's emotions weaved in a whirlwind of love, lust, and madness when he looked into her hardened eyes, which had once held warmth for him.

Daisy's eyes. They reflected the myriad emotions raging within him: betrayal and fascination, and a sinking realization that he was bound to her. His world dwindled to this vision of her—a culmination of his love turned lethal.

 

Watching Edgar unraveling with detached satisfaction, Daisy took a deliberate step forward. "You think you're the only one with secrets?" Her voice, a sibilant whisper, seemed to slide through the air, enveloping him with its chilling embrace.

Edgar tried to speak, but his throat constricted. His mind raced to find a semblance of understanding surrounded by the onslaught of feelings as he hoarsely muttered, "Why, Daisy? Why lead me here? Why this…deception?"

A moment of silence ossified between them before she replied, "The house wouldn't open its doors to just anyone, Edgar. It needed someone with…a connection. And who better than you?" A smirk crept onto her face as his mouth went dry. "You believe you know me. You see what you want to see: a frail creature needing protection. But have you ever wondered about my treasures? The power held in ancient relics?”

Edgar's vision began to tunnel and blur. The weight of Daisy's betrayal and the essence of his own folly pressed down on him as if he were in a nightmare. He slumped to the floor, the potency of her magic rendering him immobile.

Daisy knelt beside him, her fingers caressing his face. "Sleep now," she murmured.

The black tendrils of persuasion tying themselves around his fading consciousness. In the midst of the churning chaos of his thoughts, a singular image emerged: a portrait of Daisy, framed in ornate gold, contrasting starkly with the surrounding faded artworks. It captured her with an ethereal glow, her eyes holding the same depth and mystery that had always ensnared him. Bursting to the surface of his mind, figments of an eternity with her surged. You could stay here forever…as long as you see her face, a voice crooned inside his head, lighting a beacon in the tumultuous sea of his emotions. These desperate musings—genuine yearning mixed with affection—replayed like a dark revelation.

Who knew that love, in all its innocence and purity, could be such a sinister orchestration?

The question lingered in the air—a dirge to his fate.

Joanne Yu Yan Chan, an ardent reader since she was five, quickly devoured the works of R.L. Stine and H.P. Lovecraft. A bioanalytical researcher with a penchant for psychological horror and thrillers, she has whetted her analytical acumen at UC Davis and Stanford University. She blends her passion for science and storytelling by writing, and teaches Sunday school at her church to elementary school children. She lives in Sacramento, CA with her 13-year-old black cat Nelli.

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