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The greatest fear

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The greatest fear
Personal photo; Lee Shuk Ching, Janet 

The greatest fear

Lee Shuk Ching, Janet; The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


PreludeMrs. Collin craved a just punishment for Benjamin Stern, a factory boss accused of killing Mrs. Collin’s husband. No would come to her aid, except her neighbours, Luke and Nora, who saw the need to defend her. Yet, they never imagined this would ultimately push them to face their greatest fear….


When Mrs. Collin finally reached the top of the gate, her dark nest-like hair dripped with beads of sweat. She held tightly to the pointy gate with her bruised hands. She swallowed: the blood tasted like the oxidised metal. The cold wind kept slapping her face that she could barely open her eyes.  She looked worn out, but the loftiness never seemed to be lost in her words. “Let me speak to Benjamin Stern! He must be responsible for the death of my husband…”

“Democracy will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear….”

Some students read after Ms. Boote loudly while some kept chitchatting among themselves. When the teacher was writing the poem on the whiteboard, Nora aged sixteen, folded a memo into a plane and flew it to a tall blonde-hair young man. ‘Luke/When the bell rings, RUN! Market opens at 3:30 sharp/Nora’. Indeed, without her reminder, Luke had quietly tidied up all his belongings. How could he forget about the Market? It could probably be the biggest event ever in their small peaceful town of Populace. With the colourful rooftops and shiny rivers, Populace was a well-known tourist spot. The local people were rather underprivileged. Thus, citizens looked so much forward to the Market as they were allowed to swap almost anything. This was the time for them to dig for the treasure. Replacing the sounds of finger-tapping on the desks, the bell finally screamed out. It seemed that the bell too had been waiting so long to congratulate the teens. With their bulky bags zipped and yellowed-by-age shoelaces tightened, Nora and Luke ran swiftly towards the exit.Since their college was near the Market, they could simply run there.

Chilling wind whipped Nora’s long black hair. Luke took off his light yellow scarf knitted by his father and wrapped it around Nora’s neck. When they arrived at the Market, fear flashed in their sparkling brown eyes. A tall greyish gate surrounded the Square authoritatively. They could hardly gasp for breath. Maybe after a run? Or the authority scared them? Enormous posters painted in shocking red stared at them from every corner. There was no word on the posters, only a dark shape of a wolf. It was the symbol of the Stern family, who sponsored this event. Many people queued up outside the entrance, but the crowd uttered not a word.

       Absolutely silent…

The gate intimidated the absolute silence from them. Everyone lined up patiently that it seemed like they had been trained to do so. No one challenged the practise except the two teens. “They are like the walking dead, aren’t they?” Nora whispered. Luke did not reply; he gazed at the posters. By a glance, Nora knew what he was thinking. “Yes, it looks horrible. But I’m not really scared either.” Luke smiled and patted her head gently. They had known each other since they were in kindergarten. Mrs. Collin was the best friend of Luke’s and Nora’s mothers. Their parents needed to work at daytime, so usually the teens would visit Mrs. Collin’s home after school. Before Mrs. Collin became a widow, she used to make pizza and prepare juice for them when they came to visit. One time, Nora accidentally broke Mrs. Collin’s favourite vase when she was arguing with Luke. He covered the truth for her and told Mrs. Collin that it was his fault. Luke used to take care of Nora all the time, in spite of being just one year her elder.

He carefully took out two entrance tickets given by his father, Mr. Ephron, who worked for the Sterns. Last night, Mr. Ephron had told him to meet up under a yellow booth inside the Market. His father secretly kept some good stuff for Luke and Nora to swap. When they were waiting, they spotted a ragged middle-aged woman walking furiously towards the entrance. Nora immediately recognised her. “Mrs. Collin really came!” Everybody was scared of Mrs. Collin because she acted insanely after the death of her husband half a year ago. No one knew the cause of her husband’s death, though she kept telling everyone that it was the responsibility of the Sterns as his corpse was found inside the Stern factory. There was a rumour that she ate the corpse of Mr. Collin in order to be one flesh with him. Nora and Luke were not really terrified by her as she had been their neighbour. “I have to talk to Benjamin Stern! He killed my husband! He killed my husband!” She roared as if she wanted to rip Benjamin into pieces. Two strong white security guards blocked her way. “Don’t scream here Mrs. Collin. If you want to go in, show us your ticket. Otherwise, leave.” They knew she would not have the ticket with her as the tickets were distributed only to the employees. “I have it,” she took it out from her wallet and showed it to the guards who were shocked. At this moment, a short arrogant man wearing the same blue-shirt came from the back of the guards. He whispered to one guard and then left. Soon after, that guard aggressively said, “We question the validity of your ticket. Mr. Stern could have legally charged you. But, this time he let you go. Leave! Or else we will call the police!” Two men pushed Mrs. Collin so hard that she fell on the ground. “It’s a real ticket, I swear!” She yelled at the guards and the bystanders. It seemed like she was begging help from the crowd. The crowd kept silent as usual as if they heard nothing. At this moment, Luke and Nora rushed to the front. Luke gently helped her up; Nora spoke to the guard, “Sir, her ticket is a real one. It’s given by this gentleman’s father, Mr. Ephron.” She looked at Luke, who nodded firmly. The guard moved his body one step forward and commanded with no more patience, “Lady, you know we can’t let this widow in. It’s our responsibility to keep all troublemakers away from Mr. Stern. Take her out!”

 “Yes, bring her out of here!”

 “We are scared of her!”

 Strangers cried out from the line. Suddenly, numbers of people mumbled resentfully that they had not yet entered the Market because of Mrs. Collin. This could be the noise they first made. The two guards pushed even harder to make them go. Before Nora impulsively shouted at the guards, Luke pulled her cardigan and shook his head. They left the entrance with the crying Mrs. Collin. Luke turned back to look at the line; people were back to silence again.

“Benjamin Stern really killed my husband…why can’t I ask for a just punishment on him? Isn’t this something right to do?” Mrs. Collin burst into tears when they were resting on a bench near the Square. Luke gave Mrs. Collin a hug while Nora was pacing forth and back that she could hardly hold her temper. Luke saw the same fear in Nora’s eyes. Meanwhile, he received a message from Mr. Ephron. “How’s Mrs. Collin? Make sure she is well settled before you two come over. Take good care of her!” He stared at his phone for a while, wondering why his father was so different from others. Mr. Ephron spent most of his time staying with Mrs. Collin after the death of her husband. Luke showed Nora the message. He knew that the message could be her pacifier as her eyes became peaceful and determined after reading the message. She sat on the bench and indulged in her thinking for a few minutes. In between she looked up to Luke two times as if they were communicating telepathically. She unconsciously pulled the yellow scarf a bit tighter and gradually walked to Mrs. Collin. “Mrs. Collin, we’ll talk to Benjamin Stern for you.”

When Nora and Luke were back to the Square, the Market just started. A long queuing up time overshadowed the ecstasy of the gate opening. Some people shed with tears of joy; some shouted hurray; some danced together. The teens dreaded their ignorance. Around ten colourful booths were set in the Square. They formed a big circle, so the people were packed inside. Outside every booth, there was a long line waiting.  Accessories, furniture, food, clothes, shoes, books and so many other things were being swapped in the Market. A caramel smell of popcorn was floating over every corner. One could never imagine that the sponsor of this festive event would be a cold-blooded killer. Nora and Luke had asked Mrs. Collin to wait patiently on the bench, despite the fact that she was mumbling something weird when they left. A public broadcast kept going on, “Thank you for coming to the Market this year. I’m Benjamin Stern. We have brought a lot of valuable things for you all to swap. I know you all are grateful for what we do. Keep your gratitude by joining our company. We will guarantee you a stable income and a bright future!” In spite of the repeated broadcast, citizens seemed to be still moved by his ‘powerful’ speech. “Come on, let’s go find Mr. Ephron!” Nora circled the scarf around her pale neck. It kept her warm. When they were mapping out the yellow booth, a loud noise suddenly came from the crowd near the gate. They felt uncanny and rushed there. What they saw was a woman climbing the three-metre high gate in an attempt to break into the Square. She was no other but Mrs. Collin.

Their eyes almost poked out and mouths got wide open. People surrounding them became so much astonished as well. The two security guards were scolding rudely Mrs. Collin; at the same time they hit the gate to scare her down. However, she was not really scared. Her bare hands were not strong enough to hold herself; there were a few times she almost fell down as the guard hit her ankles. Mrs. Collin screamed like her bones were broken. People surrounding her all got their mouths covered with hands. Nora shouted, “Come down Mrs. Collin, it isn’t going to work! Come down!” Even though Luke immediately squeezed to the front to stop the irrational guards, he was tangled with other citizens. No matter how loud Nora shouted, it was useless under such a chaotic environment. No matter how hard Luke pushed the crowd away, he got stuck in the middle. But, they did not stop trying. Mrs. Collin kept climbing even when she was hit severely. Soon people in the Square gathered near the gate. Some got irritated by what Mrs. Collin did while some frowned and worried about her safety. A majority of people chose to do nothing when they witnessed the brutality. It seemed like keeping themselves ignorant was part of their human nature.

Mrs. Collin finally reached the top of the gate. “Let me speak to Benjamin Stern! He must be responsible for the death of my husband.” She did not really look at or address anyone when she spoke. She just wanted somebody to respond squarely. The impatient guard shouted, “We’ve already told you that you can’t disturb Mr. Stern. Plus, you’re breaking order here. Come down! Otherwise we’ll use violence against you.” The two guards did not stop clanging the gate aggressively. “I did nothing wrong. It’s the fault of Benjamin Stern. Why don’t you all trust me? Why?” She was getting more and more emotional when she mentioned her husband. She attempted to look for empathy from the silent crowd. “Please! He is a blood-sucking wolf!” Her finger pointed at the shocking red poster. Some of them looked apologetic as they did not dare to speak up even if they knew the truth. They soon ignored Mrs. Collin and turned away for the ongoing treasure digging game. Luke finally went to the frontline and wanted to grasp the rod from that impetuous guard, though the guard was so furious that he hit Luke’s back severely. Nora standing aside trembled with fear. She rushed to Luke and tried to push, to push, to push the guards away, but it did not work. Her yellow scarf fell on the ground during the pushing.

Mrs. Collin finally spotted the two teens. She raved out her grief devastatingly when she saw the two guards hitting Luke inhumanely. She roared at the people around to save Luke and Nora, though no one moved as they were scared by the cruelty. The two guards shouted at Luke sarcastically, “How dare you! Yell for help, hero!” They did not notice that Luke was indeed mute… After few minutes of beating up, Luke tumbled on the ground and moved no more. The rods stained with righteous blood still pointed at him. Nora’s tears dropped like falling petals. Her lips shivered as though they did not know how to stop. When they found that Luke was tackled, the two guards’ bloody eyes stared at Mrs. Collin. They had been annoyed by her creepy shriek and uncontrollable behaviour. They turned to be vicious against Mrs. Collin, especially when she humiliated them by throwing eggs at them. The egg dripped from their hair to their eyelashes. Their eyes doubled with savagery now that they wanted to hunt this insane woman desperately. They kicked Luke away and stepped even nearer to the gate. Gradually, they pulled out black guns from their pockets, targeted at her. “Stop,” commanded the guards; but Mrs. Collin’s face was flushed with anger and tears that she kept screaming pathetically. “We order you to Stop! Right! Now!” She kept screaming…

       ‘Bang!’

       ‘Bang Bang!’

 Citizens were terrified nearby the gate when the guards fired to the air. Some scattered to the centre of the Square; some surrounded the gate. No one ever got the intention to stop the guards or help protect Luke. They just keep silent. When the monstrous guards were approaching the gate step by step, Mrs. Collin stopped yelling. At that moment, she no longer wore a crazed and tired face. She froze like a statue and gazed at Nora, Luke, two guards, and the crowd for a while. She took a deep breath, “I’m sorry dearests. I can’t let you two to sacrifice. Luke, your dad is a good man. He walks with his righteousness. You two are the most courageous and just dreamers I have ever met.” Nora was looking up to her with a great sense of anxiety. She wanted to go up and stop her speaking, though she was holding wounded Luke in her arms. Mrs. Collin spread her arms and continued, “Death wakes from the underworld to see the sleeping men. Freedom, peace and love are all swallowed by the ignorant. But when the day comes, no one can escape from the slaughter of authority and the blame of morality!” All of a sudden, Mrs. Collin jumped…

       The scarlet flowers bloomed everywhere.

      The blue-shirt men rushed from the corners.

      The shocking red posters fitfully plastered.

      And, the nosy-silent crowd trampled repetitively on the light yellow scarf.

An ambulance came to hospitalise Luke. When the rescue team left the gate, nothing seemed to have happened in the Square. The annoying broadcast kept running on; the Market operated as usual; citizens were back to their treasure digging game. For Nora, she could not really go back, as she witnessed her greatest fear.

PROFILE PICTURE

Janet Lee Profile Picture

BIO

Janet Lee Shuk Ching is a year four student studying for the Bachelors of Social Work at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

REFLECTION

The process of writing “The Greatest Fear” for the CAR subject, Creative Writing in English, seems to have been a channel for me to voice out my inner fear and desperation experienced during the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong one year ago. Reading the story lines again and again, I found the soul of my story coming from the collective fear it shares.

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