Once upon a time, in a sad, dim little basement, in the modern world.
From an evil witch, a little gnome called Hua Cheng got an ultimatum of three days to work wonders, turn rags into riches, to turn his sad life around completely. He also needed to confess his love to his beloved, or the wrath of the witch would fall upon him. The little gnome was lost; how should he accomplish all of this in just three days? He pondered while he scratched his ruffly head.
But as the little gnome thought of his beloved, a shining fairy of light, he gathered all his wits and determination in his little clenched hands and started thinking of a plan. After having rigorously cleaned his apartment from floor to ceiling, leaving it sparkling, he finally got to work.
On the first day, the gnome took out all his magic tools, laptops, phones, computers, and started researching; without stopping or tiring, he studied famous people, celebrities’ public images and personas; he studied successful social media accounts, how to build an image and how to create a following. The gnome, which had avoided the internet like the pest until now was suddenly forced to dive into it head-first, feeling dizzy and disoriented as he suddenly got whirled around in all the politics and arbitrary laws of the online world, the filters and the likes, the hate and the love, the dramatics and sensationalism. But no matter how disheartening and confusing all of it was, the light kept shining in the little gnome’s eye, and he persisted.
On the second day, the little gnome had learned all he could about the internet and prepared to create his own persona. He contemplated, debated and deliberated, pacing up and down in his narrow den, throwing ideas onto paper, only to crunch them up into balls and throw them at the wall in dissatisfaction. After hours of this, thinking about what to make out of himself, he started questioning who he really was. He eventually spent the night rolled up into a tight ball on the floor, eye wide open, unable to sleep as an existential crisis entirely shut down his thinking capabilities. The stars in the sky laughed at this sight, sneering about what a pathetic creature housed down on earth.
On the third day, the little gnome got up in the morning with little sleep; the stars’ laughing and cackling had held him up all night. As he stared at all the crumpled pieces of paper on the floor, a light suddenly lit up within his tired brain: He didn’t want to use his real name, it was too boring… but the stars had given him the answer!! All their insults had been worth to bear after all! Suddenly excited, he got out his laptop and created a new social media account. As his name, he put… Hua Ch☆ng. He beamed at the screen: It was perfect!! How cute the star was, he thought!
Thanks to all his extensive research, and looking at the posts and blogs talking about himself, Hua Cheng had gotten an idea about how he could popularize himself. He hoped, prayed that his beloved, the fairy, was as dismissive of social media as he originally had been, as he changed into a sleeveless top and started taking pictures. Thinking that it wasn’t enough, he also hung chains around his neck and ripped the shirt here and there, stimulating the imagination of the viewer a little more. He never showed his entire face, intending to preserve his mystic appearance and leaving more to be desired. As long as people wanted more from you, they’d come back. This he had learned during the last few days.
His new accounts had a distinct pallet: Grey, black and red. For the sake of artistry, the little gnome also threw in some heavily edited pictures of wilting roses, blurry polaroid pictures and one of the ocean under a blood-red moon. Of course those pictures just accentuated those that actually depicted him… suggestive shots of his shoulders, hands and jaw, iron chain glistening in the flash o the camera, background dark and full of noise. The impression of the whole thing definitely was dark, sinful and full of innuendo… just as he had wanted it.
The little gnome couldn’t deny it; despite how he looked like, he was embarrassed to death posting these pictures of himself, but reassured himself by thinking that this was all for his beloved; all so he could show his face to him with pride and confidence.
The little gnome didn’t have to wait long for his efforts to be rewarded. Since CALAMITY’s performance around a week ago, rumors hadn’t stopped circulating, and people hadn’t just forgotten about him, in the contrary. His blurry concert pictures had gone rather viral on the internet, and people were still very interested to find out more about him.
For those people, Hua Ch☆ng’s social media account was like divine revelation, a beacon in the stormy seas: all they had been waiting for. The account got huge attention basically the minute it went live. The little gnome himself could only stand and stare in shock as he witnessed from his silent den how within hours, he became a different person… Hua Ch☆ng became famous. But him, Hua Cheng… was still only Hua Cheng. Still in his basement, still waiting for the evil witch to pass her verdict, still feeling like he was about to die with fear of meeting his beloved.
Not knowing what else to do, the little gnome went out, feeling the strong need to escape the underground and see daylight. He still was afraid of people recognizing him however, so he put on a hoodie and sunglasses… but his worries were unneeded. In the cold November weather, people looked down at their feet in grim determination to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, and even though his getup should have attracted more attention than if he had went out normally, nobody spared him a glance. Eventually, the little gnome carefully took off his sunglasses, allowing himself to look at the world with an open eye, uninhibited. As he hadn’t gone out in over a week, the world, although grey, looked fresh to him.
Suddenly excited, he walked wherever his feet would lead him, into the narrow side streets, up hills, down stairs, to places he had never been before. In the late November, Christmas spirit slowly got a foothold in town, and people had started hanging out strings of light and stars. Their warm, yellow glow reflected itself within the little gnome’s eye, and he looked at the lit up streets in wonder. Under the grey plumage of the clouds, in the empty streets and the darkening sky, the little gnome felt like he was all alone in a ghost town, only the glowing lanterns and stars lending him company. But the gnome didn’t feel lonely. He felt… comfortable. Although the air was cold, the warmth within him only got more and more pronounced. He thought of his beloved… the beloved he had held, kissed, but still longed for so dearly he felt an ache in his heart.
The little gnome walked on. Suddenly, the little cobbled path he had been following came to a stop… the lights had lead him right into a dead end. But as the stunned gnome looked up at the building before him, he realized that he was standing in front of a flower shop. The glow in his eye turned into a sparkle as it spotted all the white lilies, red roses and other assortment of flowers, beckoning to him, luring him closer with their sweet scent. The little gnome hopped to the storefront in glee: He loved flowers! And considering that he was only a day away from visiting his beloved… this came at the right time.
Hesitatingly, the little gnome pushed open the glass door and entered the shop. Inside, the overwhelming fragrance of flowers crashed in on him, and together with the walls covered in greenery, made the little gnome feel like he just walked into a different world. Through the leaves hanging from the ceiling, the little gnome could make out a rather tall person standing at the counter. With his woolly black hair and shabby clothing, the gnome felt out of place in this fairytale land, but took together his courage and approached the man.
The man, who was busy carefully arranging a great bouquet of colorful cosmeas, noticed the little gnome and welcomed the unlikely customer. The man was tall, well-built, but had a friendly, almost cheeky smile on his face. He seemed the type to be adored and spoiled by senior aunties, with a stupid grin that showed off his sparkling-white teeth. The little gnome told the man that he was looking for a big bouquet of white flowers… the most beautiful, fragrant white flowers that he had. While he said this, his tone was soft, but full of emphasis, wanting to convey that he was seriously looking for the world’s most breathtaking flower bouquet. The smile on the man’s face turned into an astonished expression, but soon he caught himself and grinned widely again. „Leave it to me!“ he eagerly exclaimed.
Several minutes later, the little gnome’s arms now held a fantastic, grand assortment of the shop’s most delicate, elegant and stunning snow-white flowers, which were tied together at their base with a red string. The price for them had eaten up the gnome’s food money for the next three days, but he didn’t worry about it; his cheeks were flushed with excitement. With this, he now had a presentable gift to bring his beloved, and even better, it was big enough for him to hide his whole face behind… just in case.
Happy to have had success on his journey, the little gnome returned to his den, put the flowers into a vase and fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, the gnome awoke to a blue sky, the sun shining brightly through the little, solitary window in his basement. Today was the day. Today was the day he had to fulfill the witch’s ultimatum… or he would… well, there definitely would be something bad happening to him.
Heart thumping in his chest with anxiety, the little gnome took a long bath, combing his wild mane and trying to make himself look as good and well-groomed as he possibly could. He put on the only suit he had, took the almost blinding bouquet of flowers and left his basement.
The little gnome who had looked more alike to a stray cat, carrying the grey dust of neglect and hardship in its hide, now was completely transformed: it was as if the lowly gnome had sprouted fangs and wings, a halo of dark charisma suddenly surrounding his striking figure. His one red eye glowed, making the people who dared look at it shiver with awe; his ink-black hair was combed back, completely revealing his breathtakingly handsome face. He was unrecognizable.
But behind the cool, stone facade, nobody looking at him now would have guessed that the now big gnome’s heart was bursting at its seams, beating so hard he thought that it would fly right out of his chest. He had to exert all his self control not to crush the stems of the flowers in his shaking hand.
With a jaw clenched so hard the teeth were in danger of crumbling, the gnome finally arrived at his beloved fairy’s resting place… a big, white house in the middle of an enchanted winter wonder land. The snow in the trees and meadows glistened under the sun, as if celebrating the presence of the fairy nearby, the kindest, most pristine creature on this earth. The gnome thought this with strong conviction; his beloved was so holy, so divine that nature itself tried to please him, reflecting his luminous soul in the sparkling snow. The gnome could only stare at the sight with breathlessness.
The gnome knew, he had to go inside the big white house, face his dearly beloved in order to fulfill his mission and promise… but the gnome was so nervous, he knew that if he went now, he wouldn’t be able to utter a word, not look at him for even a single moment… he needed to clear his head some more.
In the light of the setting sun, the gnome silently set foot into the enchanted winter world.
Slowly losing himself in his thoughts, the gnome didn’t keep record of how long he wandered around… suddenly noticing in shock that the sun was about to set. He had been walking on the winding paths for a while now, staring at the glowing sky through plumes of white vapor. His heart trembled as he realized… he had to go. It was now or never. As cold sweat started breaking out anew on his back, he walked out onto a broader path, ready to turn back… and immediately could not take another step.
There he was.
The fairy, the angel, his beloved… right in front of his eyes.
In the glowing evening sun, a golden halo of divine light seemed to emanate from around him, making him look so godly, so perfect, as if he was just a mirage, ready to disappear at any second. His white skin seemed to shimmer in the cold air, pink cheeks giving him an incredibly soft and warm appearance. The fairy jumped around high on the path, as if wings were about to sprout and take him away into the pastel sky, away to heaven.
The gnome’s heart stopped. How could it not, in the face of such ultimate beauty. But this feeling of seeing a heavenly being that was about to fly away, leaving him behind, was so strong, he subconsciously took a step forward… and heard a soft “snap“. He had stepped onto a branch. Without even thinking, the gnome whirled around and pressed himself against the shadowy side of a broad tree trunk, not even daring to breathe. He heard the fairy’s hops stop, and other than that, nothing. Hearing his heartbeat thump all the way in his ears, the gnome’s head was spinning.
Why did he hide?? He had come here for the fairy, and here he was! His beloved… but… how could he face him? After all the pain… all the hardship his beloved had faced because of him… did he dare to even apologize? With a pained expression, the gnome looked down at the bouquet of flowers, white as the snow below his feet… he thought of the hundreds of other white flowers he had snuck into the fairy’s locker, secretly, desperate not to be discovered.
All these years… all he could do was give him flower after flower… for more, he hadn’t the confidence. After all, he was just a lowly gnome, ugly and dirty, poor and stupid… how could he ever wish to stand in the presence of a being so glorious such as the fairy??
Even so, why did he wish to do so more than anything else in the world? This longing, no matter how hard he tried, he could not stop.
All he could do now was beg for forgiveness, beg that he forgive his cowardice, his shameless love, the hurt he had caused… forgive him.
The gnome shut his eye. This was all he could do.
With numb legs and cheeks pale as death, the gnome stepped back onto the narrow path, and quietly, fearfully, breathlessly, called the fairy’s name.
As the fairy heard his name, he stopped his steps, suddenly rooted to the ground. The gnome watched with a mind screaming with fear, anxiety and anticipation… and saw the fairy slowly clenching his hands into fists, without saying a word.
The gnome’s heart dropped to the ground. Skin going cold, his hands started trembling uncontrollably.
He knew it, he thought. The fairy hated him. How could he have ever hoped… that he could be loved.
He watched with an empty mind as the fairy slowly turned around, and immediately felt like he was being smashed into the ground as he spotted the shimmering tears inside his eyes. The gnome’s heart was crushed, but still… seeing the fairy’s face, despite everything, an overwhelming sense of relief washed over him. Even if he would be despised forever, he could be at peace if he knew that the fairy was alright.
Surrendering to his emotions, the gnome’s exhausted mind couldn’t hold up anymore, as he whispered his thanks to god and eventually fell to his knees, begging for forgiveness through the haze of his clouded awareness. He mumbled all the words that came to mind, everything he wanted to say… until he heard a thud in front of his lowered head.
The gnome looked up… and sensed the world around him disappearing. In an instant, everything was wiped away. All he could see was a pair of big, tearful eyes right there in front of his face, staring at him in the most lamenting way… just before he felt his body tremor as the fairy threw his thin, delicate arms around the gnome’s neck. The gnome was past shock… not knowing left from right, his mind was thrown into a maelstrom of confusion and endless question marks. He didn’t dare to breathe, and when he heard his beloved softly start sobbing, and apologizing over and over again, he felt his eyes spinning. From all the hundreds, thousands of outcomes of this encounter the gnome had imagined over the past few days, this one hadn’t come to his mind even remotely… it was unfathomable. And yet… here he was, kneeling on the ground, with his beloved fairy hugging him so desperately as if he, the gnome, was the one who was about to disappear.
The monumental feeling of warmth, relief, glee, fortune and love the gnome felt at that moment was overpowering. Even in his wildest dreams, the most daring stories he had made up in his mind… this surpassed them all. He couldn’t believe it. He feared that he would wake up any second, back in his dim little burrow, all alone… but he knew. He knew that the hot tears soaking his collar were real, that the weight pressed against his chest was there, that this was reality. The gnome’s big, red eye started shimmering with tears. He was so thankful to be alive.
In the last glow of the evening, he extended his shaking arms, clasping them tightly around his beloved’s trembling back.
Finally, the little gnome and the fairy were reunited, spilling all their tears and locked up words of thanks and forgiveness in a tight embrace.
Finally, the little gnome and the fairy were together, in happiness.
The sun had set. Only a pale blue glow illuminated the sky, the snow having lost all its shine. The trees were still and dark. There wasn’t a sound.
Xie Lian and the man in the suit sat on one of the benches surrounding the frozen fountain… having separated from their emotional hug, now sitting a bit apart in awkward silence. Although the air was rapidly cooling down, both their cheeks were burning with their rushing blood. Xie Lian’s eyes spun back everytime they met the other man’s, he cursed himself for it. Why wasn’t anybody talking?? They had just been crying in each other’s arms for minutes… was there nothing to talk about anymore?!
Shyly glancing back in the other man’s direction, Xie Lian suddenly spotted the white bouquet of flowers. Grasping at straws to find something to talk about, he stammered out: „N-nice flowers there!“ He could have strangled himself.
The other man glanced at the flowers, then swiftly picked them up and presented them to him. „They’re for you“, he said, very calmly.
Xie Lian smiled and took them while thanking him. Then, something else came to his mind… this person who had saved his life, he had kissed and cried with… he didn’t even know his name!! Almost embarrassed, he asked: „I have so much to thank you and apologize for, but I don’t even know your name… may I ask what you’re called?“ Xie Lian’s voice was soft and shy, but his ears listened attentively… not missing a single breath.
The other man was quiet for a moment, then slowly answered: „…San Lang.“
Xie Lian was surprised, and couldn’t help but say: „That’s a strange name!“ He suppressed the urge to impale himself on one of the fountain’s icicles.
After a few moments of recovering from his shame, he cleared his throat and said „It’s a very nice name, San Lang. My name is Xie Li— wait… you already know my name, don’t you?“
For the first time since their earlier encounter, Xie Lian looked straight at San Lang’s face. His eyes were wide open as he recollected a certain memory… when his vision was dark, his life fading… there was a presence, an angel who was calling his name… voice clearly very familiar… yes, San Lang had called his name when he had saved him!
Xie Lian rapidly combed through his memory, searching for a time where they had met before… but there was nothing… for sure, there was nothing! Unless…
But before he could continue that thought, his sight fell back onto the white bouquet of flowers... and something in his brain seemed to shift, fluctuate… white flowers… university… his locker… two… TWO YEARS??!?
Mind blank with the shock of realization, Xie Lian’s head spun back to stare at San Lang… whose big, red eye looked back at him unblinkingly, as if he was fearfully watching his reaction. This confirmed Xie Lian’s mindboggling suspicion. He gasped in disbelief… he couldn’t believe it… couldn’t fathom it. Not completely daring to assume anything, Xie Lian breathlessly asked: „It- it’s you? Are you…? Did you… leave the white flowers…? For two years?? Are you—? What?? What???“ The thousand questions in Xie Lian’s spinning mind all wanted to pour out at the same time, blocking each other, turning Xie Lian into a stuttering and blushing mess.
Although San Lang looked cool and composed, his hands were sightly trembling… this didn’t escape Xie Lian’s fixated gaze. But before he managed to say anything else, San Lang whispered: „…I’m sorry.“
Xie Lian stared at San Lang blankly. Sorry?? Why… why on earth was he apologizing?? Not knowing what to say, Xie Lian kept staring at San Lang, whose cheeks slowly became redder, eventually making him avert his gaze. Xie Lian was baffled, and forced his numb tongue to move. „A-are you in my college? What year are you in? What department? How… why did you never…?“ His questions trailed off.
Face still turned away, San Lang’s deep voice sounded out. „I’m a sophomore… a year beneath you. I’m in Humanities... majoring in Psychology. The flowers are… I— I…
Gege, I like you.“
Nobody spoke… nobody breathed.
Xie Lian’s mind was exploding and imploding at once, turning upside down, spinning, screaming…. it was on fire.
He likes me. He likes me… he likes me? He likes me?? He likes ME??!!?! HE LIKES ME????????? HE LIKES ME!!?!!!?????
Xie Lian’s head was actually steaming. In the cold night air, distinct tendrils of hot air could be discerned emerging from his hair… his face was flushed to hell. There wasn’t an uncolored spot remaining. He was sure that his eyes must be spinning in their sockets… suddenly, he felt a weird ache in his chest. His heart must have been racing like a rabbit’s… he was the opposite of calm. His mind was about to burst apart.
Noticing the sudden discomfort painted on Xie Lian’s face, Hua Cheng bent towards him with apprehension, worry distorting his features. „Gege, are you alright???“ Ever so carefully, he hovered his hands around Xie Lian’s shoulders, ready to catch him should he fall over. Xie Lian managed to laugh at San Lang through his assault of shock and surprise. „San Lang, what am I gonna do if you confess just like that?? You almost gave me a heart attack!“ But his joking tone didn’t reassure San Lang in the least. „Gege, please don’t joke about something like that! What if you really…“ he trailed off.
The ache having mostly dissipated, Xie Lian calmed down and smiled at San Lang’s anxious face. „San Lang, I’m fine. You just really surprised me, that’s all. I’m just so glad… I’m so glad it’s you. I’m so lucky. I’m so lucky that it’s San Lang.“
As he whispered these words, an indescribable warmth flooded his heart… and he stared at San Lang with moist eyes, as if he was looking at a miracle.
Breathlessly, San Lang stared back… their gazes sparked, intertwined, spoke without words… and in the silence of the darkening evening, San Lang bent even closer, breathed through his trembling lips, and brushed them against those of Xie Lian.
Xie Lian didn’t even flinch, breath hitching as he slightly opened his mouth, just in time as San Lang’s lips approached again, this time pressing right into Xie Lian’s, parting them, squeezing them gently. Opening and closing, breath becoming one, their mouths synchronized their movements, not even separating for a moment. Their chests heaved more and more as breathlessness took over both of them, evoking gasps and soft moans from Xie Lian. Suddenly, Xie Lian felt San Lang’s hand upon his neck, just an instant before his soft but determined tongue finally intruded his mouth.
Xie Lian couldn’t process one more coherent thought as San Lang’s dominant tongue probed around in his delicate mouth, forcing his own tongue to move into action and twirl around the other, as if dancing in a tight embrace. Their lips were pressed together so tightly, it felt like their faces were melting into each other. Wherever their skin touched, sparks of electricity seemed to fly, making Xie Lian flinch with sensitivity and lust. He couldn’t bear this… if this continued… Just as his clouded eyes opened and he wanted to talk to San Lang, San Lang’s long, feathery eyelashes parted, and his glowing eye pierced into Xie Lian. His lips curled into a smile as his deep, smokey voice reverberated right next to Xie Lian’s flushed ear.
„Gege, want to come to my apartment?“
—TO BE CONTINUED—