This story takes place in a city not unlike this city. In a neighbourhood not unlike this neighbourhood. It was a beautiful city, where everyone was free, unless you wanted to wear a cross, or a yarmulke, or a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. A city where many languages from all over the world were used, except one had to be double the size of all others when in print.
In this city lived a boy. Well, a man really, but he had boyish charm that was reflected in his bright blonde hair, a giant smile that he wore everyday, and the manner in which he whistled delicate songs to himself all day long.
And the boy loved to play, as boys do. He enjoyed the city’s many parks, its surrounding rivers and lakes, and its terraces, where splendid beverages were served from very early in the day until very very very late.
And the boy enjoyed boyhood, as boys do. He played with his friends. He went camping. He watched hockey. He went on long walks through the city he loved, taking note of the all the strange and wonderful people with whom he shared his little kingdom.
He worked, but not too often. Not so often as to not enjoy the rest of his days. The boy was an artist. And he loved his job. He loved his art, fabulous paintings filled with vibrant colours, paintings that depicted the very city he lived in, and all the different people who lived there.
This boy was happy. Well, he was not unhappy. And then he met a girl. Well, a woman really, but a girl in many ways. The boy found the girl to be beautiful. And she was. Her hair was the colour of an exploding red sunset, the kind of colour the boy liked to use in his paintings, and was cut short so as to frame her face in a heart
At first, the girl was all the boy could ever want from a girl. She played with him in the parks. She swam with him in the rivers and lakes. She enjoyed the terraces and their splendid beverages from very early in the day until very very very late.
The boy and the girl enjoyed each other, as boys and girls do. They played with their friends. They went camping. They watched hockey. They went on long walks through the city they loved, taking note of the all the strange and wonderful people with whom they shared their little kingdom.
And the boy loved the girl. And the girl loved the boy. When she entered a room his heart would leap from his chest as if to find its way to hers. Her mere presence made him shiver. Her voice warmed him like summer rain, and he believed he knew what true happiness was.
So the boy and the girl decided to move in together. They rented an apartment that had a stunning view of the city, an house with a large yard, and a terrace of its own that had a view of a mountain that marked the city’s centre, a centre marked further by a cross.
The two were very happy in this house. He continued to paint, and she worked in an office close by, but not so often as to not enjoy the rest of their days. They filled their backyard with animals. Dogs, cats, an even a llama they named Fern after her late father. They had large parties with all their friends, and all their friends’ animals, and music, and laughter, and bliss.
But then it all changed. One day, it was a Tuesday, a Tuesday during the summer that should have been bright and festive and fun, but instead was cursed by rain and darkness and thundering storms. A Tuesday on which the girl celebrated her 25th birthday.
The boy woke up that morning and went to feed the dogs and cats and Fern the llama, but they were not to be found. He went out to the backyard, which was muddy from freshly turned soil, and marked by little crosses like the one on the mountain that stared at him from a distance.
When the girl returned home that evening, she had gotten her hair cut. Gone was the bright sunset red that the boy loved so, and in its place a black as dark as midnight itself. And it no longer framed her face in a heart, but rather defined her sharp features and gave her the appearance that she was always angry, and that perhaps, she was evil.
From that day forward the city was plagued by rain. They no longer went on walks, instead they drove a dark tinted minivan that she made him buy with all of the money he had saved from selling his paintings, and what paintings they did not sell she set on fire to in their yard.
She replaced all his clothes one night when he was sleeping. Gone were the fantastic bright shades and playful outfits, replaced by drab shirts, something called Dockers, and deck shoes not unlike the ones his father wore. She got him a job at an office, not unlike the job his father wore. He wore a frown often, not unlike the frown his father wore.
The boy’s own hair began to change. The blonde faded in the absence of sunshine, and became a dull and lifeless grey, and grey like the skies that once shone brightly upon the city, that now had a permanent coldness to them.
She would not permit him to play. She would not allow him to visit the parks. She banned him from seeing his friends. The lakes and rivers had frozen over, or fried up all together. He was not even allowed to watch hockey. The terraces were closed due to the rain, and his splendid beverages were limited to one on special occasions. The strange and wonderful people that once freckled his city seemed to be replaced by fiends, ghosts, goblins, and ghouls. The boy became afraid of the outside. Afraid of the city he once loved so.
But more than that, he was afraid of the girl.
Sometimes, he would wake in the middle of the night, and she’d be standing over him with a knife, or a pillow, or an Ikea catalogue.
Sometimes, he would wake in the morning, and she would be lying fully dressed and rigid in the bed. “This is what it will be like when you find my body,” she’d whisper in a snake-like hiss of a voice.
Sometimes, he would awake tied to their couch, his eyes pried open with toothpicks, and she’d force him to watch TV shows about death, and famine, and hospitals in Seattle.
But, what frightened the boy most, was how the girl would appear to him in his nightmares, wearing a black wedding dress, little trails of blood trickling from her twisted mouth, and whispering evil nothings in his ear, so horrific so as not to be repeated, except their message was clear: She wanted a ring. And she wanted a little boy and a girl little girl of their own.
The boy did not understand. They were just a boy and a girl themselves, what need, what want could they possibly have for a boy and a girl of their own?
And the ring. The ring gave him nightmares. The ring that she showed him pictures of nightly. A ring like the ones worn by all her friends. Like the one worn by her mother. A ring of diamonds cut from the screams of a thousand dead children from a far off land, a ring that meant death, and golf, and commitment.
He was so deeply afraid of her that when she entered a room his heart would leap from his chest as if to escape hers. Her mere presence made him shiver. Her voice cooled him like being caste in snow, and he believed he now knew what true evil was.
The boy was trapped. The beautiful city he once loved so had become a dungeon, and prison, a dark and horrible place that was cursed with unhappiness, waking nightmares, and brunch dates with other couples.
After a year of living in fear, of sleeping with one eye open, of pretending to still love the girl, of visiting shopping malls for no good reason, he knew he had to make his escape. He waited for his opportunity, in both fear and hopefulness. And then one Saturday it presented itself. While looking for a new home in which to live, in a distant and dark, vile, soulless part of the city known as suburbia, the girl was distracted by the shining brilliance of brand new gun metal kitchen appliances.
And so the boy ran. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, across empty fields, and through barren woods, away from the city, and away from the girl. He could feel her running behind him, her sharp eyes cutting cursed stares into his back. But he refused to turn back. Tears were streaming from his eyes, the rain pounded against his grey and lifeless hair, his button down shirt and no-iron Dockers soaked heavy, lightening striking ever so close, the fear propelling him faster and faster, until…
Until nothing. Just darkness. And he slept.
When he awoke he was in another city, a city not unlike the one he once loved. His blonde hair had returned, and so to had the festive colours of his clothing. He looked quickly in every direction, looking for the girl, but instead found strange and wonderful people, smiling and whistling through their day.
And there were girls. Girls everywhere. Girls like the one he once loved who had turned into something he feared more than anything. He would stay here, in this new kingdom, and never fall in love again. He would never have to be a man. He could be a boy forever. He would always be happy.
But still, when he slept, she would visit his nightmares, promising to find him, to have him put that ring on her finger, and spend eternity in the dark hollow of the city he could never return to.