Two in One (Fiction Short Story)

This was basically a one-shot trial to see if this funny little idea, about a man’s soul trapped in a young woman, worked. I rushed this piece in two days for a final assignment in school, putting to shape this random and crazy premise without even much of a plotting. Surprisingly, within those few hours, the world of the story expanded, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Almost a year later the plot grew to be a much bigger world than the one contained in this piece, and I became determined to make a full-length series for it. While this one shot would be pretty different from the final work, it does give a taste of what I first imagined the story would become.

It is horrible, and I don’t dare to reread it because I know that it is horrible. There’s almost no point for me to edit this since I’m rewriting the story from the start. But I do recall enjoying myself while writing this. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it too while reading it.

However, if you don’t want to contaminate your views about this series with this frankly different one shot, you are free to avoid this and head on to read the actual story instead (you can find it under the title “The Duet Paradox”).

Proceed at your own risk.

Hemingway Test:
Readability — 4th Grade
Est. Reading Time — 00:19:59

— -

On her first trip to the airport’s arrival hall, Nova was confronted by a French man who spoke with a thick accent. He spared no mercy in reprimanding her for knocking over his cup of coffee and spilling it on his coat, but none of his angry, possibly accusing words actually got processed in her brain. All she knew, with her head down and her long hair covering her sight, was that she was being scolded.

“Kiss my ass!” shouted the voice in her head. It was the voice of a man, whom Nova had been hearing for the past week. She ignored it and continued to bow down, hoping to cease the foreigner’s rage.

“Oi, raise your head!” came the male voice again. He’s the one that knocked into us, for god’s sakes. We don’t have time for this! Let me into the cockpit!”

Nova’s eyes whirled. The next thing she knew her sight had vanished deep into her mind, her soul taking form in her subconscious. A white dress covered the shape of her body as she dropped onto a white Victorian couch, and from around her, her own voice boomed.

“Kiss my ass!” she heard herself say. The French man widened his eyes, as he began to look her from head to toe, sizing her up.

“W-Wh… H-Hey! Who said you could take over my body?” Her own voice echoed in the space around her. Where she was was like an empty cinema, with the couch under her as the only available seat. Before her was a gigantic screen, showing the view of her own eyes — except that she no longer saw it as herself, but as an observer from inside her own mind.

“You were the one that knocked into me!” Her voice, which clearly was hers no longer, shouted at the French man.

The man frowned. “Wudauhyouseah!?” He pulled his fist behind his head and threw it towards her. Nova, sitting on the couch, could only cover her face.

Her world whirled from the force. But the impact hadn’t been to her face; it came from her fist, which had connected with the man’s cheek before his ever touched her. The man, thrown off by the force, fell on his butt.

“Watch where you’re going next time!” said her triumphant voice. Almost immediately she could hear his irritating voice boom in the space around her.

“Hahaha! That’s how you do it!”

“Get out of the cockpit!” Nova threw her hands into the screen, her fingers wrapping around a wide shoulder before she pulled hard. Dante’s annoying figure, clad in his usual white suit, emerged from the screen, and right at that moment she leapt into the picture to take over.

White flashed before her eyes. Now, returned to the carnage that she had been a mere observer of for the past minute or so, Nova began to panic. The French man was still on the floor, but was quickly climbing to his feet. Shame and rage has made his face redder than a traffic light signal, and on his left cheek was a clear imprint of Nova’s fist. She attempted an apology, but the man approached her, disregarding her efforts.

“What have you done? There’s no way you can fight that guy,” shouted Dante in her head.

“Who told you to give him a falcon punch?” she shouted inwardly.

“Hey, it was legitimate self-defence. Get my lawyer, he’ll agree with me.”

“Dead people don’t have lawyers!”

To a passer-by she was the one who had punched a foreigner off his feet. No way was anyone going to believe that the violent ruffian possessing her was the true culprit.

It was then that, perhaps shocked at the chaos, a foreign lady had gone to call security guards to the scene. Two of them came running in, their auras clearly imposing, as Nova stood rooted to where she was.

“Where’s your lawyer, Dante!?” Nova screamed in her thoughts. If she had been how she was a week ago she wouldn’t even be in a mess like this. The French man, indignant that he was being called upon by the guards, pointed to her while shouting unintelligible words. Both guards exchanged glances, before the taller one nodded and tried to sooth him.

The other guard approached Nova. “What happened miss?” he asked.

Nova tried to speak, but not a word exited her mouth.

“A great time to turn into a mute!” Dante exclaimed.

“It’s okay, miss. Just tell me what happened,” said the guard.

“Seriously, we don’t have time for this. ‘He knocked into me and spilled his coffee, and then he attempted to punch me. I acted out in self-defence.’ Say that.”

“H-H-He knocked into me and spilled his coffee and punched me and I self-defenced myself-myself.”

“Why are you stammering!?”

The guard nodded. “So he punched you?”

“N-No, I mean yes. I mean, he tried to, but I got to him first.”

“So you punched him.”

“Y-Yes…”

“Say it was in self-defence!”

“I-It was in self-defence!” Nova added.

The guard nodded, jotting things down in his notebook. And then he asked for her IC.

“Why are you here today, miss?” he asked.

“W-Why?” She couldn’t possible say that the ghost possessing her had asked that she come. Nova looked about for an excuse, meeting the eyes of curious passer-bys that had gathered around them. In the distance, the lifts were moving up and down inside their translucent pillars. She recalled the kinetic sculpture she saw on her way here, the one that too had been dancing up and down.

“T-The raindrop thingy! Upstairs! I came to see it.”

“Kinetic Rain? Seriously? You could have just said you came here to shop.”

“Ah…”

But the guard paid it little heed, and simply wrote on his notebook. “Are you with anyone?”

“No… Just myself.”

The guard looked up. He met the eyes of his colleague, who seemed to have finally pacified the foreigner. He spoke quickly.

“Now, what I need you to do, miss, is to apologise to that man. He will apologise as well. We’ll try to keep this quick and clean, and not make another mess, alright? As simple as that.”

Nova nodded. Overhead, an announcement for the boarding of the next flight sounded with the voice of a female. It wasn’t what they were here for, but it certainly reminded them about their purpose.

“Make it quick,” Dante said.

“You’re the one that punched him.”

Nova and the French man, who still had the imprint of her fist glowing red on his face, apologised half-heartedly to each other. A closed case, the guards announced, and Nova wasted no time to escape from the circle of onlookers, some of which she knew were clearly translucent, whom she tried her best not to make eye contact with. She imagined herself back at her house, watching Japanese anime and playing video games. If only she was back to her normal, introverted life. She wouldn’t have to be here.

“Get to belt 20. Steven’s going to be here any minute now,” said Dante.

“I wanna go home…”

“And do what, play video games? Watch cartoon porn? Spending some time out here may be healthier for you.”

It had been seven days since Dante started to possess Nova, an experience which unfortunately wasn’t unfamiliar to her, though it was alarming when she failed to exorcise him. Nova approached various spiritual beings, especially those that often liked to haunt her, but Dante was such an unusual case that none of them could answer. Dante didn’t seem to be an earth-wandering ghost like most of her acquaintances, and blatant from his reaction when he saw her casual interactions with them, he had never seen other ghosts before.

Dante had died seven days ago, when his car swivelled out of control on a night alone. How he ended up in her body, he said, was because an angel had put him there. The angel, who looked and sounded like a little girl, explained that heaven was having too many admissions and needed to close their gates for a year to expand their premises. Logically Dante would be made to wander the earth during that time, but the angel, in her supposed mercy, decided to put him in Nova’s body instead. What a ridiculous story, was Nova’s first thought, but she knew from their shared consciousness that he spoke the truth. In any case, it was a fact she couldn’t exorcise him, and a logical reason for that was because some higher power was preventing her from doing so.

That doesn’t prevent either of them from complaining though. Dante’s emotions and thoughts were a complete clash with hers, and no matter how long they spent trying to get along together it was apparent that having two souls in one body was unnatural. They were two different entities, two different people, and they constantly fought over the control of Nova’s behaviour and lifestyle. Nova couldn’t help but wonder why someone more suitable wasn’t chosen instead — like a male, for instance.

To make matters worse, Dante had begun to use her body without her permission. Somehow he had learned to take control of the cockpit while she was asleep, and Nova had begun to feel the effects of it wearing down her body. Thrice in the past week she had been caught falling asleep in class, and one time it had gotten so bad during her CCA that her seniors let her go home early. She was clearly returning to the group of social outcasts known as ‘the weird ones’, which she had hoped she had graduated from when she left her secondary school. But thanks to this soul possessing her, she’d have to return to it.

Two nights ago, Dante found out that his old friend was returning from Germany a month earlier than planned. He was adamant about going to see him at the airport, unwilling to listen to reason. At least for a second, he said. Just to see his face. Nova could have easily refused him, of course. Yet for some reason she had given in. To be honest the trip hadn’t been all that bad; with the exception of that French encounter, Nova had indeed enjoyed the short tour Dante had given her on their way. Even as she stood outside of belt 20, she remained curious about the rest of the airport. Maybe Steven could come with them.

“Just take a look at Steven then go,” Dante said. “That’s all I need.”

“You can talk to him. I don’t mind,” Nova replied.

“Why would I? I’m dead.”

That’s true. If not for the miracle that he had somehow ended in Nova’s body, Dante would have left the world without being able to see his best friend for the last time. Their last words would have been those electrical, typewritten ones through their online chat, and the last sight of each other’s faces would have been the pixelated low-quality image taking forever to cross the 6-hour difference in their time-zones. The final moment of their friendship would have been just that.

A flood of people appeared around belt 20. Nova felt her chest tighten, an anticipation that wasn’t hers rising from her depths. Her eyes sought out each face, not knowing how he looked like but knowing that she was bound to recognise him the moment she sees him.

And then, amidst the crowd, stood a young man with a white and black windbreaker. He collected his luggage from the belt and walked out into the arrival hall with a familiar pace. His figure paused for a moment, as though searching for something, before he walked on, growing further and further away.

Nova stood where she was, something deep inside suppressing the urge to run over and call his name. What was the point of calling him, anyway? He wouldn’t recognise her voice. He wouldn’t see her as who she was.

No, wait. These weren’t her thoughts. These were Dante’s.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

Dante’s voice was an echo of his usual tone. Nova felt her heart sink.

“We haven’t seen his face yet,” she said.

Yet, Dante’s honest desire was that they leave.”You want to go back home and watch that cartoon porn, don’t you?”

How could he resist? Nova could barely stand it. There he was, that best friend of his, back before him after five years. Yet here Dante was, walking away in the opposite direction.

“We haven’t seen his face yet,” she repeated.

“Tsk, this isn’t your problem! Right now I’m not me anymore. I’m you. Even if I go up to him — “

“That’s it! If you’re me, you just have to meet him as me.”

“What? Oi… Stop!”

“Steven!” Nova shouted. She dashed past all the eyes that had turned in her direction, and sought merely to reach the back of that familiar stranger. She grasped the hem of his windbreaker and pulled the surprised young man to a stop. Steven spun around, frowning in confusion.

“Steven! You’re Steven, right? I’m Nova. I’m a friend of Dante’s. He has told me a lot about you.”

“Don’t go spouting lies!”

“D-Dante? You knew Dante?” Steven’s voice sent a wave of nostalgia through her body. It was truly unlike that of a video conversation. Face-to-face was completely different. Or perhaps it was because there was a new ravine between them now, one as wide as life and death.

“Yes, I know Dante,” Nova said. “And I have a message from him.”

“No you don’t,” came his voice.

“Dante wanted to go to your graduation ceremony.” A sharp headache pierced Nova’s skull the same time something hit her heart. The pain in both throbbed together. She almost bit her tongue. “He… He wanted it to be a surprise. You came back early for his funeral, right? Are you going to go back for your graduation?”

“No… I had enough credits so I was allowed to graduate early. It was quite short-noticed though, so there are still a lot of administrative things to handle.”

“You should have just stayed in Germany,” muttered Dante.

“Oh! So will you be staying here?” she asked.

“Yeah, most likely.”

“Great!”

“What are you so happy about?” Dante said.

“Anything else you want to tell him?”

A person’s first thoughts are their true nature, their true desire. It was a fact everyone knows but no one speaks of, for there’s no point when you can never hear someone else’s thoughts. However, when two entities share their all they have with each other, it becomes blatant to the other what one truly thinks; as such it was blatant to Nova that Dante truly had regrets when it came to his best friend. There were a torrent of questions, turning into an unintelligible mass that swirled in her head, none of which she could filter or decipher. As panic rose from the core of that vortex, Dante’s voice boomed through her mind like an edict.

“I have nothing to ask.”

The next thoughts are their decision, which only they will know if it’s with sincerity or hatred. And of course, him being part of her now, Nova knew which one it was. So she asked nothing else.

“It was nice meeting you,” Nova said, bowing slightly. “Take care.” She turned to leave.

“That’s it,” she thought.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Wait!” Steven called. “Nova… right? If you don’t mind, how about we have lunch together?”

Just as he asked that, as though on the cue of some force the two souls couldn’t control, Nova’s stomach gave a rumble so loud it might as well had echoed throughout the world. Dante was silent. Nova blushed.

“Lunch?” Steven asked again.

“…Lunch,” Nova nodded, wishing she could dig a hole somewhere and hide herself there for the rest of eternity.

That was how the two of them ended up eating at the staff canteen in terminal 2, which looked a little rundown and old-fashioned but contained a wide variety of the local food Steven had missed for the past five years. Dante suggested that Nova brought him to the Malay store at the end and recommend their Nasi Lemak. Steven beamed when she did. Apparently he had forgotten that Nasi Lemak was his favourite dish.

They sat at a four-sitter close to the entrance, opposite of each other, but neither of them spoke as they ate. Nova was never the kind to chit-chat during meals anyway, so she was fine with it. But of course, eating with a stranger you had only just met was a strange thing in itself.

“This is way awkward,” said Dante. Nova couldn’t help but agree with him. She gazed at Steven, who ate his way through the fried fish with a practiced twist of his fork. There was a scar on the back of his left hand, which looked like it came from a deep cut. But Nova quickly averted her eyes. It’s rude to stare.

“Dante was the one that told me you liked Nasi Lemak,” she said.

Steven laughed. “Oh yeah, I always ate it with him back in secondary school. That auntie had the best Lemak Rice ever. Kind of miss it.”

At his words Nova could see the image surface in her mind: the sight of a clean school canteen, of the variety of food placed at the front of the stall, and the old auntie, who walked with a limp, smiling at every child that came by. Sometimes she gave them extra, and sometimes she would come out of her stall to have a chat with them after school, when the canteen was less crowded. She had very bad jokes, but they liked her company.

“Sounds nice,” Nova said. “I wish I could have eaten it too.”

“Oh, you would have loved it!”

A translucent figure passed behind Steven before it faded away. It looked like an old man looking for something, but Nova chose to ignore it and continued eating. Steven, perhaps prompted by her words, began to ask her about how she knew Dante. Nova replied with the most reasonable answers she could manage, some of which Dante handled as well: that she had met him only a few months ago, that they were nothing more than friends, that Dante never stopped talking about Steven (Dante wasn’t happy about this one), about how Dante didn’t seem to handle his sisters well, and how bossy Dante could sometimes be.

Steven nodded and laughed at every interval, practically glowing. He laughed and agreed at her exclamations, and every time he quietened down he would stare into space for a while, deep in thought.

It was during such a pause that the old man’s figure faded back into her sight and began to search through Steven’s bags.

“Hey!” Nova shouted. The ghost spun around, stared at her in surprise, and came forward with such speed it was like watching a film fast-forwarded twelve times. His translucent hands grabbed her arms, and his eyes, much greyer and faded than his face, stared right into her.

“You can see me, can’t you girl?” he said, a voice like that of a nightmare. “You can see me!”

Nova yelped.

“What’s wrong?” Steven asked. Several other eyes have gathered on her from all parts of the canteen as she struggled, with as little movement as possible, to get the old man’s hold off of her.

“They really can’t see him,” Dante exclaimed.

“I… I just really need the toilet!” Nova dashed out of her seat, leaving a confused Steven behind. The old man chased after her, neither his clothes nor his legs moving, like a still picture zoomed in at maximum speed.

The parking lot! Nova ran into it. There were a lot of cars, all blended into a myriad of colours and shapes that filled her sight, but none of them providing a place to hide. She panicked, her feet feeling heavier with each step. She felt her vision darken with the dim lights, her limbs falling behind her, as the jeer of the old man reached her ears.

Get away! Get away! Get away!

“Shit!” Dante’s word was like a violent spit, spilling from his mouth with frustration. Nova saw her vision whirl again as her soul landed on the empty couch in the dark theatre. On the screen she saw that she had stopped — her body jerking from the sudden pause — before she felt the nauseating sensation as her fist clashed with an unearthly matter. The old man spun mid-air, holding his cheek with eyes squinted shut, while Dante’s thoughts, filled with more irritation than she had anticipated, roared in the space around her.

“Fucker!”

“I… just needed you to find something for me,” cried the ghost. “Just to find something.”

“Find what?” Nova asked.

“Fuck off!” Dante said using her voice. His volume resounded in the parking lot and Nova felt a few eyes — human and others — on her.

The old man widened his eyes. “You aren’t the same girl from before, are you?”

Dante said nothing. He merely glared with all his power, his emotion making even Nova’s soul tremble from her depths. From the corner of the screen, Steven’s figure came running into the parking lot, his eyes widening upon seeing her, his mouth opening to call her.

“Get out of here,” Dante said quietly, a tone that Nova had never used before in her life. The old man’s figure faded away without a sound as Steven’s face came into view. He came near, concern in his every feature, as he began to ask questions about what had happened.

“Dante,” Nova began, but his hands have already emerged from the screen, reaching out for hers. Nova slapped them away.

“You need to talk to Steven,” she said.

“You can talk to him,” he said.

“He’s your friend.”

“The dead can’t talk.” Dante caught Nova’s hands despite the latter’s attempt to get away. But Nova caught her leg at the edge of the couch. She resisted his attempt to leave the cockpit.

“Hey, I’m trying to give you your body back!”

“This is the first and last time I’m ever going to let you use my body, so you should use it!”

“I don’t need it!”

The two souls struggled in the midst of the subconscious, their fingers interlocking in a joust that didn’t seem to favour either of them. Dante pulled her hands, while Nova tried to push him back into the cockpit. Somehow or another, their back and forth began to synchronise, and before either of them realised both their souls were quickly enveloped by the screen.

A bright flash blinded their vision. The white couch sat in the subconscious, empty.

“Eh!?” Nova muttered. “Eh? Eh? Eh?”

“What have you done?” said Nova’s voice, but it certainly wasn’t her speaking.

“Eh? What? We both entered the cockpit!?” Nova exclaimed.

“Don’t make a fuss! Whatever you’re saying is being voiced out loud. You’re going to look like a lunatic!”

“Aren’t you speaking too!?”

In their panic, the two souls that had ended up controlling one body all at once began to collide. Unable to tell which words were thoughts and which words were actually being said, the two verbalised everything that came first into their head. It looked like a one-man comedy group, an actor doing two roles in the middle of a parking lot; this all happening in front of a man who was supposedly a stranger. But neither of them had time to pay attention to it — they had to do something about this mess first! One of them had to leave the cockpit, but neither would allow the other to. That psychological war was now a loud and verbal one, and all who happened to walk by simply stared, turned a-hundred-and-eighty degrees and zoomed off.

Steven, of course, had begun to back away, inching further and further towards where he had come from. He had a small inkling he might have been the trigger to this nonsensical outburst, but he didn’t know how he had been the cause. That was, until Nova shouted Dante’s name aloud.

“Dante?” exclaimed the young man.

Only by the sound of his voice did the two souls realise what had happened, and only then did they quietened down. In the cockpit, which didn’t really seem to have space at all, Nova struggled to leave. She took Dante’s momentary distraction as a chance to drop out of the cockpit; the next thing she knew she had fallen into the white couch and was in the theatre again, all alone!

“Wo-hoo!” she cheered.

“Oi! You bitch!” Dante said, not realising he had said it out loud. Steven grabbed Dante’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes.

“Is that you, Dante?” he asked.

“N-No, I’m Nova.”

Steven inched closer, but Dante averted his eyes. It took just a minute more before Steven, completely convinced of his friend’s metamorphosis, embraced his new body with overwhelming force.

“Thank god! Thank god!” Steven exclaimed. “This is a miracle!”

Dante couldn’t say anything in reply.

“How? But why? How did this happen?” Steven held Dante’s shoulders, gripping them tight. Dante sighed.

“I only wanted to come and see you one last time,” he said.

“The last time?” Steven asked. “But you’re here.”

“This is Nova’s body. I’m just possessing her because of some afterlife complications.”

“Should I tell him?” boomed his voice in the subconscious.

Nova hadn’t said a word. Surprise had consumed her. It was the first time anyone would have considered body possession — especially for someone they knew — a possibility. But perhaps Steven had been praying for such a miracle and thus was glad to see it happen. Or perhaps he was a nutcase like they were.

“You’re really lucky to have Steven,” she said. If only she had a friend that would believe in her ghostly sight too.

They returned to the canteen, where Dante began to speak of his situation. With each sentence it felt as though they were stepping further into a taboo, where the living should never hear of the dead — but with each word Dante’s weight seemed lighter somehow, the intensity of his soul ebbing away into peace. Steven listened to his words with keen interest. So did Nova who, tired of the day’s events, had quietly taken a nap on the white couch to the lull of Dante’s words.

“Are you doing alright now?” she heard Dante ask.

“Yeah, I’ll be meeting my stepbrother later,” Steven replied.

One by one, each question Dante asked took away his worries. Bit by bit, Nova felt her own body relax.

Before her eyes, she could see a secondary school boy crying in the rain. He hugged his bag close to his heart, as though trying to protect it. Why doesn’t he get under a shelter? A look at his frightful face made certain that the boy had no other choice.

In her hands was a small umbrella. Nova approached another girl, asked that she passed the umbrella to him, and took off running back home in the rain. Why did she do that? Why didn’t she just hand the umbrella to him directly? Giving an umbrella away like that was something she has never done.

That was when she realised. This was a dream — a dream of Dante’s memories. That boy just now… His left hand had a deep cut. It had stopped bleeding, but it certainly looked like it hurt.

Nova woke up. Dante was in the back of a taxi beside Steven, the two silent now that they were no longer alone. “So weird,” Nova thought.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Dante said.

“How was the reunion?” she asked. Dante didn’t have to say anything. The memories of his last hour or so were good enough as an answer.

Dante’s white-clad figure emerged from the screen. He smiled as he grasped Nova’s hand, pulling her upwards.

“Thanks for today,” he said. “I’ll let you sleep well next week.”

“Just next week?”

Dante laughed as white filled Nova’s vision. She opened her eyes to the back of the taxi, with Steven staring at her.

“Nova? Thanks for today.”

Nova shook her head.

“No really, thanks,” Steven repeated. “I came back to this country expecting myself to grief.”

“You’ll still grief, eventually.”

Steven smiled. “There’s a difference between a bridge that collapses immediately, and one that gradually falls apart after an announcement. They both collapse in the end, but more lives can be saved in the second one.”

“But isn’t the second one more cruel? You can see it happening before you, but you can never do anything to help. At least in the first one, it would have happened before you even realised.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” he chuckled.

On the seventh day that Nova was possessed by Dante, he reunited with Steven, his best friend. For bad or for worst, it seems like Steven won’t have to grief at Dante’s funeral.

“I just recalled,” Dante said. “Dante had to witness the workings of hell and purgatory before he could reach heaven.”

“Dante’s Divine Comedy?”

Nova had read about it once when she was searching for a way to resolve her strange ability. It’s a medieval poem about the afterlife, where a man called Dante was led through hell and purgatory by Virgil, before he could be led through heaven by his beloved, Beatrice.

But amidst the paintings she recalled seeing, was another scene: a gentle woman with a floral dress, her warm voice speaking of Dante and Vigil, of the false prophets whose heads were turned to face their back and forced to walk backwards. It was a scene unfamiliar to her, which meant it was probably a part of Dante’s memories.

“Perhaps here is my Inferno, or my Purgatorio. Either one,” he said. “That makes you my Virgil.”

“Wait, wasn’t Virgil a male?”

“Virgilova.”

“Don’t go changing people’s names.”

7 days down, 358 days more of hell and purgatory. Well, it probably won’t be all that bad.

Two in One :: END ::

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