Fiction: Haunting Hibiscus
Shades of autumn swirl into the air with the unusual, frigid wind of November against the lifeless ground. Taking my eyes away from the leaves, I notice a flower shop down the street. I’ve never known of or seen it before; maybe it’s because the building was not what I expected a flower shop to look like, especially with the words ‘City Hall’ carved into it. Two stories tall, the old bricks had turned a muted maroon and was surrounded by two rows of six windows for each floor level. The windows were decorated over time with a layer of dirt on the outside as if it hasn’t been cleaned for years.
I enter the flower shop questioningly but was soon shocked by the drastic change compared to the outside. Items of all kinds were stacked on top of each other creating a disordered, yet harmonious atmosphere. The whole building was one large room with metal stairs in the back leading to a smaller area above, supported by tall, thin poles. An assortment of flowers filled the ceiling creating an indoor rainbow much more beautiful than ones after rainfall.
With my mouth still open in awe, I walk deeper into the maze of antiques: stained books, stained teapots, and stained clothing. Everything around me seemed to have been worn down over time with a history of its own. Going deeper and deeper, a vibrant red catches my eye. Squinting and moving closer, it appeared to be a dress but as I moved around the piles and made my way to the object, it turned out to be a painting of a flower.
The bright cherry red painted the petals of the flower while the tube springing out from the center of the flower was speckled with yellow dots. As the petals retreated to its center, the vibrant red became duller and darker until it lost its color and turned black. The intense red bled together with the subdued version of itself and had dripped down the canvas. As I stood there, my eyes start to focus on the center of the flower as if it was drawing me in. Without knowing, my head starts to tilt as I zone out.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I snap back to reality and looked above me. A man in his late 60s was leaning over the railing looking towards me. The corners of his lips were slightly pulled upwards while his eyes smiled. His tanned skin and dark gray hair next to the vivid flowers made it seem as if summer was still here.
I nodded and walked up toward him.
“Did you paint that?” I asked.
“My childhood friend started that piece actually, from 42 years ago.”
“Started? Is it not finished?”
The old man remained smiling but his eyes had stopped doing the same. Before I could ask any more, a customer interrupts us.
“Oh there you are Mr. Kalei! Do you mind helping me create a bouquet?” The old man named Mr. Kalei excuses himself and leaves to grab many flowers, creating a symphonious color scheme. He continues to prepare the flowers while I wait. My eyes start to wander and slowly they focus on the painting below. Without taking my eyes off it, I start going down the stairs. Step by step. Again I arrive in front of the canvas.
Unconsciously, my arm reaches toward the inner area which connects all the petals, and inch by inch my finger gets closer and closer until I make contact with the artwork. Not even a split second later, a jolt runs through my body causing me to reach out to the nearest pole for support. I don’t know if it was the shock that caused me to gasp or if it was what went through my mind while I had touched the painting. As if something had entered my body through the jolt, I had a vision of a young woman wearing a scarlet dress appear in my mind, crying while writing a letter.
“Ahe…” I say out loud unknowingly.
“Kikio?” Although I have never heard of that name before, it felt oddly familiar. I looked behind me to see who had said that. There, Mr. Kalei stood with his eyes tearing up. He reaches out for me slowly and I back away.
“Um, it was very nice meeting you but I have to go.” I slightly bow my head as a goodbye and leave the store. Not wanting to look back in case Mr. Kalei followed me, I walk outside a couple houses down when I decide to turn around to see the shop once more while continuing to walk. As I look at the building, a figure in a vibrant red dress was standing on top of the words ‘City Hall.’ Before I could squint to clearly see what I thought I saw, I trip over a rock and catch myself. Getting up, I rub the gravel off my hands and face and look once more toward the figure but it is no longer there; all I see are red leaves skipping across the roof, as if the figure had vanished with the wind.
I can’t be imagining these feelings and images… right?
I decide to head back towards the store and ask Mr. Kalei more about the painting and why he acted the way he did when we were just strangers a while ago.
When I reached the shop and pushed against the door, the antiques and flowers came back into view.
“Mr. Kalei? Hello?” I called for him but did not get a response. Walking throughout the store this time around felt strangely eerie and caused me to walk around hesitantly as if something bad were to happen. I glanced upstairs and did not see Mr. Kalei so I wandered towards the deeper area of the store where it wasn’t visible from the door. There, I found him leaning his forehead on his arm he had placed against the wall. Next to him was the painting that we both kept meeting each other at.
“You saw her… didn’t you? That’s why you came back. I also see her, but not often. It feels as if it’s only been a day since she’s been gone…” Without facing me, Mr. Kalei slowly reveals more.
“When did she leave?” I couldn’t bring myself to ask why. Maybe she they lost contact, maybe she moved, maybe she died… He stands up straight and clears his throat.
“42 years ago she… I’m sorry I cannot say more because even I don’t know what had happened to her. One day she just disappeared and no one was able to trace where she had gone off to.” He sighs again and looks at me, “It’s about time you get going, I have to close the shop now.” I look from his eyes and towards the painting next to him.
“Well…um she seemed to have been very talented and unique. Maybe she had created more artworks?”
“Believe me, I’ve kept an eye out for any paintings that could possibly resemble hers.” He turns to the flower painting and reaches out towards it but resists touching it, “This is the last of hers that I’ve seen… an unfinished hibiscus.”
As I laid in bed, I searched the name ‘Kikio’ but could not find any information on anyone with the same name. I turn off my phone and sigh with frustration. I get up to turn off the light when I hear the faint sound of a man’s voice.
“If I can’t have your heart, no one can.” I stop moving and tried listening for the voice again. The only sound I hear was the ringing in my ears from the dead silence. I shake it off and tell myself that I must’ve imagined it. I turn off the lights and once again lay in bed and drift back to the topic of Kikio.
Who exactly is she… why did he call me ‘Kikio?’
As I ask myself these questions knowing I won’t find an answer by simply asking it over and over, I start to fall asleep.
I stretch as I hear the birds of summer singing their morning songs. Wait… summer? I open my eyes and move them around without moving my body. I was no longer in my room but am now in a house made with wooden planks as if I was in a summer home in Hawaii. Outside the window were palm trees moving in the sea scented winds lined up at the edge of the calm ocean waters.
Where am I? Is this a dream? But why does it feel so realistic…
I sit up to see that I am wearing an unfamiliar red dress that I have never worn before. My skin, is golden and not my own. There are gold bracelets on my wrist which seems to be very expensive. I try to find a mirror but none was in sight and before I could look anywhere else and find a clue of where I may be, a teenage boy barges in wearing clothing not of this time period. I got up and looked at a news article on the nearby dresser with the year printed as, “1976.” Before I could ask the boy any questions, he spoke first.
“Miss! Gideon discovered your affair with Ahe.”
Ahe? That was the name I had said in the flower shop…
“Umm.. do you by chance have a mirror? And this may seem like a weird question but who’s Gideon and who’s Ahe?” I ask him. He cocks his head but regains his posture and replies.
“Miss, Master is your fiancée and Ahe is the son of the local gardener, your childhood friend. Are you okay miss? I will be back with your mirror.” As I pace around the room, he leaves to grab a mirror while I continue to process what he had just said.
I’m about to leave and follow the teenager when I see the only familiar object hidden in another room… the painting of the hibiscus…
“The painting…” I quietly whisper. Before I could do any more, I hear footsteps quickly approaching and see that the teenage boy is back.
“You must leave now! Gideon is here to get you. Go! I’ll take care of this for you, I know how much this means to you and Ahe.”
Before anyone could move, a man storms inside, his footsteps angry like thunder coming closer during a storm and grabs me by the hair, pushing the boy out of the way. My hair is pulled back as he pins my arms behind me, pressing into my back with his knee making it difficult to breath. Aggressively, he shakes my head by pulling my hair before bashing it into the wooden planks. He lets go of my hair to grab the back of my dress and forces me to stand on my feet.
“Take one last look at the face of a whore.” He angrily motions to the teenager who hands him the mirror with trembling hands. When Gideon has possession of it, he faces it towards me and I see my reflection…but it does not resemble me at all. Instead, it is the same face I had seen when I touched the painting at the flower shop and also the one vanishing on top of the building labelled, ‘City Hall.’ Am I… Kikio?
“If I can’t have your heart,” he leans in to whisper into my ear causing a chill to run down my spine, “no one can.”
I felt a sharp, quick pierce into my heart as I fell onto the hardwood floor on my knees, with my pool of blood forming beneath me. As my eyelids start to close forever, I take one last look at the painting when Gideon pulls the knife from my body, splattering the painting with the same scarlet liquid dripping from my body. The child runs off with it like he promised while Gideon stands over me with the chilling smile of a murderer. ♦
Paying Thao is currently a third year at UMD majoring in English and hoping to become an editor one day. Her short stories are inspired from previous life experiences as well as dreams which adds on a mystical feeling to her works.