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Hello

Most people—if not all ran from the creature Hello, or ignored it altogether whenever it visited their village, city, country. Except one approached it with curiosity: the Child with the Blurred Face.

Hello.

Its tongue whipped back and forth from a large cavernous mouth. Lips puckered from protruding boils that were pearl-like in their veined membranes encased in gold, pulsating with each glance at it. Indenting its emerald, slimed tongue, one would think of a murky, bubbling swamp when faced with the protruding muscle. The tongue’s texture like moss, but instead of a soft bed, the feel of sandpaper, scraping and raw, recoiled when touched. Its appearance soft and precious, was key to drawing in its prey.

Since no one dared to speak to Hello, the creature must converse with itself; though not much passed through the creature’s mind. Its eyes roamed the streets, landing on wide, rambling mouths. Hello hated rambling mouths the most, especially when they only speak of themselves, drowning everyone else out around them.

It sought the expensive gadgets clutched between human fingers, removing the blinding screens from unaware and unseeing eyes. Hello was drawn to these screens, yet despised them all the same. Why must humans love technology to such extent?

The creature stripped the brand named clothing off passing humans, leaving naked bodies. It ripped off the ironed-on letters and printed or sewn names, then tossed clothing, plain and devoid of labels, back to the humans.

But before it left, it always said:

Hello.

Men and women with ducked heads scurried away from the creature. They covered their bodies and twiddled fingers attached to empty hands, never once meeting Hello’s gaze if they could help it. However, whenever Hello spoke, they never heard it. Hello couldn’t understand why.

Hello?

Silence laughed in the creature’s ear. Its head low, like the men and women, Hello swayed down the road. The whispers from the wind were the only unknowable words that followed it.

Within the comfort of a small, warm home, the Child with the Blurred Face looked out the window. They had waited several years for the creature to finally visit their village, city, country. The creature often moved in the shadows, but the Child saw it under the streetlight it passed. As the child watched from the window, breath fogging the glass, they couldn’t help but reach out only to be met with the barrier that divided them.

 What caught the Child’s eye was not the gold, unlike others—the adults—but the smoke released from the creature’s large nostrils. Tendrils of warm breath in cold air, what felt almost like contentment, but not quite, and not as fulfilling, but restricting and piercing to the lungs. It was an ominous air that disguised itself as a heavy wind, drawing people nearer and nearer, rather than pushing them away. But to the Child, there was also something else: the whisper of a quiet ache, more feeble than the wind, but present, beckoning.

Perhaps, thought the Child, the creature is simply lonely.

In front of Hello, a tall man approached. The creature’s presence ignored in favour of the screen held in front of him. Out darted Hello’s tongue towards the man’s handheld device. It wished that these things would disappear. What good was these glowing screens if all it did was cause addiction? But the man, with a sudden jerk and side-step, avoided the tongue.

Hello shivered. Its silver feathers—used to be for protection but now for menace —ruffled, erecting in defiance, as it approaches its prey with malicious intent. Its tongue and eyes turn a rich, dark emerald green, or sometimes paler forms of Asian jade if its prey held items of less value.

The creature engulfed the man whole before coughing him back up onto the pavement, naked. The man shivered on the ground with his eyes widened, staring where his hands were now empty but held up in a way that made it seem like his phone was still in his grasp.

The Child had only heard about the creature; the myths and stories and fairy tales paled compared to the living thing. The longer the Child stared, the more they noticed how the body of the creature seemed to ripple and shift, and like the Child’s own face, the creature’s face also seemed blur.

Hello danced from village to village, city to city, country to country, until the places it visited no longer had anything to offer to quench its thirst for riches that become liquid when it meets its tongue. Liquids that fill the cracks in the creature’s parched lips, holding it at bay until the next unfortunate encounter. But there was something the adults hovering over the Child never spoke of, a part of the story that was always left out. Hello used to be a child as well.

As it swallowed the riches of men and women, Hello’s claws sank into the carefully arranged faces of those who it passed, exposing what hid underneath. Sometimes, it was not a matted green field infested with sharp weeds, but glorious, swaying blades of grass and evergreen trees in the distance instead. It always took a second glance—a fleeting one—at the men and women that hid grass and trees. Hello began to wonder what was under its own face.

The Child never could see what the adults hid underneath, but could always feel it. But the Child didn’t know what to make of it when their mother felt like she had become infested with weeds while their father became like a swaying tree. Or sometimes their father like sharp, dried grass, while their mother extended nurturing roots and vibrant leaves.

It was difficult for the Child to understand right from wrong when their parents also couldn’t decide for themselves. The Child understood that one day they would also have fields and forests behind their face.

Hello slid across the pebbled pavement. Its tongue snaked out and wrapped around the bottles of cheap beer bottles and replaced them with bottles cracked at the opening of the mouth, so that lips were easily cut by sharp, jagged edges. Then it swiped away dinner companions, leaving the opposite seats empty and the bill unpaid. Often, depending on who, Hello would return the companions home where their families sat worried.

When alone, the men and women lurched forward in their seats, guzzling down liquid that burned their now slashed lips, needing their fix regardless of the sharp edges and the consequences found in self-inflicted pain. As the hiccups bubbled and bodies swayed in their seats though there was no wind, the creature crawled towards the table. Perhaps now they would listen.

Hello.

The men and women, blinded by their drunkenness, laughed too loud. Hello shrunk away from the sound, but caught itself, abandoning its moment of weakness before attempting to approach the drunken humans again. They should really return home too.

“Who are you?”

Hello.

The men and women’s heads fell to the tables, leaving Hello once again in silence. Bottles dropped from their now relaxed hands, rolled off the table, and tinkered against the cement. After staring at the foamy liquid that trailed towards its claws and refusing its temptations, Hello continued on, leaving the man and woman spread over tables. It would come another day, maybe when they were sober.

When Hello left the drunk men and women, it found appealing, boisterous voices drifting from a group that stood together in a fragmented circle. Unlike rambling mouths, the words they spoke seemed to hold more weight, more intelligence, more . . . power. They didn’t turn when the creature moved towards them with light drags of its clawed feet, drawn by the pulsing authority that surrounded their bodies.

Hello.

No one noticed Hello behind them.

Hello’s tongue snaked out and prodded the dominance that eluded from certain men and women, often abused and exerted over others. It was worn as a dominating cloak as the humans towered over others who could not help but cower in their presence. It drained the invisible cloak of influence from the air around the men and women until only a shadow of it lingered, hovering above their heads like a rain cloud waiting to pour.

After exposing their cowardly bodies underneath, they had nowhere left to hide and nothing left to offer without their statuses. Hello was disappointed. No lush fields in this crowd.

Hello.

They still couldn’t hear Hello, but they could feel their authority draining, so they fled. Hello was left alone once more.

The creature had long since disappeared from the front of the Child’s house. The Child with the Blurred Face waited until their parents were asleep before escaping from the back of their house. They walked barefoot towards the trail left by the creature after passing by the naked man still lying on the pavement with his invisible phone. They followed the trail of wet footprints after the creature accidently stepped in the cheap beer and found it standing alone.

Some people overlooked the valuables that are uneasily seen, like the Child with the Blurred Face. They overlooked the Child’s watery eyes and a heart golden like the sun. No one could see how the heart slowly soured like lemons, nestled in the middle of the body. Though still gold, the heart was becoming more saturated, less translucent, more vulnerable.

The Child—dressed in white and held a sword made of wood with growing mould in front like a shield. A shield that the parents believed would protect them, but it wasn’t so sturdy; the sword crumbled where the tip should have been sharp but was concave instead, revealing its hollow body. What good is an empty weapon?

The Child followed behind the creature.

“Hello?”

Hello whipped around and its tongue slithered forward, wrapping around the Child. Its tongue met the smooth, pale pink skin of the Child’s cheeks and noticed for the first time, eyes that willingly met its own. It moved on to prod the air around the Child’s body; the creature’s tongue did not find what it was expecting. It touched only the air of the village, city, country thick with smog—no materialistic goods or dominating aura found. Then, Hello’s tongue brushed the Child’s wooden sword. The tongue darted back into its cave, shrivelling and curling, writhing at the tip where the green turned white, then almost translucent.

Who are you?

The Child’s blurred face wavered.

For the days, the creature trailed behind the young child. Nothing it did drew the Child—not its gems, not its silver, not its gold, and not the stolen electronics or branded clothing either. Though Hello was thankful for this, it also couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

Every time Hello prodded the Child with the Blurred Face or their wooden sword, moss fluttered onto the ground from its tongue and the boils shrunk one by one. Its eyes once emerald, sometimes pale Asian jade, swirled and churned until translucent tears collected at the brim of its once crimson, but now pale pink, eye rims, as it watched the Child interact with the hopeless world.

And each time the Child with the Blurred Face approached the creature they said, “Hello?”

But Hello always replied with Who are you?

As the Child with the Blurred Face grew taller, the creature that followed behind them grew paler. And one day, the Child with the Blurred, but now Wavering Face stopped saying “Hello” altogether.

The Child with the Wavering Face settled themselves among the presence of glittering adults. The men and women took turns leaning close, whispering secrets of the village, city, country into the Child’s ear. Beautiful, curious words—one of the many disguises worn by corruption.

Their heart, gold when the Child and the creature first met, became a sour, stinging thing like lemons encountering a cut. Morphing into a colour that resembled the speckled skin of aged bananas with its flesh on the verge of dimpling with the brown of its peel.

The Child’s fingers loosened around the wooden sword, much of it had already deteriorated with only the handle remaining. After letting go of the sword, the fingers reached instead for the beckoning hands of men and women.

When Hello could no longer watch, it once again snaked its now translucent tongue like the tears that spilled from its colourless eyes around the Child, pulling them from the crowding adults and fled to its cave—away from villages, away from cities, away from countries.

Though the creature couldn’t find itself when it was younger, Hello hoped that the Child would be able to decide their own fate unlike the way Hello’s own was decided by the world, by society, by others.

Together they sat at the mouth of the cave and looked out into the world.

I was once a child.

If the Child with the Wavering Face heard Hello, they showed no evidence of such.

The Child soon stood and left the creature, darting out of the cave like Hello’s own tongue. And stumbled towards a world split between the grass, both alive and dead, and the weeds and trees.

For the first time, the creature felt fear. The Child’s face becoming more and more like Hello’s, reflecting the path in front of them. Their heart flickered with every step they took.

When the Child disappeared, Hello’s boils regrew, eyes once again emerald, sometimes Asian jade, diamonds sparkling at the ears. It was no longer translucent. The creature left its cave again like it always had before and danced towards another village, city, country.

Hello.

About the Author

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian, China. She graduated with a BA in Literature from the University of Toronto and is a current student at the Humber School for Writers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dark Magazine, Hobart Pulp, Haunted Waters Press, among others. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang) and online at aijiang.ca.