written by A. E. Stover
this version is self-edited
YU-GI-OH! DUEL MONSTERS [AU] [T] [Malik; Bakura] [Horror; Suspense] [Short Story]
Living above him was the Blue Boy, a reclusive man of twenty-four. It is said that he stays in his blue world, eating and wearing nothing but blue, and that all who enter his blue world are never seen again.
He’d been living with Hobbits when a splash of water fished him out of Wilderland and dropped him back on the old leather couch in his flat. He looked up and — lo and behold! — there it was again, for the second time this month: water, dripping from the large wet patch growing on the white plaster on his ceiling. It dribbled on his face; drip, drip, drip.
He stared at it for some time, watching as a droplet of water pooled at the center and bubbled out. It dangled precariously to the ceiling before it launched off and — plop! — fell on his forehead. He wiped his face with his hand and left the couch.
Should he go upstairs? The last time he’d gone up hadn’t been too long ago. “I’m sorry,” his neighbor upstairs had apologized, “I fell asleep and left the bath running. It won’t happen again, I promise.” But it had happened again, four times to be exact; five, if he included this one. And all of it in a span of three months.
After exchanging his book for his keys at the counter, he left his small flat and climbed up the rickety metal stairs to the third story, where his strange neighbor lived.
Strange; yes, his neighbor was a strange man indeed, for that man was the Blue Boy; an urban legend. There were many stories about him: some say that he invited people over for tea, only to drain their bodies of their blood by a cut on their necks — in these stories, he served his visitors tea the color of red wine; human blood, people insisted. Some say that he practiced dark magic, and summoned evil spirits through portals to possess innocent victims and drive them mad. Others only say that he lived in a blue world, eating and drinking and wearing nothing but blue, and that he himself is entirely blue. It was quite an odd one, that last story. It had a familiar ring to it that he just couldn’t place…
Very few have seen him, and those who have keep quiet about him. He had always found that to be particularly unreasonable. Why not indulge us in the facts? It would keep the horrible rumors at bay. He never understood them, the people who kept the truth in silence, until he met the Blue Boy himself — three months ago.
The man was nothing at all like the stories; he was just a quiet, polite man who meant well. The only strangeness about him were his mannerisms and appearance — they were queer enough to make one of a horrible character think of equally horrible things to say. Their urban legend was nothing more than a quiet and boring young man of twenty-four, who had very light, very white hair. His skin, lacking in the usual color of a healthy being, was a sickly pallor, though it was most likely only more sickly in appearance because of the dark blues that were always hanging on his thin frame. And he had the most peculiar voice, his neighbor. It a nervous, wavering voice, sounding as if he wasn’t sure whether his words made sense, and it was always accompanied by equally nervous-looking smile; the kind of smile that people wore to calm their nerves more than anything else. It’s important, also, to note that the queer man had brown eyes, and not the red of lore; they were brown, brown for certain…
Ah, but what was his name again? Bakura… Bakura… Bakura Ryuuga? Ryuuzaki? He remembered what his neighbor’s last name was, but that was as far as his brain would allow him to recall.
He decided it didn’t matter; he didn’t need a name to say, Hello, you left your water running again; this is the fifth time, please don’t do this again, it’s ruining my ceiling. He knocked on the door of his neighbor’s flat without remembering his name.
There was no answer.
He knocked on the door again, his knuckles rapping loudly against the door. He was still knocking when it occurred to him that he should try the bell. Yes, the bell. A good idea, the bell. Find the button, press with your thumb, and—
The door creaked open and a sliver of white was pressed to the crack. A single brown eye peered through, narrowing and squinting hard. “Yes, hello?” came a soft voice. “Who is it?”
Strange, he thought again; such a strange man. But a man nonetheless; no monster, no demon, no odd skin pigmentation. Just a quiet, polite man.
“Oh. It’s you. Malik, was it?” His neighbor held the door open just a little more, his queer voice wavering at him. “Can I help you?”
“You left your water running again.”
“Oh. Oh, yes. Yes, I have. I must have fallen asleep again… Would you please wait a moment? I’ll just be a minute.”
Before he could say that he was actually in the middle of reading a very good book — it’s by Tolkein; do you know Tolkein? You should, he’s very good — the door closed in his face. If it hadn’t been for his moral upbringing, he would have gone down the stairs and back to his flat without a second thought. But his single father had been a harsh disciplinarian and his older sister — he had to remember that she was leaving for Egypt and that he had to see her at the airport soon — and her obsessive desire to uphold family traditions and rules created in him an unquenchable need to see things done the way they were inclined to be done, morally and properly.
And so, he stood rooted to the ground, waiting for his queer neighbor to return so that he could tell — oh, what was his name? — him that he was in the middle of a wonderful book that he’d very much like to finish.
In retrospect, it is imperative to point out that he really should have returned to his flat, and that he never should have crossed paths with the odd neighbor upstairs.
During his time outside the door, he pondered the queerness that was his neighbor. Never had he seen his neighbor outside, going outside, coming home from outside. And in all his brief encounters, his neighbor had always been dressed in blue: blue pants, shirts, shoes, hats, sweaters, socks? Did he really only wear blue? Where did the man get his clothes, if he didn’t go out? Did his neighbor, perhaps, have them sent to him? But no, he couldn’t remember a time when there was a parcel left for the strange man. The mailbox downstairs was always empty, always unlocked.
But wait. His neighbor did get mail every now and then. Small, blue envelopes, coming from someone with the same surname as the queer man. This was, of course, according to the man who lived two floors down; a loud man with dull brown hair and dull brown eyes and a dull brown trench jacket he wore day in and day out, except when the weather was warm. Then he’d see no trace of the dull man at all. But it’d only been a week since he’d last seen him, so maybe it was just allergies that was keeping him inside. He remembered that the dull man had allergies; they’d met at the pharmacy just last week, before he conveniently disappeared. Yes, the dull man was suffering from a severe bout of hay fever, very unfortunate it was.
Without warning, the door to the strange man’s flat opened all the way. His neighbor stood inside with a warm, welcoming smile. He couldn’t help but notice that the man was wearing grey sweatpants and a black shirt. No blue today, Blue Boy? No, no blue today…
“Please, do come in. Let me apologize for bothering you so much. I truly am sorry. Would you please come in? I have tea and scones ready, if you’d like something to eat.”
And, once again, before he could tell his neighbor — his name; what was his name? — that he was busy, the strange man disappeared into his home.
He sighed and came inside. “Thank you,” he said, though he mumbled it, something his father would have been mortified to witness. He walked inside far enough to shut the door behind him, and then he took a good look around.
The coolness of blue swarmed in front of him, invading his vision. It was as if his eyes had been dropped into a tub of blue dye; magical blue dye, because he had never seen so many hues of blue until the moment he stepped inside this flat, his neighbor’s flat. A light shade of dodger blue was lathered on every inch of the walls inside the flat, the carpeting was done in midnight blue, all the furniture was navy in color — everything inside was blue. He wondered if this was what Dorthy and her traveling companions felt when they reached Emerald City. Only, Emerald City was emerald because of the tinted glasses that were donned according to regulations.
“This way, the kitchen is this way. Would you like some tea?”
Is the tea blue? He found himself wondering as he followed his neighbor into the kitchen. And immediately, he was greeted with a thousand faces, all his, staring at him in shock.
Mirrors. They were only mirrors.
There were hundreds of mirrors lined on the back wall of the kitchen, mirrors with blue frames of different colors: slate, steel, periwinkle, cobalt, ultramarine, sapphire, carolina, brandeis, prussian, navy, maya, indigo, cerulean. And they were different shapes: elliptical, square, rectangular, circular, triangular; with different sizes: grand mirrors, small mirrors, large mirrors, tiny mirrors.
“I’m sorry… Do the mirrors bother you?”
He stared and watched himself stare back. He blinked, and they blinked. He turned away, and, presumably, so did they. “Yes,” he answered hesitantly, “a little. It was… unexpected.”
“I apologize. Sometimes I forget how strange my taste in aesthetics can be. But no matter, here! Have some tea. Don’t worry, it’s not blue.” This, his neighbor said with a chuckle. “I don’t believe I ever introduced myself to you… Or perhaps I have?” The man poured two cups of mulberry tea, the amber liquid unfurling white steam into the air. “I don’t believe I have, so I will do it now. Pardon me if I already have. My name is Bakura Ryou. I lived with my brother for some time before he had to go… Do you remember him? We were twins. Maybe you saw him during your time here? And again, I do apologize for leaving the water running… I had fallen asleep while I left the water on. It won’t happen again, I promise you. This will certainly be the last… Please, help yourself to a scone!”
He let Bakura drop the biggest scone on his blue plate. “Thank you,” he said. “They look good.”
Bakura looked pleased with himself. “Do they? I’m afraid I got carried away with myself yesterday while I made them. I didn’t expect to make so many… But here they are! I’ve been trying to find a way to finish them, but I don’t think I could do such a thing all by myself. I’m so glad you’re here. Maybe you can take a few when you leave? Are you staying long? It’s quite all right if you do, I don’t particularly mind at all.”
The onslaught of questions made his head whirl. He wasn’t used to so much chatter; he was alone for much of the time, now that classes were over and done with. He worked at a small, quiet bookshop and rarely had to speak to anyone, except for the one or two kinds of people who always found their way into the shop with their persnickety natures, requesting to see a “new” book — though there were never any new books anymore; every book was the same.
Oh, he had friends, but they were all busy working or pursuing other interests, and he let them chase after their dreams no matter how silly it all was, this “dream-chasing” thing; he was a good friend, you know — supportive and kind — so he let them pursue whatever it was they wanted to pursue and chase after whatever it was they wanted to chase after. He hadn’t seen them in a long while, now, but he was certain they’d find time soon. Yes, he was certain…
He took a big bite of the scone. He looked at Bakura, who was watching him eat with a polite, earnest smile, and he chewed. Blueberries burst between his teeth, and it made a sweet paste with the pastry in his mouth. He swallowed it down with a gulp of tea.
“I like your shirt,” Bakura suddenly said, a charmed look gracing his features.
He looked down at his shirt. It was a blue and white shirt, one stripe of color coming right after it, descending down until it ended. His sister had gotten it for five Euros at a flea market a few days ago, telling him that he needed to wear more colors. “Thanks,” he said. He put his tea back down. “Can I ask you a question, Baku—”
“Ryou,” he insisted, sounding vaguely urgent in his insisting. “Ryou is fine. Please, continue.”
He brushed the crumbs off his fingers. “Ryou. Right. Well… I don’t mean to be rude, but I think it’s right to tell you. You are aware that there are stories about you circulating the community, yes?”
Ryou’s smile widened, almost impossibly so. “Oh, yes, I do. They’re quite amusing, if I say so myself. I rather like the one where they say I’m an elf living off the dreams of my neighbors.”
“…I haven’t heard of that one.”
“Really? Would you like me to tell you? It’s a very good story.”
“Ah, no… No, thank you.” He finished his tea and broke off more of his scone. “Don’t they bother you?”
“The dreams of my neighbors? I don’t think they do. I don’t know what they dream of, actually.”
“N-No, I mean… those stories about you. Don’t they bother you?”
Ryou pursed his lips forward in thought before he shook his head. “No, I don’t believe so. I think they’re rather entertaining. It’s interesting what people can come up with, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is.”
“Would you like some more tea?”
“Here you go, Malik! May I call you that? I think I shall. Here you are. Drink up! There’s plenty of tea for us both.”
“…Thank you.” He stared into his cup, which was filled to the brim. When he brought it up to his mouth, he had to be careful to keep the tea from sloshing out.
“No, no, no!” Ryou cried in jovial protest, setting his cup of tea down to grasp his hand with a grateful smile. “Thank you! It’s been a while since I last had some real company. It’s been a long while.”
“Really? How long has it been?”
“Three, four months, now? Well, I actually had one of the neighbors over a week ago, but it was for a very brief moment. Oh, and my brother was here a few days before that too.” Ryou gave a sigh and poured himself a new cup of tea. “But I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again anytime soon.”
“Why not? Don’t you live with your brother?” he couldn’t help but blurt out.
“Ah… He’s a little tied up at the moment with his life.” Ryou took his tea in his hands, bringing it close to his face. “I really wouldn’t want to trouble him with seeing me. I’m sure there will come a time when we can meet again, when things aren’t as difficult. Isn’t it like that with any of your friends?”
He looked into his cup again and saw his own face look up at him. Well, isn’t it? Answer his question, Malik, his reflection seemed to say to him. Tell him how you’re alone, how you spend your days walking in a park and your weekends reading books all day while your friends are busy running multi-billion corporations, discovering new strands of DNA, and rescuing abused and neglected children. “Yes, something like that.”
“Well, if you ever get lonely, feel free to visit. I have nothing to do here myself. Except, of course, for a bit of cleaning here and there. And maybe some repainting.” He gave a little laugh here, and looked brightly at him.
“Repainting? Are you painting the walls another color?”
Ryou laughed. “Oh, no, not quite. I like the walls as they are. Blue is such a calming color, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” he answered, though he truthfully didn’t think so. Being surrounded by blue at the moment was oddly disturbing. And the mirrors lined on the wall behind them was more than unnerving.
“I’m thinking about repainting my bathroom. I’ve had to clean it up; it’s quite a mess in there. Once I’ve gotten it all cleaned up, maybe you’d like to help me paint it? You can even pick a shade of blue you like. Just as long as it isn’t too light of a color. Or maybe I should get some tiles instead…” Then, he laughed. “Or maybe I should just hang some of the mirrors I have here inside. It’ll help make the bathroom look larger.”
He glanced over his shoulder and then back at his cup of tea. “That’s a good idea,” he said, though he sounded like he was trying to console himself more than anything else.
“Yes it is, isn’t it? Maybe I should do that… What do you think, Malik?”
His mouth felt dry, so he took a sip of his tea before he answered. “I said it was a good idea, didn’t I?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, you did,” Ryou answered, looking at him with a serene smile. “But I was asking about the mirrors themselves… Do you like them?”
He gave Ryou a scrutinizing look, wondering if there was another question in what he had asked. He turned around briefly, to look at the wall of mirrors. “There’s a lot of them,” he said at last, righting himself in the chair. “How many are there?” he asked, because he didn’t know what else to say.
Ryou hummed as he thought. “Fifty-seven, to be exact. There are more down the hall, and it all totals to seventy-eight.”
“Why do you have so many mirrors?”
“I like them there. They make the kitchen look bigger.”
“You don’t need seventy-eight mirrors if you want to make a room seem bigger,” he reasoned. “You just need a large one.”
“You don’t like them, then?” Ryou asked him, his voice quiet and strange, catching him off guard.
Ryou was staring at him with a questioning look, and he had a feeling the man already knew the answer.
“I told you,” he said placatingly, “they caught me off guard when I came in. There are so many; I didn’t expect so many of them. It’s not a very normal method of decorating, you know.”
“They’re not very normal? Don’t you have mirrors in your flat?”
The way Ryou was looking at him — a very quiet, very still manner — and was anticipating his answer made him all the more wary.
Ryou spoke again, in a queer voice; “You have mirrors in your flat, don’t you? Yes, I know you do. Everybody does. So why does it matter that I have mirrors on my wall? Do they bother you?”
He looked at Ryou with a raised eyebrow. “I never said they bothered me. I just said that I didn’t expect them. That’s all. You said it yourself, didn’t you? That you had a strange taste in aesthetics.”
There was a moment where he thought he saw something on Ryou face; a dark, ugly expression of some sort. But Ryou cast his eyes away, towards his mirrors, and looked like he was pondering something deeply. “Yes, I did say that, didn’t I?” The queer man nodded and sipped his tea. “Yes. You’re right. They are rather strange.”
Not quite as strange you are, he’d wanted to say, but he knew better that that. He was raised better than that.
Then, Ryou asked him: “Wouldn’t you like to ask me why they’re there?”
There it was again, that strange voice. It was like there were two questions, two motives, in one. Why ask such a thing if you were fussing and insisting that they were perfectly normal just a moment ago? Did the strange man want to ensure that his visitor thought well of his mirrors, of his taste in aesthetics?
He answered: “If you want to tell me about them, then sure.” He kept his eyes looking down at his cup of tea because he knew for a fact that Ryou was staring at him like he had stared at him before, in a manner most peculiar, most unnatural. Was it unnatural?
Ryou’s wavering voice, shaking in his eagerness to speak, began: “Well, there’s nothing to say about the mirrors, in all honesty.” Ryou faced him again with another smile. “They’re all very beautiful, you know, and very unique. Just like people.”
He stared at the queer man for some time before responding. “I see. That’s interesting.”
“Did you know that mirrors were once seen as a portal to other worlds?” Ryou continued in a wistful tone. “They can lead you to the spirit world, like in oriental myths, or maybe into alternate dimensions like Lewis Carroll’s novel. Have you read his novels? They’re very amusing… Also, I heard somewhere that mirrors are portals to the looker’s soul. Isn’t that interesting? They’re like eyes, then, aren’t they? You know, like that saying — the eyes are windows to the soul. It’s a very interesting saying. Well, I think it is.”
He watched the way Ryou admired his collection of mirrors, gazing almost lovingly at them with an ethereal look of peace in his eyes. There was a strange, unnerving manner in which his neighbor observed his mirrors that he couldn’t quite place. He looked at them the way he would look at a person, at a living creature; he looked at them as if they can look back at him — as if they were alive.
He turned away and drank the rest of his tea. “They’re just mirrors,” he said, more to himself than to his neighbor.
Ryou laughed. It was a soft, gentle laugh, the kind that mothers gave their children when they did something amusing. “Of course they are. I apologize. Sometimes, I get so drawn into myself. I’m a little vain, you know,” Ryou said, a teasing smile curving the corners of his mouth.
He finished the last of his scone, and let the crumbs fall down his shirt.
“Would you like some more?” Ryou offered, gesturing to the scones.
He declined politely with a shake of his head. “No, thank you. I really have to get back, now. I have to—”
A loud rapping interrupted them, and they looked toward the door.
“Bakura-san? Bakura-san, this is the police. We would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Oh? I wonder what’s happened…” Ryou stood up and sighed. “I do hope it’s nothing serious.” Ryou turned to him and gave a placating smile. “Please, stay. This won’t take long. Here, help yourself. Would you like some more tea?”
As he let his neighbor drop another large scone on his plate and fill his cup up to the brim with mulberry tea, the police continued to pound on the front door.
“It’ll be just a minute,” Ryou insisted with a smile, setting the blue ceramic teapot back on the table. Ryou walked off before he could interject, but he suddenly stopped. “If you’d like to look around, you may. But please, don’t go into the bathroom. It’s very messy in there.”
In retrospect, this is where Malik really should have left. He should have left the flat; should have said something about his sister flying to Egypt — though that would have been hours later — and just return to his flat, to his reading, to the safe haven he’d made in Wilderland.
But instead, he broke off a piece of the scone and sipped some mulberry tea. He heard snippets of the conversation that his neighbor had with the police officers outside: “What can I do for you, officers?” and “Oh, is that so? How terrible…” The pieces weren’t enough to produce a story; they weren’t even enough to find out what they were here for. They were talking about one thing and then about the weather, then about another thing, and then about the recent engagement of one of the officer’s sister. There was hardly a focus present; their conversation jumped back and forth and back again with no real content.
He finished the scone and emptied his cup of tea. He reached for another one, telling himself that a third wouldn’t hurt anyone, really — and hadn’t Ryou wanted to get rid of them, anyway? He was helping, not hurting — and started looking around the kitchen.
At the windowsill to his left, there were dark blue ceramic flower pots with budding plants, green in color; the flowers no doubt to be blue. The curtains were a pale shade of blue, almost white, and they hung limply at the sides, drooping down to the windowsill to sit beside the flower pots. He looked down the counter, ignoring the stove, the sink, and the fridge — which was white, not blue — and then came face-to-face with the mirrors.
They covered the wall with their frozen presence; mirrors of all shapes and sizes swallowed up the back of the small kitchen. They gleamed with pride, the smooth and flawless glass reflecting his face; a thousand faces, a thousand of his faces, they all stared back at him. What are you doing here? Go back to your tea, your scones, your reading. What are you doing here, they asked. Go away. A thousand faces, staring at him, saying, What’s that on your face? Yes, that right there, on your left brow. That speck right there.
That speck? What speck? He looked closer at his reflection in one of the mirrors. There was a small speck on his left brow. A mole? But he didn’t have a mole there. It was never there, he was sure of it! So he turned and looked at his face in the mirror next to it. No mole. He looked into the other mirror. Yes! There! It was on the mirror, you fool, not on you.
He stood from his seat and walked to the wall of mirrors. There, this one. The one with the strangest frame, the one covered with eyes, all blue. They stared at him; See? You have a mole right there.
No, he told them, there’s nothing on my face. There’s something on yours. And he lifted a finger to smudge the speck off. He looked at his finger. It was clean. He looked at the mirror. The speck was still there. He scratched at it with his nail, and it crumbled into an odd, brown powder underneath his finger.
What’s this doing here? What is it? Brown paint? Or maybe his neighbor had been too enthusiastic in his baking yesterday and had gotten fudge on the mirror? But no, he doubted something like that would happen. Too many contradictions; just one, tiny speck? And wasn’t Ryou making blueberry scones?
…Oh? What’s this?
A large, square mirror, to the left of the one he’d been scratching at, had a sliver of glass missing from its face. He ran his finger up and down the jagged edges of the broken mirror; the missing piece was as big as his hand, maybe bigger, and as thick as three of his fingers. It narrowed off at the end in a point, and the resulting triangle was grotesque and misshapen.
Wait. There’s something else here. What’s that smell? It was a familiar smell, but not something he used often; his sister had used it once before, when he spilled coffee on her nice, white…
Bleach? Where was it coming from? It was a very faint smell.
He looked around him and he couldn’t see anything that would have been bleached, or anything that could have held bleach. It was coming from over… there. To his left. Down that hall. Had Ryou spilled bleach? That wasn’t good. Okay. Okay, he would clean it up. Then he didn’t have to feel compelled to stay, he could leave. He would do something in return for Ryou’s scones and tea, and then he would leave.
He made his way down the hall, his reflection trailing after him on the walls. The smell grew stronger; the pungent odor made stung his eyes and nose. That was definitely bleach, he thought. He remembered how it smelled when his sister used it on her white dress after he’d spilled coffee on it. He remembered.
When he came to the last room, he took a deep breath, preparing to be overwhelmed by the smell. He pushed open the door.
There was no blue. He only thing he saw here was a horrible color; a dark, dark red and a drying brown, the same brown he’d scratched off the mirror just moments before. The walls were splattered with brown and red, and so was the floor; coagulated blood, and the source of it all was hanging from the ceiling — there he was, the dull man whom he hadn’t seen for weeks, hanging on the ceiling as if he was an old coat perched on a hanger in the closet.
And the other man, the one swinging beside him, the one with the same shirt he himself was wearing, who had the same hair and skin as the queer man — that was his brother! They hung together in silence, heads yanked back all the way and hung by their necks, their bodies rotting; but no smell of rotten flesh? Of course, the bleach! And the corner over there, the wall was scrubbed long and hard, but you could still see the stains.
And in the tub? What was that? Something was in the tub; another body? No, the water was as blue as the ocean, as blue as the sky, and so were the clothes that were dunked inside.
Time, for him, was slow, turning into a thick muck that stopped flowing, just like the coagulated blood spread all over the bathroom.
“It’s very messy in here, isn’t it? I’m so very sorry you had to see this.”
He turned, and Ryou was standing behind him with a bright smile. He watched his neighbor raise his arm with a hand holding a shard of something bright, something sharp — the mirror! — and caked with dried blood.
“I told you not to go into the bathroom, didn’t I?”
The queer man swung his arm forward.
The story was inspired by Charles Perrault’s short story, La Barbe Bleu (Bluebeard), and an older, abandoned story of mine, The Wild Ones.