June 20th, XX21 – 10:15 AM
“Come one, come all! For we’re selling all your deepest desires at the cheapest of prices!”
Beneath the radiant summer sky, Herobine’s marketplace bustled with life as merchants and townsfolk alike weaved together along the town square in an exuberant dance of trade and negotiation. A grand gothic clock tower rests at the centre of the buzz, its pale colour reflecting the daylight and bathing the area below in a lustrous glow; it was rumoured to have been built for travellers visiting the town as it was necessary to traverse the bazaar when entering or exiting the central train station. With the colourful canopies of silk and counters exhibiting assortments of eccentricities lining the streets, it was common for those unfamiliar with the place to get caught up in its excitement and miss their trip.
Gabriel Monet witnessed this as he watched an old foreigner rush out of a fortune teller’s hut in haste, muttering curses under his breath as he swerved through the crowd for the station. The young boy couldn’t help but grin at the sight. After all, it was during summer that the market was at its liveliest as there was always something to do and somewhere to be.
As for Gabriel, that would be the carpenter’s stall situated directly beneath the clock tower, where an intricately carved minature wooden train awaited him.
He had been eying the trinket for the past several days, and with his twelfth birthday approaching, he desired to acquire it before it was gone. Having just won a bet with his father, Gabriel was buzzing with triumph as five silver coins jiggled in the pocket of his shorts. The last time he was there, the structure cost three. Gabriel had more than enough to spend.
Before he could make his way to the vendor, a raspy voice caught his attention.
The voice was faint, a plea barely audible against the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Yet, the desperation in its tone was enough for Gabriel to stop in his venture and search for the source.
There, sitting and leaning against the brick wall of a building at the edge of the square, was a man dressed in rags of grey, with long shaggy silver hair concealing most of his face from the world. With his head tilted up to the sky and his hands cupped in front of him, he recited the words over and over again in a hopeless prayer.
‘Don’t ever give money to beggars on the streets,’ Gabriel’s father once advised him. ‘Give them one, and they’ll come back asking for more.’
But as the vagrant’s voice grew weaker and weaker, Gabriel found it difficult to walk away.
‘Maybe once wouldn’t hurt.’
Approaching him, the man didn’t seem to register Gabriel’s presence until one of his silver coins dropped into the cup of his hands, the coldness of the metal shocking him back to reality. Shivering from the contact, the man tilted his head down to stare at him.
“Here,” Gabriel prodded. “You can have that for… whatever it is you need.”
The man didn’t respond.
Feeling awkward, Gabriel took a few steps away from him. “Err, I’ll be going then…”
However, before Gabriel could get far, a bony hand reached out and snatched his wrist in an unyielding grip. Gabriel yelped in surprise as he was forcefully pulled back to come face to face with the beggar, only a mere inch of space separating them apart.
This close, Gabriel could see the eyes hidden beneath those thin silver strands of hair – a hungry, bottomless void of black.
“More…” the man rasped, the stench of his breath making Gabriel want to recoil. “Give me more!”
“Wha-” Gabriel couldn’t get his words out as the grip on his wrist tightened further against his struggle, nails digging painfully into his skin. The hand that held him felt off and he realised why as soon as he looked down at it: the man was missing two fingers and the skin of his palm appeared raw, as if the layer had been burnt off.
“More!” The man was shouting desperately now. “Give me more! Please!”
His grip tightened and tightened with each word, pulling Gabriel closer and closer.
Panic filled Gabriel’s lungs.
Shoving his free hand into his pocket, Gabriel quickly dumped whatever he held into the man’s other hand.
The grip on his wrist loosened and he immediately snatched his hand back before sprinting away into the crowd of townsfolk, his breathing heavy with fear.
When there was enough distance between them, Gabriel stopped and glanced back.
The man was gone.
When Gabriel reached the carpenter’s stall, he realised he was one coin less from the price of the train. He could only stare at it in silence.
July 31st, XX62 – 12:45 PM
“That man must really like those toys.”
The young boy’s statement was met with an immediate hush by the teenage girl beside him.
Alice and Luke, two orphans from a foster home situated on the outskirts of Herobine, stood amidst the lively crowd of the marketplace, curiously observing a stall and its array of wooden trinkets. It was not often that the children were allowed to venture into the town due to the distance. However, today was a special occasion, as the orphanage head was invited to attend a ceremony held in the neighbouring city and had been requested to bring the fifteen orphans in her care along with her. With 30 minutes remaining before their train’s departure, Alice and Luke had decided to slip away from the group to explore the area.
As they were wandering around, a carpenter’s stand at the base of the clock tower caught their eye, but they found themselves unable to get any closer as the stall’s front was occupied by a lone customer.
The man had been standing there for the past five minutes now.
“Should we ask him to move?” Alice whispered into Luke’s ear. “We’re wasting time just standing here.”
“He seems busy though,” Luke responded. “Maybe he doesn’t have enough money.”
The assumption made Alice roll her eyes. Based on his attire alone, she could discern that the man was from the higher class; he donned a black suit fitted to his lanky frame, paired with a maroon vest coat and tie, a dark grey hat resting atop his head. If the tailored clothes didn’t signify his wealth, then the dark ruby brooch pinned on the right side of his coat surely did.
Not wanting to waste her breath pointing all those out, Alice merely responded with, “Adults usually have enough money. It’s why they work.” Glancing back at the man, she couldn’t help but add, “But isn’t he too old for this sort of thing?”
Luke seemed insulted. “You can never be too old for toys!”
“Of course you can, dummy. Do you see Madam playing with toys?”
“She probably does, when none of us are looking.”
Before she could retaliate, the ticking of the clock above resonated in Alice’s ears. Looking up, she realised that they only had fifteen minutes left before their train took off.
“Hey, c’mon,” she urged, pushing Luke towards the man. “If we want to get a look, we have to do it now.”
“W-wait, don’t push me!”
Whether by the sound of Luke’s voice or their approaching footsteps, the man’s gaze immediately snapped in their direction, the coldness of his stare forcing them into an abrupt stop. The two orphans found themselves seized by the man’s eyes, a fathomless orb of blue, as he seemed to regard them with strong scepticism. With his hat casting a dark shadow over his face, his expression appeared haunting.
“U-umm…,” Alice stuttered in fear, unsure of where to look. “W-we’re just looking around. Don’t mind us…”
Her statement was met with an uncomfortable silence as the man’s stare remained unwavering. Anxious, Alice was beginning to wonder if they had wronged him somehow, but after a few seconds, the man merely nodded before stepping back and allowing them space to look at the wares.
Cautiously, the two children approached the counter, careful not to glance back at him.
As their eyes scanned over the ornaments displayed, the fear from before shifted into childlike fascination as Alice and Luke drank in the craftsmanship of each item. The sight from afar did not do the carpenter’s work justice; each trinket was made with such attention to detail, they were a direct replica of the real thing. Buildings, vehicles, even people – they were all carefully observed and carved out by an expert’s hand.
“I want this one!” Luke picked up a figurine of a young boy carved to be in the midst of walking, with his hands in his pockets and his face angled slightly to the side, a grin playing on his lips. Alice could almost picture him in real life.
“That’s a really good one,” she acknowledged, but her awe was replaced with puzzlement as she realised that the owner of the store was nowhere to be seen. “But how do we buy it? The worker isn’t here.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Luke declared, sounding solemn as he stared at the price tag. “I don’t have enough money for it.”
“I thought you brought more!”
“Urgh!” Alice grumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Just leave it then.”
As she grabbed his wrist and made to drag him away, she heard footsteps approaching from behind, a tall shadow slowly looming over them. Before she could react, the man from before reached over and dropped three silver coins at the base of where the figurine once stood.
“Huh?” Luke immediately looked up at him, seeming to forget the scary incident moments ago. The man merely gestured to the figurine in Luke’s hand, indicating that he could have it. “T-thank you so much sir!”
The man’s lips quirked up in a small smile, a hint of softness in his otherwise lifeless eyes.
Staring at him, Alice couldn’t help but continue to feel uneasy in his presence. “C’mon,” she pulled Luke away from him. “Let’s go.”
Giving the man a quick bow, both of them rushed off in the direction of the train station with ten minutes left on the clock. Glancing back, Alice noticed that the man had returned to his previous position at the front, gaze fixed on something on the counter.
She wondered what he could have been staring at.
July 31st, XX62 – 12:50 PM
As the sound of the children’s footsteps receded into the distance, Gabriel couldn’t stop the intense feeling of dread from crawling into his chest.
They appeared to have sprinted off to the train station, where Gabriel was aware there would be a train departing to the next city at exactly 1PM; that was probably their stop. But he had hoped for this assumption of his to be wrong.
‘Please, let me be wrong…’
Apprehensive, he attempted to train his attention on the wooden trinkets instead, in hopes that it would distract himself from his violent thoughts. Yet, his eyes seemed to always return back to the space where the figurine of a boy once stood, replaced now with the silver coins that seemed to shimmer despite the absence of light from his shadow; it was as if they were saying,
‘It’s all your fault.’
“Oi,” a drawl from behind the counter startled him back to the present. “If you’re not buying anything, then move along. Don’t hog around the place.”
The carpenter had returned to the stand, seeming to be in a foul mood as he continued to glare at him. Taking that as his queue to leave, Gabriel silently gestured to the silver coins on the table before tipping his hat in farewell and walking away, sparing one last glance at the stall before it vanished into the crowd.
No train trinkets today.
Letting out a deep breath, Gabriel made his way to the station.
The crowd at the front of the premise appeared denser than usual, as if the whole of Herobine had unanimously agreed to leave the town today at the exact same time. From Gabriel’s distance, he had a clear viewpoint of the events taking place in the throng; people pushed and rushed against each other in a battle of perseverance, with courtesy appearing to be absent in the sea of individuals. Under the hot summer afternoon, everyone’s patience wore thin.
This many people, all gathered in one central area.
With five minutes left until the clock struck one.
Gabriel was beginning to feel nauseous.
“How big do you think it’s going to be?”
A man came to a stop beside him, his tone jovial despite the hectic scene before him. Gabriel barely acknowledged his presence, merely glaring at him from the corner of his eye.
Standing there was a young fellow wearing an expensive silver suit that contrasted the black of his eyes, his long silver hair swept back into a neat ponytail. His face was clean shaven, with his lips set in a proud smirk, giving off the appearance of a wealthy man with a high status.
The only remnants of the beggar from that day were his raw hands and missing two fingers.
“Big enough to cause a revolution, if that was what they wanted,” Gabriel found himself responding, earning a chuckle from the man.
Kenneth, a freelance explosive specialist in the underworld whose source of income came from creating bombs for anyone requesting them. Individuals, gangs, criminal organisations – he wasn’t picky with his clients, and his lack of human empathy allowed him to carry out his tasks without guilt. The only issue he had was his spending tendencies; he would often use the budget provided to him by his clients for his own personal agenda, and that sometimes left him penniless before his job was done.
When Gabriel found him on the street that day, Kenneth had just run out of finances to buy his explosive material and the deadline provided by his clients was drawing near. Criminal organisations were brutal; he would have been hunted down and killed if he failed to deliver.
Had Gabriel not given him his silver coins, this menace would have already been dead by the hands of his employers.
Yet, there they were; Kenneth healthy and thriving, waiting to witness his greatest invention.
‘And it’s all your fault.’
Two minutes left.
At moments like these, Gabriel’s morals would take over; he should report this incident to the police, let them know right now what was on that train and, maybe, they could make it in time. At the very least, the number of casualties involved could be reduced.
He could still save them.
“Hey,” Kenneth suddenly called, interrupting Gabriel’s thoughts. “You placed them in securely, right? All of them?”
Gabriel was silent for a brief moment.
One minute left.
The both of them remained where they were.
After all, he was Gabriel Monet, accomplice of an explosive expert in the underworld, who was responsible for planting the bombs where they were supposed to be.
And he did it with no remorse.
July 31st, XX62 – 12:59 PM
“Gah! We never should have bought that thing!”
With only a few minutes remaining until the train’s departure, Alice found herself rushing in the opposite direction of the station in search of the figurine that Luke managed to drop along the way. It was a difficult task, having to search the pavement below while rushing against the bustling crowd of townsfolk pushing against her.
“Everyone! Out of my way!”
“Move along people!”
“Stop pushing around!”
As she squeezed through a pair of bodies, she almost tripped over as her feet made contact with something hard on the ground. Managing to keep herself upright, she looked down to realise that she had just stepped on the trinket.
“Found it!” Picking it up, Alice glanced up at the clock tower.
The clock’s hand struck one.
“Crap! I have to go!” Before she could take another step, a strong force pushed her down to the ground, the culprit barely acknowledging their action as their footsteps quickly receded into the distance. As her body fell, a loud bang echoed from above.
The sound seemed to vibrate throughout the town, shaking even the pavement below.
‘Huh? What’s happening?
The voices around her grew frantic.
“Get out of my way!”
“Everyone! Move away right now!”
“Make way for the police and fire hydrants!”
Standing up, Alice looked back at the train station, the source of dismay.
Even from her distance, she could see the colour of ember rage inside the structure, a great cloud of smoke pushing out and spreading throughout the square, threatening to suffocate them all.
Somewhere far away, she heard a child scream.
She ran for it.
August 2nd, XX62 – 8:00 AM
Reports of the bombing incident at Herobine’s train station were finally released in the news.
315 deaths, 154 wounded – and those numbers were still rough estimations as the police were continuing their efforts to retrieve bodies from the wreckage. For all they knew, there may be more.
Unexpectedly, a particular part of the disaster that the news emphasised on was the presence of orphans in the explosion; apparently an entire orphanage, with its head and fourteen children, were on the train at the time of the bombing. Not all of the victims’ bodies were found, but it was safe to assume that none of them survived.
What remained of the institution was merely a girl not more than fifteen years old who was stopped by the police in her attempt to rush into the station during the fire. She was lucky to not have been on the train at the time, having been searching for a toy one of the orphans had lost.
Whether in an attempt to garner attention or to highlight the misfortune, a picture of the orphan was plastered on the front of the newspaper, her clothes grimy and expression blank as she sat on the wooden interrogation chair, clutching a figurine that appeared slightly charred.
The headline above read: An Unexpected Tragedy.
Staring at the parchment, Gabriel couldn’t help but wonder if he had cursed her or saved her. If it weren’t for the toy, she would have been on the train and with her loved ones in the end.
Then again, if he had never given the silver coins to Kenneth all those years back, there would have never been a tragedy in the first place.
Sighing, Gabriel tore the newspaper in half and pasted the page with the headline and picture on the wall of his room, above his work desk, where below it sat a wooden structure of a train.
Another mistake that cost him three silver coins.
Written By: Zi Yi
Edited By: Merissa