CALAMITY Chapter 9 - Shadow
The room was dark. Only a soft, blue shine emanated from behind the closed curtains. Xie Lian could make out the quiet beeps and humming from machines. Where was he? What was happening? What happened to him?? Where was…
Xie Lian’s slowly unfolding awareness came with a gradual settling in of thoughts, memories and… dread.
Heartbeat suddenly exploding within him, the little air in his lungs wasn’t enough for him to breathe properly. Eyes widening with panic, Xie Lian couldn’t seem to move his body, he couldn’t force his ribcage up and down to pull fresh air into his chest… he was paralized. He wanted to open his mouth to scream for help, but only short, choking gasps escaped his lips. He didn’t want to be here!!!! No!!
Numb body buckling and struggling, Xie Lian’s eyes were slowly rolling back in his head, when he heard the sound of a door being opened.
“SHI QINGXUAN!!”, he screamed in his mind with desperate relief. “Take me away from here!!! I don’t want to be in the hospital!!!!!”
He tried to control his erratic spasms, but failed entirely, sending a new bout of fear through his mind. Eyes wide with urgency, he stared at the curtain blocking his view of the door.
But the figure that entered his vision didn’t resemble Shi Qingxuan in the slightest. Shoulders wide and chest strong with muscles, an imposing shadow of a tall man emerged from behind the curtain, staring down at Xie Lian with eyes cold as winter. The sight made Xie Lian’s heart drop.
But the second the figure saw that Xie Lian was awake, and more than that struggling to breathe, its demeanor changed immediately and it rushed to the bedside with a face pale with worry.
„Xuedi, Xie Lian Xuedi!!!!” Bai Wuxiang’s voice was tinged with fear and confusion, and when Xie Lian couldn’t respond, he raced to the door and shouted out into the hallway „DOCTOR!! SOMEBODY, WE NEED HELP!!!“ Then, he immediately returned to Xie Lian’s bedside and grabbed his hand, holding it tightly between his large own ones.
Xie Lian could do nothing, feel nothing. Bai Xuezhang kept speaking to him with an imploring tone, searching his eyes for an answer, but Xie Lian’s vision only got darker and darker. Even though there was somebody here beside him, he felt like the loneliest creature on the planet, abandoned by hope and life. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want any of this. He prayed for somebody to come save him.
Doctors and nurses rushing into the small room, they pushed Bai Wuxiang aside and frantically covered Xie Lian’s foaming mouth with a mask, connecting it with a ventilator through a thick tube. Immediately after, his body which had been tense and cramped from head to toe, first shuddered and then relaxed back onto the bed, where it was lying, trembling and shivering. Tears ran down his deathly white cheeks, eyes now closed again.
The nurses checked the screens beside his bed, making sure his heartbeat was stable and made his lungs pull enough air into his body, while the doctors checked his other vital signs, murmuring amongst themselves.
Bai Wuxiang stared at this scene with wide eyes, not letting a single little thing escape his vision. A flash of unknown meaning sparked in his eyes, and shudders ran down his back. Ever so slightly, his hands started to tremble.
He was so fixated, he nearly flinched when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He turned around, maybe a little too abruptly, because the doctor who had tried to get his attention looked at him in surprise. Bai Wuxiang quickly adjusted his expression and looked down at the white-clad woman, who had also replaced the surprise with a professional calmness.
„Sir, are you this patient’s guardian?“, she asked.
Bai Wuxiang kept staring at her for a moment, then answered: „I’m just his senior from school, but me and Xie Lian share a relationship that goes beyond just that. I consider us very close.“ His tone was quiet and warm. His face was open and innocent, making a very trustworthy impression on the doctor.
She sighed. „I guess there is no choice… his friend who has been staying with him until now seems to be out at the moment, and we can’t contact her. His aunt hung up on us several times, and we know that his parents are… in any case, do you think you can take responsibility for him?“
A gleam entered Bai Wuxiang’s eyes. „It goes without saying. What do you need me to do, ma’am?“
„Sir, what is your name?“, the doctor asked.
The doctor looked somber as she continued: „Xie Lian’s condition… is serious. He’ll survive if we let him be, but his heart will continue to be weak for as long as he lives. If he encounters a highly stressful or painful situation, it may fail. We can try to circumvent this with surgery, but I’m afraid that it has a 40% chance of failure. We can’t make any decisions without a guardian’s authority. I’m going to have to ask you to make that decision, Mr. Bai Wuxiang.“
Bai Wuxiang’s eyes widened at the doctor’s words. Thinking that he was dismayed and shocked speechless, the doctor patted his shoulder and left him alone to think.
The doctors words were spinning around in Bai Wuxiang’s head, filling his consciousness in a cacophony, repeating over and over again. Their meaning, their significance actually forced Bai Wuxiang to take a seat.
Jaw supported by his thumbs and fingers closing over his mouth and nose, he sat with his elbows on his knees. His expression seemed neutral, relaxed, calm. But his eyes were spewing fire, burning with unspeakable thoughts, drilling holes into the opposite wall. If one saw this expression, their blood would run cold with fright.
After being frozen in this position for several minutes, he finally let his arms drop and stood up.
The doctors and nurses had already stabilized Xie Lian and were all waiting for his decision. Seeing him leave his seat, they gathered themselves to hear his conclusion. Bai Wuxiang looked at the group, his eyes lined with redness. To them, it seemed like he had to break his heart to tell them his decision, and they were all quiet with respectful understanding.
His voice hoarse with emotion, he started to speak.
„I—I’m sorry, I- I just can’t bear the thought of Xie Lian Xuedi passing away… it disturbs me so greatly, I couldn’t bear the weight it… his death would be my fault. And if he gets to live anyway, why take the risk… please, I ask of you, do not operate on him. I know that Xie Lian Xuedi doesn’t have a family to look out for him, but I swear on my honor as his Xuezhang that I will not allow any harm to come his way. Xie Lian is such a bright and spirited being, to let him get hurt… it would weigh on my heart forever. I cannot allow such a thing to happen. Please, doctors, trust my words… please don’t operate on Xie Lian Xuedi. Please.“
With his last imploring word, he bowed deeply to the group of solemn doctors. Some of the nurses looked at each other with worried faces, but eventually, the lead doctor sighed and clasped her hands in front of her. It was the sign to everybody that she accepted his decision.
„Alright. This would have been a difficult choice for anybody to make. I understand your reasoning, and we will follow your decision“, she responded with a somber voice. Some of the nurses still sighed and looked unhappy, but there was nothing to be done. The conclusion had fallen.
Bai Wuxiang’s facial features were frozen in place, revealing nothing from what lied underneath. He kept still in his bow for a few more seconds, then straightened up to look at the lead doctor. „I thank you for your trust and understanding. If I may ask, what is going to happen from now on?“
„We will keep him in the hospital until his motor skills have fully recovered, and to observe his psychological state“, she answered.
Bai Wuxiang’s eyebrows twitched at this. „Psychological state, ma’am?“
The doctor glanced through the door and into the room where Xie Lian lied in induced unconsciousness. „Hypothermia victims often suffer from memory loss and other neurological conditions related to prolonged lack of oxygen. He has just awakened, so we will have to assess the damage in the coming few days. Don’t worry, there’s a chance that none of the sort has happened. Mr. Bai Wuxiang… you have just made a very important decision, and it is late. Xie Lian is in good hands here, so why don’t you go home to take a rest?“, the doctor finally suggested gently, but firmly.
Staring into her unblinking eyes, Bai Wuxiang finally closed his own and nodded. Very important indeed, he thought.
He then politely bowed again and said his goodbyes. Just as he was about to turn around and leave, he paused and asked the lead doctor one last question.
„Ma’am, will Xie Lian still be able to dance ballet?“
The next day, Shi Qingxuan returned to the hospital with a fresh pinkness on her cheeks. Despite all of her protesting and struggling yesterday, He Xuan had dragged her all the way to her apartment, fed her red wine and made her fall into a deep sleep that lasted for almost nine hours. Shi Qingxuan felt bad that she had left Xie Lian alone for all that time, but even she knew that she had needed the rest. She now felt energized and invigorated, ready to face all the reporters and photographs and the rage of the night shift nurses.
The doors of the elevator opened to the milky linoleum hallway of Xie Lian’s floor. To her relief, the reporters seemed to be on break today.
When Shi Qingxuan turned left and spotted Xie Lian’s door, she was surprised to see a small, white object lying in front of it. Bending over and picking it up, she now had a delicate flower between her fingers. Twirling it, she was surprised: This secret admirer was really loyal, and extremely stupid. Came all the way here to deliver this flower, and didn’t even have the balls to open the door to visit Xie Lian. What an idiot… what’s the use of shyness?? Shi Qingxuan thought these things with a pout on her face, huffing in exasperation.
Just as Shi Qingxuan was about to open the door to Xie Lian’s room, a nurse spotted her and approached her with flying steps. Thinking she was about to get the life yelled out of her, Shi Qingxuan braced herself with dread, but was surprised to see a joyful smile on the nurse’s face. Stopping in front of her, she beamed: „Miss Shi Qingxuan, welcome back! You missed the good news: Xie Lian woke up last night! He’s still asleep now, but—-“
The nurse didn’t even get to finish her sentence as Shi Qingxuan dropped everything and crashed through the door, tore away the curtain and rushed to Xie Lian’s bedside. His eyes were closed, but his complexion which barely had a drop of color before now carried a pale blush. Through her blurry vision, Shi Qingxuan stared at his face and clutched at his limp hand, ready to react to slightest of movements. Whispering through her tears, she said: „Xie Lian… oh god Xie Lian, I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you, you must’ve been so scared, so lonely… oh god, Xie Lian, please talk to me, please….“
Shi Qingxuan felt like she was being suffocated by guilt. When Xie Lian awoke and needed her most, she wasn’t there for him… she felt like her heart was ripping apart. How could this be?? She knew how much Xie Lian feared awaking in a hospital bed, alone, unable to move or speak… it was his worst nightmare. It came to be after his parents had died, this kind of situation was irreversibly associated with all the emotions and memories of that time. Back then…
Back then, everything was gray and cold, an omnipresent sense of asphyxiation erasing every last feeling of joy and hope. For both of them, Xie Lian and Shi Qingxuan, it was the most horrifying, traumatizing time of their lives. While Xie Lian had been in the hospital, recovering from his own injuries, he had no chance of escaping the reality of the situation, fighting through panic attacks and complete meltdowns all through the day and night. He was going crazy, his mental state deteriorating rapidly, but he still had to answer all the detectives’ unending questions and interrogations, had to listen to his aunt’s incessant screaming and crying, had to fight through a maddening trial and eventually survive the months in prison. It changed Xie Lian forever. All these people, all this effort, but so little went into saving his damaged heart. The sole, singular person standing by his side during all of it was Shi Qingxuan, who had been desperately holding him afloat, kicking and screaming not to let him drown, not to let the world crush him under its merciless weight.
For Shi Qingxuan, the present situation was a heart-wrenching reflection of that time, a painful reminder that the shadows of the past weren’t so easily shaken off. She choked down sobs as she imagined how Xie Lian must have felt last night. It broke her heart.
The nurse, which first had been so happy to deliver the news, now looked unsure and apologetic. Carefully, she approached Shi Qingxuan, who was bent over Xie Lian’s bed on her knees, pressing his hand against her forehead. Softly, she started to speak. „Miss Qingxuan, you don’t need to be so worried… he wasn’t alone yesterday!“
At her words, Shi Qingxuan’s wet eyes opened in an instant. Spinning around, she stared at the startled nurse. „What?? Who was here?!“ She asked with a hoarse but urgent voice. Being burned through by fixated and impatient eyes, the nurse nervously raised her hands to her chest. „A- a gentleman by the name of Bai Wuxiang. Do you know him?“
Hearing that name, thunderclouds seemed to pull over Shi Qingxuan’s expression. Eyes dark, she clenched her hands into fists.
„Yeah I fucking know Bai Wuxiang. He was here?? What the fuck did he do to Xie Lian??!!!“ Her voice was seething with anger and hatred. Sinking into herself, the nurse answered through stutters: „H-he didn’t do an-anything!! At least- I d-don’t think so?? He rushed out to call the doctors when Xie Lian awakened, he looked very worried! Then he…“ Just as she wanted to continue, a soft, almost inaudible groan could be heard from the bed.
Whipping her head around, Shi Qingxuan’s sight fell onto Xie Lian’s eyes, which were now slowly fluttering open, eyelashes separating like feathers. His lips parting, he let out another moan. Shi Qingxuan’s eyes widened, and she started crying after all. Relief crashing in on her, she embraced Xie Lian, calling out his name endlessly, wanting to tell him that she was here, that he was okay, that he was alive and not alone. With a voice so quiet and weak it was barely audible, Xie Lian spoke: „Shi… Qingxuan…?“
Tears burst out of Shi Qingxuan’s eyes in even greater quantity. „Yes… yes… I’m here Xie Lian, I’m here!! You’re okay!! Don’t worry, you’re not alone!“ She bubbled uncontrollably, not wanting to let go of her friend for even a second. Within her embrace, Xie Lian sighed, seeming reassured. But then he paused, and asked rather urgently: „and where’s the angel?“
This sentence made Shi Qingxuan freeze immediately. The nurse behind her also looked unsettled.
Forcing down the cold sense of dread, Shi Qingxuan tried her best to look calm and spoke in a warm and comforting tone.
„What angel, Xie Lian? There’s only the two of us here, and look:“ Reaching behind her, she picked up the white flower and showed it to him. „You’re still on earth sweetheart, you didn’t go to heaven. You’re alright!“ She emphasised this last word while pressing Xie Lian’s hand gently, wanting him to realize that he was still alive, and not in with the angels.
Looking at the flower with clouded eyes, he slowly extended his weak arm and took it from Shi Qingxuan’s hand. Shi Qingxuan watched with held breath as his focus shifted to the small white flower, staring at it as if he saw a ghost within.
He then released his breath with a tremble, and to Shi Qingxuan’s surprise, smiled.
„The angel… he’s here… thank god…“, he whispered, then, as if having all the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders, fell back into his pillow.
„Thank god… thank god he’s real…„ His whispers faded out as he closed his eyes again and fell into a calm, undisturbed sleep.
Lost and helpless, Shi Qingxuan put his hand down and stood up. The nurse, sensing her confusion, started speaking in a reassuring tone: „Miss Shi Qingxuan, it’s natural that his awareness is a bit faded after such an ordeal… he will come around soon, don’t worry. Give him a little time.“
Shi Qingxuan swallowed dry and could only nod. She then picked up the things she had dropped earlier and sat down in her familiar spot, a seat between the window and Xie Lian’s bed, where she had already spent many hours. Now, she was watching Xie Lian’s calm face with her heart in turmoil. She was relieved beyond measure that her friend had woken up, was able to speak and move and was responsive… but feared the coming hours and days, where the damage made to his brain would become clear. If there was something severe, irreversible, life-changing… she wouldn’t know what to do.
Searching her mind for something, anything she could to to help, her face suddenly lit up. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small item; it was the present she had planned on giving Xie Lian when he woke up, and now was a good as time as any. It was a compact, portable cassette player, which came together with little, wired headphones. She put in CALAMITY’s cassette, bent forward and gently inserted the headphones into Xie Lian’s ears. Then, with the volume set very low, she pressed play.
Xie Lian continued to sleep undisturbed, but after a while, precisely when the singer’s voice reached his ears for the first time, he very faintly, very softly, smiled.
—-TO BE CONTINUED —-