She gasped and woke up, waking in cold sweat: a nightmare?
It was one a.m. And outside, a storm thundered on. The wind rattled at the window, lashing rain onto it as her room flickered between black and white.
Lightning flashed, and thunder followed — like some symphony playing among the clouds. And out there, out beyond her window, the city of Tokyo bore the rain, laying there like some ominous beast in the eye of the storm. Darkness laid over everything, and all the light shimmering on in the distance remained like far-off stars cowering from the night’s fury.
It’s a different day now; the date has changed, a day has passed…
The day lost to the merciless winds of time.
In the dark, she groped about, but she didn’t know what for. She felt as if the world had shaken her awake, violently, to witness some dark procession.
Something wild, dark — like witchcraft.
But of course, nothing’s out of place and no demonic ritual’s in progress. It was just a stormy night, with the rain raging wild like some angered will against time. Another day’s passed, and there’s nothing wrong. The world wasn’t at the brink of destruction, and no witches laid about her bed chanting dark secrets to the midnight sky.
Everything’s in order. At least, she wanted to think so.
Her heart pounding in her chest still, she shook her head and tried to get back to sleep but couldn’t — her mind’s a mess, awoken into utter confusion as nameless thoughts cluttered her mind.
The rain pounded on, the wind rattled her window, the cold air hung over her like some frozen membrane, and she couldn’t shut them out. They knocked on and on at the door to her mind, again and again, incessantly. Like some eager, persistent NHK subscription fee collector on the prowl, irritated in the head.
Her heart throbbed, and she felt as if some outer force were oppressing her, suppressing her breath, tightening at her chest, as if restricting her very soul. Her muscle became irritated, as if urgently needing to move. And she felt an utter discomfort laying there in bed, feeling as if some nightmarish shadow were holding her still, trying to crawl into the real world from the land of sleep.
Finally, she decided she had to get up — there’s no use trying to sleep at this point.
And so, throwing her covers aside, she got out of bed and went to the kitchen. The lights were all off, the only light source being the curtained window as the city bore on against the storm outside. Lightning flashed here and then, and she felt a chill rush down her spine each time.
Groping for the light, she switched it on and headed for the fridge.
The darkness suffocated her. It felt as if the darkness were gathering itself together. As if closing in on her, like it were trying to get a hold of her.
She didn’t feel comfort, not at all; an odd trembling ran up her arm as she reached for a beer can. It’s as if some worm were sliming its way up her being, long and hairy, wet all over in some viscous liquid.
Shaking her head, closing the fridge, and opening up the beer can, she expelled the thought from her head and tried to focus on something tangible.
And, just as it always has, it returned to her driver’s license.
She didn’t know where this routine came from, or why her mind latched on to her driver’s license in the first place, but it did. And every time she needed to grasp something in her mind, to try and hold some tangible thought as if to make sure she was alive, that she was real, she’d think of her driver’s license; that little card she kept in her wallet.
She went and recited the details on her card, as if making sure of her own identity, like it were a physical proof of her existence: name, Haruka Yoshioka; born April 5, 1992; location, Setagaya, Tokyo.
Identity affirmed: She is still herself.
This recitation seemed to be her way of keeping in touch with her identity, her way of reaffirming that indeed does exist and is a living human being that is still breathing the air of the real world. For most, this may sound unnecessary or absurd, but it is true; she had always felt that, if she weren’t careful, she could get swept away from the face of the earth without her so much as even noticing. It’s a scary thought, and for some an unnecessary one; but it’s become an inseparable part of her life.
It’s the only she knows how to live. She must keep her guard up, be aware and on her toes at all times. Otherwise, she’d fall apart and her shattered parts would be blown into the wind like dust at dawn.
Drinking down the beer, she felt her nerves calm down as a warmth rose up from her chest. She felt her breathing slow and her chest rise and fall, tense no longer. Throwing the beer can into the trash and pouring out a cup of water, she sighed and shut her eyes as she drank it down.
At least, things are alright. For now.
She stayed in the kitchen for a while, sipping another beer in the low light, in the dim shade over the little dining table. She felt as if she were having a hangover, her head throbbing and aching, her muscles stiff and sore.
It was then that, from the haziness of sleep, something reached out and emerged from the depths of her memory, from the shadows of her nightmare when she awoke and forgot.
It had laid dormant, as if awaiting a perfect moment to return.
And that moment was now.
Her fingers froze. Her mind staggered and her heart skipped a beat. And a deep, overwhelming cold spread throughout her chest. For a moment, she thought she was breathing out frozen mists, though she wasn’t.
But at that very instant, she truly felt it touch, grasping her soul. And her body froze in reaction.
Her eyes were open wide, and her vision quivered, blurring. Her pupils dilated, as if right then and there, some paranormal being would lift her into the air and choke her to death.
She remembered now; her nightmare. She remembered what her nightmare was about. And right before her eyes, her very fear manifested itself, taking form like some shadow, some dark beast — her real nightmare.
It was a man; a large man draped in darkness, only his eyes visible like white slits, and some twisted mouth obscured in shade like fangs and molten rags.
And he drew near. Step by step…
As her vision shook violently, her voice clamped tight in her mouth like some animal panicking for freedom from its cage. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t — she couldn’t even move; it’s as if she were chained metaphysically from movement.
Then, mustering all the will she could — her teeth ground tight, her fingers clutched, her body writhing in place — she broke free.
Her body fell back and her chair toppled and hit the floor.
A loud crash echoed in the hall.
On the floor, she regained control of herself as she sat there, kneeled, her hands searching the floor like a person who’d lost their glasses, as if she were trying to gather together whatever she could of her consciousness.
When she looked up, everything had returned to normal, the only difference being the deep, primal fear that remained with her even as her illusions went away.
She was hallucinating. She told herself so, and shook her head. It hurt.
Her nightmare — it was a manifestation of her darkest memory…
When she was fifteen, she got raped.
She was on her way home from school, wearing a sailor’s uniform. She was in her final year of junior high, and before long she’d have to change uniforms for senior high. And at that point, she felt she cherished the uniform; soon, she wouldn’t need it anymore.
But it was on that day, with those wistful thoughts spinning about like cherry blossoms in her head, that a large man came up and assaulted her.
She was brought into an old public toilet no one goes to anymore and forced into giving up her virginity. He forced down her panties and raped her, roughly, so rough that it hurt.
But the pain wasn’t just that, that she was penetrated against her will, that she bled an awful lot, that all she felt throughout the process was unceasing, burning pain. It stripped her of her stability. Her sanity too, almost. It hurt her to the soul, tainted her core, and made her feel powerless. Utterly.
It’s as if her existence as a human being were defiled, her very identity torn down. Her core crushed, and the pieces on the edge of falling into the void beneath her; a void where the innocence of her youth once laid like the earth.
Now, that was all that laid beneath her ever since. A deep, empty void.
Powerlessness eats away at people. It shatters their world, their reality, and their being. Ultimately, leaving nothing but a scarred human being forced to walk the earth embracing whatever they think is left of themselves.
It’d definitely eaten away at her; all this time, she was forced to come to terms with being raped and left behind in an old public toilet in the dark, alone.
She told no one, and carried it all alone. And ever since, she never had sex with anyone. No man, no matter what age.
In senior high, no one noticed her change in personality, all because they never knew the version of her before her defilement. Her parents never had the time for her anyway, so they never noticed either. And so, as things went on this way, she bore it all alone.
And now, at twenty-six, she bore the same pains; it had probably only worsened as the years went by.
She was a Tokyo girl, and like the crowd of people rushing in and out of Shinjuku Station, she kept quiet about everything and moved along through life wearing an expression to mask her inner, broken, being.
Now, she was definitely unable to sleep. Knowing that now, she couldn’t help but be stumped as to how she ever got any sleep at all these past ten years of her life. How did she ever get any sleep in the first place?
She couldn’t find an answer and only shook her head. Then, picking herself up from the floor, she laid there in the kitchen, letting the hours slip away.
The next day after work Haruka visited a secluded bar in the entertainment district along the way home.
The clocks ticked toward midnight, and the district was in full swing. Here a bar filled with people downing drink after drink. And there a gambling center blaring with sounds and lights. The world of the night was only just beginning.
This was the nightlife in Tokyo.
Haruka worked as a convenience store worker at a store a block away, but even then she had a generous amount in her savings. She never really used much of her money and only spent her monthly salary on absolute necessities: food, rent, electricity.
This was actually her first time coming to a bar on her own, using her own money. So she felt rather uneasy, as if she were in a place she didn’t belong, like entering someone’s home without their knowing.
But what made her most uncomfortable was the fact that this was a bar for lesbians to meet, to hook up with each other.
What the hell’s wrong with her…
She scouted for the place online at work, specifically searching for a place for that purpose, but now she genuinely questioned what was even going through her head. Just what was with her?
But, even so, she quietly sat down and ordered a glass of white wine — hushed, keeping to herself, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
She sat there for a while, sipping at her wine, her mind racing from thought to thought. The bartender asked if she wanted a refill. She nodded and said thank you, though her voice was barely audible. It was but a whisper.
There weren’t many customers, though the ones present were engaged in pleasant conversation with one another. Some in flirtation, giggling among themselves.
No one approached her and she ordered her third glass. That relieved her, at least. Though, she didn’t why, she just couldn’t bring herself to leave. Despite all her mind’s screaming, her heart refused to let her take leave. And so she stayed there, discomfort crawling up her spine.
Just then —
A tap on her shoulder; she flinched, froze.
“Hi,” a sweet voice. “May I sit here beside you?”
It took her a second to react.
“Really? You seem nervous. Are you waiting for somebody?”
Haruka shook her head. “No. No, I’m not.”
The woman sat down and ordered a Tom Collins.
Haruka didn’t take a look at the woman at first; she had been too preoccupied with trying not to make a fool of herself that all her mind thought about was what the woman was saying and what she needed to reply. But now that she had calmed down a bit, she realized how pretty the young woman was.
She looked about her age — slim, a little shorter than her, her hair dyed a hazel brown, a rusted gold like ochre. She wore a fitting yellow cotton sweater over a white shirt. On the bar-top she placed her coat, which was a light cream. She also had a light-green hairpin that pinned her hair up over her ear.
She didn’t wear a lot of makeup and only seemed like a natural-looking girl despite her dyed hair. Her lips glimmered under the low-light, and her smile all but seemed to draw Haruka in.
Then, receiving her Tom Collins, the young woman took a light sip of it before turning to her, smiling sweetly, asking,
“What’s your name?”
What a sweet voice… She couldn’t help thinking so.
“Haruka.” She didn’t say her last name.
“I’m Fumiko! You can just call me Fumi. Are you new here?”
“Well, me too. I heard of this place from a friend who visits here every Sunday.”
What day was it again? It’s Tuesday.
“So,” Fumiko began, “you’re a lesbian too, huh?”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Y-Yes…” she lied.
“Oh, sorry. What a stupid question! Why else would you be here? I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me.”
“It’s just that I’ve never met another gay girl besides that friend of mine. From junior high, all the way to university, I just can’t help but feel this sort of excitement or something when I hear of or meet someone like me. I fills me up with such joy that I almost can’t believe it!”
She didn’t know what to say. “I see…”
Fumiko looked at her. “You seem like the shy type. It’s okay. You can take your time. There’s no need to rush things if you don’t want to.”
Somehow, as uncomfortable as she may be right now, Fumiko was able to make her feel at home. She had this pleasant, welcoming aura about her; this warmth and cheeriness that seemed to capture the moment whole, that seemed to make people fall for her, regardless of gender.
At midnight, Fumiko brought her out and took her to a deserted alleyway.
They were red from drink by then, and their bodies seemed to burn with warmth.
Pressing her against the damp wall, Fumiko placed her leg between Haruka’s legs and caressed her. She held Haruka by the chin. And, gently, she kissed her.
Haruka didn’t know what to do. She simply accepted her, allowing Fumiko to taste her lips and enter her mouth, surrendering herself to her. She felt her heart pound, and a funny feeling played in her chest, up and down.
Fumiko reached from under her clothes and touched her breasts through her bra. Haruka felt her mind start to spiral and a weird emotion began to stir in her chest.
But eventually Fumiko stopped, asked if Haruka was okay, if she were going too fast, then suggested they go to her place for the night.
“This has hardly the mood to make love,” she commented wryly, making a cheeky smile, referring to the smell permeating the air. Not to mention the darkness, the dampness.
When they made it to Fumiko’s place, Fumiko showed Haruka to her bedroom. It was a simple house, just the way she’d imagine her house to be; neat and clean, minimal but with a certain warmth.
But when they arrived at the bed Fumiko tackled her. She overpowered her, moving so fast her mind couldn’t catch on to what was happening. And when she became aware, Fumiko was on top of her, sitting over her stomach. And she found she couldn’t move her hands; they were tied to the back of the bed.
“Sorry, I got too excited,” she smiled, still warm and sweet. “I couldn’t hold back any longer.”
Then, without another word, Fumiko dug right in to her mouth, playing her tongue about and painting every wall of her mouth in her taste. And, pulling out, breathing hard, Fumiko quickly took a ball-gag from her bedside drawer and pulled it over Haruka’s mouth.
“You look cute this way,” she said, her head tilted, smiling. And then, whispering, she said, “play along with me on this one, okay?”
Haruka didn’t know what to say and simply stayed quiet, staring at her. Fumiko took her silence as an answer.
She pulled down Haruka’s pants and underwear and pulled up her clothes, revealing her bare breasts. Then, touching her down there, Fumiko let out a little laugh.
“Your slutty little pussy is this wet already?”
Then she noticed her nipples. “Your nipples are hard too!”
Fumiko’s lip took on a seducing smirk.
“You must’ve been waiting for me to finger-fuck you, huh? Your dripping pussy must’ve been begging for me to touch it till you’re begging for me to stop. Well, don’t you worry, I’ll take care of it!”
Looking deep into her eyes, a smile playing about her lips, Fumiko gazed at her as she laid beside her, her breasts pressed against her, as Fumiko reached down between Haruka’s legs, pulled down her panties, and touched her, entering her.
After all these years, it was a girl who’d enter her. She would’ve never thought of it.
Haruka squirmed and moaned, her body writhing about as sparks went about her entire body, making her mind go like fireworks.
Fumiko was violating her private spot, a part of her she thought she swore she wouldn’t let other’s touch. But somehow, she was fine with having Fumiko fiddle with her, playing her, and a part of her even desires it. It was like, somehow, she could erase what that man did to her by doing it with a woman. In some way, deep inside, she seemed to feel that way.
Fumiko kept on edging her, somehow bringing her to the brim of climax and knowing the exact moment to stop, leaving her body begging for more as she writhed in sexual frustration. She groaned, she drooled, her mind went mad and wild, and Fumiko seemed to enjoy it all. She called her a slut and went on teasing her, again and again, to the point Haruka wished the gag wasn’t on so she could cry out and beg for Fumiko to grant her release.
Eventually, Fumiko did; and Haruka burst, spraying about and wetting the covers. Fumiko giggled and teased her again, calling her a wet bitch. Haruka had never imagined Fumiko could be a sadist.
“Well, how unfair, come on and give me something too!”
Saying so, Fumiko removed her gag and got on top of her as she told her to return the pleasure. Haruka didn’t object and opened her mouth.
Afterwards, Fumiko untied her and they enjoyed each other’s bodies as they rubbed each other’s pussies together, with Fumiko in control, as she sped up, going faster and faster and faster, slowing down then repeating the process.
And so there went their night, rocking the bed until they dropped in the moonlight.
Breathing heavily, in and out, the two of them laid there in bed, side by side, their clothes thrown off like cherry blossoms about the floor.
Under the soft light of the blue moon filtering through the window into the dark room, they stayed there savoring the aftertaste, basking in the afterglow warming them in the rosy air lingering over them, the smell of their sweat mingling with the passion fading into the night air.
Haruka’s heart pounded and a funny feeling tickled at her from between her legs. It felt weird, but at the same time it was a pleasant sensation. Like a playful tease in the glow of a fireplace at dusk.
And she could just feel Fumiko’s heartbeat, and the warmth that came with every beat.
Right then, as if she had gathered herself, Fumiko, her eyes to the ceiling, let out a small chuckle.
“That was amazing…”
Haruka said nothing. She needed to catch her breath; she felt as if she’d somehow forgotten to breathe this past hour.
Then, as if trying to change the note she ended with, she said, “Sorry for going so rough so suddenly. I just couldn’t help myself anymore. You might as well report me to the police and call it rape. Besides, I didn’t tell you anything. So it was technically sex without consent, isn’t it?”
“It’s fine,” Haruka quickly replied. Somehow, she was honest; somehow, she really felt like she meant it. “I won’t report on you.”
She nodded her head. “I… I enjoyed it…”
Haruka immediately regretted saying that, but that sentence alone cheered Fumiko up as she giggled, looking at the shapes along the ceiling.
“Yeah, me too.”
Fumiko then turned to her, a warm touch of honesty in her voice as she said, looking deeply into her eyes,
Haruka was stunned speechless. Such honest eyes — they drew her in and wouldn’t let her go.
Fumiko cracked up, giggling. “You’re so cute.”
Haruka’s cheek flared up red. She averted her gaze, suddenly embarrassed.
Then, turning to the ceiling again, Fumiko began tracing her fingers in the air, as if she were drawing some memory from her imagination. She stayed silent for a while, as if she were waiting upon a tuning fork somewhere in the stars, tracing its rhythm with her fingers.
And just when the world seemed to hold its breath, Fumiko began.
“Back in junior high, especially towards the end, a lot of the girls started getting boy-crazy. Some started going out, and many started to find interest in the opposite sex.”
She waited for a moment, and Haruka waited as well. Fumiko seemed to be pulling a piece of herself out, a piece that’s remained hidden deep inside of her for a long time.
“But I didn’t. I was different, and back then I couldn’t figure out why. For the longest time I simply waited, just as my friends said, saying ‘it’ll come someday.’ But it didn’t. I entered senior high, and I felt the same. I just wasn’t attracted to boys. I tried going out with one or two but it didn’t turn out right. It only left me even more heartbroken. I was already confused, and going through all that didn’t help in the least.”
Fumiko shook her head. She sighed.
“But one day, I realized something,” she then said. “I was best friends with this girl named Ayumi. And, one day, I had this sudden pain in my heart when we parted on the way back home. I just watched her back as she walked home, down a different path. And it hurt. I realized I want to stay with her, I didn’t want to leave her side. This confused me. It confused the hell out of me. So much so that I fell sick with a fever. I wanted to stay with her so much, and when I masturbated — which was rare back then, as it was one of the ways I tried to find my sexuality; and masturbating to boys just didn’t work out for me — I just got so turned on and reached an orgasm immediately whenever Ayumi crossed my mind. I felt guilty, I felt like I was doing something wrong. I didn’t know what even was with me. And I looked at myself in the mirror I could barely recognize myself. I really was, seriously, confused. And for I while, I felt like a wreck. Until, I realized the possibility I was a lesbian.”
She pressed her lips. For some reason, Haruka felt her heart race.
“It didn’t help in the least when I came to that conclusion, but it did help in putting things into perspective. But knowing the truth isn’t going to help me. It only made things even more complicated and it made me distance myself from others, including Ayumi, to the point even she got worried.”
She shook her head and shut her eyes for a moment. Then, opening them, she continued.
“I couldn’t go on like that forever. I can’t keep on holding it deep in my chest. So, after we graduated, after we were out of school and were celebrating Ayumi’s eighteenth birthday… I confessed…” Fumiko seemed to struggle at this part. “And she beat me.”
Haruka’s heart skipped a beat. A cold feeling ran up her body. The warmth of sex had evaporated into the night.
“She got mad and beat me. She hit me over and over with her bag, and threw me to the floor. It hurt, but somehow I was numbed. It’s like I thought I deserved it. Being beaten and kicked on the ground. I didn’t know what to think. Not even when she threw the present I gave her. It was a vase with a blue floral pattern, and it shattered right in front of me. She loved flowers and loved arranging them, and I always loved the bouquets or flower arrangements she’d made. But I didn’t feel anything when she threw it.”
She sighed, then continued.
“It was only in university that I met Asuna, the friend that introduced me to the bar. When I heard from her that she was a lesbian, we became best friends right off the bat. But we didn’t become lovers because she already had one, and we just weren’t interested in each other either.”
There, she ended her story, as if she decided she didn’t want to go any further.
Fumiko shook her head. “I’m sorry I told you all this. I must’ve broken the mood.”
She had a sad smile on her lips. But Haruka shook her head.
“It’s fine.” And after a moment. “I’m sorry for you.”
“No need to,” she smiled. “Still, thanks for listening.”
Haruka said it was no problem.
“And,” Fumiko added, “if you’re wondering about my tastes, I can’t explain that. BDSM just turns me on a lot.”
Haruka simply nodded. She didn’t know what to say.
From that day on, Haruka and Fumiko started seeing each other. Every week, they’d meet at a bar or a restaurant before going back home and making love. Fumiko would usually be the one to call and ask if they could meet and she would mention a place to meet.
After two weeks, they even began doing it at Haruka’s place. Fumiko would even come for casual visits and maybe they’d cook something and eat dinner together. Haruka would need to pull in a stool from the living room as she only had a single chair at the dining table.
They weren’t officially lovers. They were simply in a physical relationship. It was Fumiko who asked if Haruka wanted to go further, but Haruka simply said she wasn’t ready each time. In truth, Haruka didn’t even know what she was really doing. She just went along and kept on having sex with her.
She was confused. What confused her the most was just how satisfied she was after each time. It was a secret sort of satisfaction, a private one. One that she can’t exactly admit to herself. And, for a reason unclear to even herself, she wanted to meet her. In a way, it wasn’t that she simply followed the flow; it was that, secretly, she wanted to meet her.
Had it been that it was only now that she felt attracted to women? Which she felt unlikely. Or had she been a lesbian the whole time and had never realized the fact because she had been preoccupied with everything else? Or, just maybe, was she only attracted to Fumiko?
She can’t tell, nor could she think. In fact, she didn’t want to think about it anymore. She was confused, probably just as much as Fumiko had been.
But what made things even worse was, a month later, Fumiko went missing.
For a whole week, Fumiko didn’t get in touch with her. Usually she’d call her on Sunday or Monday but this time she didn’t. Haruka didn’t think much of it at first, though it was clear that it affected her: Where did she go? And why wasn’t she calling?
Haruka eventually decided to head to Fumiko’s place the next Monday. And so, taking the spare key Fumiko left under the rug, Haruka unlocked the door and got inside. It was a calm morning, and there was barely a sound rising from the city all around. It was surprisingly calm, especially for a city. It’s as if the city were still awakening from its sleep.
She had never been to Fumiko’s place in the morning. She only came at dusk, as the world ticked for midnight, and the quiet at night wasn’t the same as the quiet at dawn; there was a daring quality to it, a sort of edge — it was the world of drug dealers and shady operations.
It was a kingdom of thieves. A world that seemed to operate on its own rules, a world where things seemed to happen under the shade of midnight.
“Sorry for intruding…”
She whispered so, but no one dared to answer. The dark hung over the place, the only light in sight being the curtained window across the hall, filtering in its dusty yellow glow over the wooden floor. Looking in, she felt as if anything could emerge from around the next corner. She truly did; and it made her shudder.
Dispelling the thoughts, she took off her shoes and placed the key into her pocket. She closed the door behind her and everything fell hushed, like the moment before something happens in horror movies. She couldn’t dispel the inner fear that something was about to pounce at her at any moment.
People don’t usually leave a spare key under the mat or a potted plant, not in Tokyo. But the very fact that it isn’t expected of homes here was why Fumiko placed one here. No one would’ve guessed or even bothered to check. How clever.
And it was this very thought that preoccupied Haruka as she ventured in: Fumiko herself. She was such interesting person to her; multifaceted, funny, warm, sweet, and so much more. Being with her for a month was enough to draw her in and show what a wonderful person Fumiko was, and even now Haruka was sure she barely scratched the surface.
So, stepping over the cold floor into the living room, she thought of her; but a dark shadow couldn’t help but hang on over every thought. It discomforted her, like an ominous cloud foreboding of death.
The living room was empty and the kitchen seemed abandoned. There was a cup of instant ramen left open but uncooked on the countertop and a kettle on the stove, the gas turned off. Looking into the kettle however, she saw there was no water. Odd.
The dining table seemed untouched and no plate or cup laid on top. The chairs were neatly pushed under too. The couch had no sign of anyone sitting on it recently, nor has the television been turned off; its plug was pulled and gathering dust and cobwebs by now. No one had come and straightened up the place, and there were no signs of there being a break-in or a struggle. Only odd things, details that didn’t seem to add up.
The kettle, for instance.
Haruka eventually headed into the bedroom after checking out the rest of the house. Her fear of finding a dead body on the bathroom floor was dispelled. But the search wasn’t over.
The bedroom was no different. Things were just as they should be; the closet neat and tidy, the bed done nice and clean, and the window shut and the curtain drawn shut. No body hanging from the ceiling, no nothing. At least she could ease her that none of those fears turned out to be true.
But after a closer inspection, she noticed that there was one thing different: there was a note written on a yellow memo on the bedside drawer.
“Call sister,” it said. A phone number written underneath.
Why would she need to write down her own sister’s phone number? Shouldn’t something like that be in memory?
Or was the note for her?
Her heart skipped a beat at the thought and she stood there on the spot, staring at it, blinding several times. What could this mean?
Eventually however, Haruka shook her head, made up her mind, and pulled out her phone, dialing in the number and calling it. And so, she stood there, waiting as the call beeped on and on in her ear, standing there in a deserted room in an empty house shrouded in shadow.
After a while, her call got through, and a small voice came through from the other end.
“Are you Haruka?” the voice asked.
“Meet me at your place. 9p.m. After you return from work today.”
She didn’t know what to respond.
“My older sister went missing, as you know. And I need to talk to you in private.”
Saying that, she hung up, leaving Haruka hanging there, dangling between knowledge and oblivion. The sound of a call being cut was like the death of a moment. Sudden, sharp, unsettling.
Her phone in her hand, pressed against her ear, Haruka stood there, every thought washed away in the silence.
When she returned home from work and opened the door, she found a young woman waiting inside, shrouded in the dark. Only a single candle stood before her, illuminating her figure in its reddish, orange glow.
“I was waiting for you.”
Haruka didn’t know what to reply at first. Taking off her shoes and stepping into the living room, she couldn’t find the words. “Sorry for making you wait” was all she could muster.
“It is not a question of time,” the young woman said. “It’s about you.”
Haruka didn’t get it. The young woman, who seemed to his Fumiko’s sister, was talking about something far beyond the norm of what constituted as everyday conversation. What was she even saying?
The young woman waited for Haruka to sit down. Once she did, she began.
“I’m Eri. Fumiko’s younger sister. Eight years her junior.”
Fumiko was twenty-seven…
Haruka didn’t know what to say. She simply sat there, not knowing what to make of the situation. A dark air loomed over them, like the shadows threatening to cave in on them, threatening to snatch away the light and snuff the candle into night.
Once the darkness sets, there’s no telling what may reach out to them. At that point, the thin veil between mind and reality. Or was this all just in her head?
The darkness was getting to her…
Before long Eri, as if casting away a broken spell, broke the heavy silence.
“There’s a rift in our reality,” she began, cutting straight to the point of the matter. “A rift enough to cause several anomalies across the present plane of existence.”
She paused for a moment. Her eyes bore a powerful, unwavering gaze. Haruka couldn’t tell whether she was pausing for dramatic effect or because the weight of the matter was too much for Haruka to bear all at once, because Eri wanted her every word to sink in.
Nevertheless, her lips forming a straight, pressed line, she continued.
“The rift itself was caused by a sort of paradox that, bit by bit, tore at the fabric of our reality,” she said, her tone deathly serious. “And once the fabric of reality begins to tear and show what’s between the cracks, the Spiral of Origin begins to suck away at whatever it came, causing anomalies to show.”
Just then, quickly, she shook her head.
“No. The Universe isn’t causing the anomalies to appear, it is getting rid of them. What I mean by ‘anomaly’ is an oddity from your subjective perspective.”
Haruka sat there, staring at the young woman sitting in front of her. But almost instinctively, she felt a sort of shyness bubble up from within from Eri’s unwavering gaze.
She couldn’t get it.
What did she mean? The ‘spiral of origin’? The ‘Universe’? ‘Anomalies’?
Eri sighed. Did she read her mind?
“The Universe is what some of us call the ‘Spiral of Origin’ because it is where all things come from and return to. Reality is the plane of existence where all things come and go. Human lives. Souls. Animals. The dead. Infants. They all come from the spiral and conversely returns to it once its time expires. Or, if something happens.”
She shut her eyes for a moment, as if indicating a shift in the topic at hand.
“More specifically, there’s a rift in _your_ reality,” she said. “Everyone lives in the same world, that is unquestionable. But at the same time everyone lives in different ‘realities.’ Everyone has their own subjective perspective on what is ‘real’ and thus what ‘exists’ in their world. And yours, well, is being torn apart by a torrential paradox at the heart of your consciousness, which caused your reality to unhinge from the collective reality everyone shares to some great extent. And my sister is caught up in all of this as she is the heart of the paradox, the anomaly that started it.”
Haruka didn’t understand a shred of what Eri was saying. Her mind was wholly preoccupied with whatever shapeless forms of thought that sifted through her head. She couldn’t even bring her thoughts in order. Bringing what Eri said in order would be close to impossible. Not now; she couldn’t think straight.
Eri let out another sigh.
“I know how hard all of this is to grasp right now, but of everything, at least hear this: tonight, someone will visit you in your sleep. No matter what, don’t let them into your heart. This is the last shred of hope for your survival. So please, at least this.”
Haruka replayed the words in her head. And, having made sure to herself she got it, she gave a nod.
“The world isn’t as it used to be right now,” she explained. “The rules of the collective don’t apply here. The deterrent force of the human consensus bears no precedence over this world. It is all on you. Normally, human consensus would override an individual’s strength, but here, everything is hinging on your soul. This is not the shared world, as I’ve said, this is yours, and your will and incarnation takes precedence over it all.”
Eri pressed her lips.
“Normally, there would be no use for people like us. All we do is stay around the fringe of the world’s workings. At least, that’s our normal state of affairs. But here, I know I have to bring this all up to you. I know I am now the Eri of an alternate dimension, if that makes it easier for you, and that the real me would continue to exist in ‘Reality,’ but I can’t just stand by. That’s not me.”
Eri looked into her eyes.
“This is my job, even though I am limited as to what I can actually do. But I can’t just stand by and do nothing.”
Haruka struggled to take everything in. But, as silence descended over the two of them, she eventually mustered up the courage to ask,
“Um, Eri? May I ask a question?”
Haruka shook her head. “How do you know all of this?”
Eri sighed, as if she’d known she would ask. “Back then, when my sister was going through a hard time, trying to understand herself and piece herself together amidst all the confusion, all I could do was stand back and watch. I couldn’t do a thing. I was useless. And so, I retreated into myself, going deeper and deeper into the farthest, deepest recesses inside my being, inside my soul, until, eventually, I traced myself back and reached the Spiral. Honestly I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, reaching deep enough inside myself, I found the spiraling void beyond reality.”
For a while, she stared off into space, as if tracing her memories to the farthest star in the night sky. And for the longest time, she seemed to be lost in the stream of thought flowing through her head.
This seemed to be the only time Eri let down the guard over her emotions, letting slip a hint of what laid underneath.
Everyone knows how to act, humans are born actors; and it is by peeling away the multitude of masks someone wears that one finds the person hidden underneath it all. It’s like staring into the night sky, one can only piece together a map of the stars from the little glimpses one sees every night.
As Haruka laid there in the darkness, lying in bed, her eyes to the ceiling, she thought over the words Eri told her and replayed the one thing she most hold tight to her chest.
Someone will visit her tonight, and she mustn’t let them into her heart.
No matter how many times she repeated them to herself however, she still couldn’t grasp what they really mean. But, closing her eyes, she let herself drift off to sleep.
It’s been a crazy day, and she’s tired of thinking over it.
Just then, in the middle of the night, she heard something echo in the dark.
At first, in the haziness of sleep, she thought it was just a dream, a figment of her imagination. But hearing it again, sounding closer now — her mind jolted awake.
Laying there in bed, she strained her ears to listen. In the deathly stillness, she braced herself, staying completely still, trying her hardest not to even breathe.
She heard it again, it was closer than ever now. She heard it…
Dark, heavy footsteps. Hearing it at first, one would’ve assumed someone were knocking at the door of reality itself, threatening to knock everything down. But upon a closer listen, she recognized what it was; slow, powerful footsteps enough to shake the core of reality.
Though as her mind cleared, she found herself questioning what ‘reality’ even meant.
After hearing what Eri said hours earlier, every definition in her head was called into question.
‘Reality’ had become a murky thing to her.
She squinted her eyes to check the clock: it was two a.m. And right then came another step. She shut her eyes, her heart skipping a beat, pounding as she felt her chest tighten. She could barely breathe.
Just then, she heard the door swing open. She gasped. Her body shook. She froze, holding her breath. Whatever it was, it’s here. For a moment, she swore she could here its breath.
If she opened her eyes, she knew she could see it. She knew that she’d see what stood there at the door swung open to the wall. But no — she mustn’t imagine it, she mustn’t. She couldn’t let the possibility become a reality. For now, it was but a shapeless being to her. But once she opened her eyes, that fact would no longer be true.
Then, it proceeded in its forward march.
One, two, three — moving ever closer to her bedside.
She felt the wind — where did it come from? — and decided to think about it. She must set her thoughts on something besides the dark man matching closer and closer toward her.
No, don’t think about it…
Think of the wind: she felt it cold on her cheek, like a winter breath. Then she imagined the wind caressing and blowing softly at the branches of a willow tree ever lost in meditative prayers, then about the bar that laid at the second floor of the building behind it, the window glowing gold, visible through the foliage of the leaves. She thought of the people inside, drinking beers and wines and glasses of Tom Collins, conversing pleasantly with each other, everyone women, each inching toward a heart-to-heart with the other, some bordering on flirtations with one another. And from the corner of her mind, standing in the darkness behind her, she saw Fumiko, smiling ever sweetly just for her. But over her shoulder, standing far behind her, was the dark figure of a large, faceless man.
No, she mustn’t let him invade her thoughts. She mustn’t let him become real.
But it’s too late; he’s already here, he’d marched quietly, without her notice, into her heart.
It was only then that she remembered what Eri said: someone will visit her tonight, and she mustn’t let her in her heart.
But of course, it’s already too late. The dark, large man marched toward her, and all she could do was watch as the man reached out to seize her body and soul.
Her mind turned dark, as if she’d closed her eyes. And everything turned black, as if someone had pulled the plug.