Fanfiction: Fractures (Completed 07/11/15)

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AntonSlavik020
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 26/09/15)

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Sat Sep 26, 2015 7:26 pm

Is it weird that I'm kinda hoping there are ghosts, even if they wouldn't fit the story at all? Not seriously, of course, I just really like ghosts.

Anyways, another very good chapter. Sad to see the Shanghai go, but it makes sense. It did seem pretty reliant on Yamaku students.
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Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

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Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 26/09/15)

Post by Skeeve » Sat Sep 26, 2015 7:39 pm

Not a ghost, but somehow an injured Hisao Nakai, dazed and shattered from his fall, crept into a sewer drain behind a rosebush and hid, soaking in toxic waste in a well sealed in a sub-basement under Yamaku Academy. Now mutated into a hideous monster, immune to death, there he built a shrine to the girls he could see coming and going from the school from his subterranean lair. Obsessing over the past and all the things he could have had, Hisao Yamamura watches.

And he waits.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 26/09/15)

Post by brythain » Sat Sep 26, 2015 8:47 pm

Melancholic. Beautiful. And the Mist.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Sadako
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 26/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Sun Sep 27, 2015 6:00 pm

As always, people, massive thanks for the comments. This chapter took a bit longer to write than I’d hoped – real life gets in the way sometimes – and I’m really glad you stuck around!
AntonSlavik020 wrote:Is it weird that I'm kinda hoping there are ghosts, even if they wouldn't fit the story at all? Not seriously, of course, I just really like ghosts.
It should come as no surprise, given my username and icon, that I do as well! Especially our old friend the Onryo… So I did get a chuckle out of Rin freaking herself with an all-night Ju-On marathon.
AntonSlavik020 wrote:Anyways, another very good chapter. Sad to see the Shanghai go, but it makes sense. It did seem pretty reliant on Yamaku students.
It’s funny how stories evolve as you’re writing them, even when there’s a fairly solid plan in place. I didn’t realise when I started, for example, that Fractures was going to be quite so sad. But then, as soon as I chose Hisao’s bad ending as a start point, there’s really no other way it could go. That little moment of black comedy in the VN actually has huge implications – if Hisao goes, the school goes, if the school goes the Shanghai goes and so-on. Great oaks from little acorns.
Skeeve wrote:Not a ghost, but somehow an injured Hisao Nakai, dazed and shattered from his fall, crept into a sewer drain behind a rosebush and hid, soaking in toxic waste in a well sealed in a sub-basement under Yamaku Academy. Now mutated into a hideous monster, immune to death, there he built a shrine to the girls he could see coming and going from the school from his subterranean lair. Obsessing over the past and all the things he could have had, Hisao Yamamura watches.

And he waits.
I think that Fractures is the only fiction I’ve ever written (and I’ve been writing for a long time – also, get off my lawn) that has no supernatural / science fiction / Lovecraftian elements to it at all. It’s been quite a challenge.

But if I do write some Hanako stuff after this, I can see a little strangeness occurring. She does seem to spend her time photographing lonely, abandoned places, after all…
brythain wrote:Melancholic. Beautiful. And the Mist.
Thank you very much! I do love melancholy, and getting it across in fiction isn’t always easy. If I’ve done that in fractures, my time has not been wasted!

So, on with the next chapter. In which bad stuff may happen…


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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 26/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Mon Oct 05, 2015 5:39 pm

17. Out of the Labyrinth…

You have reached your final destination,” said the satnav, as a sudden deceleration tugged Shiina Mikado halfway out of her seat.

The Mercedes swung to the side of the road and jerked to a halt. Shiina rocked back – Shizune drove in a manner that might politely be described as decisive – then looked around, slightly puzzled. If, as the satnav’s voice and screen were insisting, she had reached the end of her journey, then it certainly wasn’t a particularly impressive one.

They had stopped on a narrow country track barely two cars’ width across. Ahead of her the road curved to surround what looked like a small patchwork of fields; dark furrowed soil with forest beyond, a distant scattering of pale blocks that could have been houses or storage sheds. To her left the ground came up into rocky hillside, stones and scrub rising under sparse trees.

It wasn’t until she looked between the tree boles that Shiina saw dark wooden walls, and the framed glitter of glass beneath roof tiles and hanging branches. A metal signpost on the far side of the road swung gently. Peach Tree Hills Road Stop.

She touched Shizune’s arm, then pointed. [Shicchan? Is that the place?]

Shizune squinted through the windshield, and nodded. [I think so.]

[We shouldn’t park here.] Shiina looked back over her shoulder, but there were no other cars behind, just a narrow thread of brown road stretching back towards Murata. She could still see a few rooftops there, poking up from between trees. Houses out on the town’s edge. They hadn’t driven far.

[It’s just for a moment. I wanted to talk to you before we go in.]

Shiina turned around in her seat to face Shizune. [Okay.]

[I need to be certain you’re okay with this. I want you to tell me if you think we’re doing the wrong thing.]

It was unnerving, having Shizune ask her opinion in such a way. So few people wanted to know what Shiina thought about anything these days. [Well, we’ve come all this way. It would be silly to turn back now, wouldn’t it?]

[I mean it, Shiina.] Shizune looked more serious than Shiina could ever remember seeing her. [This isn’t the Student Council anymore. I don’t want to put you in any danger.]

Shiina smiled. [Shicchan, everything’s going to be fine. People know where we are, and I’ve got a good signal on my phone. Besides, I don’t think Mister Umeda’s going to trouble us, do you?]

[No, I don’t think we’ll be in any danger from him.] Shizune adjusted her glasses. [However, if we’re going to do this, we may still have to keep some parts of this conversation to ourselves.]

[Why?]

[You never know. So if I say sunflower, that’s a code word. It means that the next thing I sign will be for you, and you only. Don’t translate it out loud, or if you think there’ll be a suspicious gap in the conversation then make something up. Can you do that?]

[Sunflower?] Shiina thought for a few moments. She had been automatically translating sign language to speech and back again for as long as she could remember. It was a reflex. Watching Shizune sign one thing and then saying something completely different wouldn’t be easy.

But she could see that there might be a need for it. She nodded firmly. [I think so. I mean yes, I can do that, Shicchan.]

[Thank you. Now, there’s just one other thing. It’s very important.]

[What’s that?]

Shizune looked quickly around, up the long curve of the road, behind them towards the town. And then, when she seemed satisfied that no-one was nearby she took Shiina’s face in her hands, leaned forwards, and kissed her, very gently, on the lips.

It was the briefest of touches, as much an act of friendship and genuine affection as of desire, and it made Shiina’s breath catch hard in her throat. [You shouldn’t do that, Shicchan.]

[No?]

[No.] She smiled and brushed Shizune’s fingertips with her own. [Not if you want me to be able to concentrate at all.]




While Shiina Mikado’s strange, sun-dependent sleep cycle might have been inconvenient at times, it had its advantages. The same mechanism that required her to reach for a triple espresso as soon as it got dark also had the opposite effect, and in recent times she was often awake and alert before the morning sun had cleared the horizon. So when Shizune’s imposing black Mercedes had pulled up outside her parents’ house at seven thirty that morning, Shiina had been standing ready at the door.

Not that she had slept, of course.

Caught up in the strange thrill of discovering the clue in her yearbook, she had agreed to accompany Shizune to Murata almost without thinking. It was only after saying goodnight and shutting her laptop down that the realisation of what she was proposing hit her, and she had spent the rest of the night curled up in a shivering knot of apprehension and self-doubt.

After all, that awful night at Accelerando was the first and last time she had spent in Shizune’s company since she had so shamefully turned her back on their friendship. And while the subsequent Skype conversations had been more relaxed and enjoyable than she had dared to hope, how, Shiina wondered, could Shizune possibly stand to be trapped in car with her for several hours?

How, indeed, could anyone?

By morning she had convinced herself that Shizune would cancel the trip as soon as she set eyes on Shiina again, or would arrive with a less objectionable signer already in tow. So she was honestly surprised when Shizune had emerged from the car alone, walked briskly up to where she stood and hugged her, very hard and for quite a long time.

Even so, it wasn’t until they were most of the way out of Tokyo that Shiina let herself believe Shizune wasn’t only able to tolerate her presence, but actually wanted her to be there. Shiina had no idea if she was forgiven – she hoped not, it would be far more than she deserved – or if Shizune had merely compartmentalised that part of their history for now. Maybe it didn’t matter. In the end, she decided, circumstance, however cruel, had given her back something that she thought was lost forever.

And while she had breath in her body, she would keep her promise to Lilly and never it go again.




The hillside had been levelled off past the trees, scrub and soil gouged away to make a space just large enough for the Road Stop and its tiny car park. Shiina doubted there was room for more than two other vehicles alongside the Mercedes.

Not that a sudden influx of customers seemed likely at the moment. There was no other traffic on the road.

Shiina opened the car door and stepped gingerly down onto pale grey gravel, trying to make as little noise as possible. There was almost no sound here, just the dry whisper of trees, a thin metal creaking from the sign on the other side of the road. Even the quiet crunch of her footsteps seemed weirdly inappropriate.

The sudden thud of Shizune’s door made her physically jump. She glanced back, sheepishly. [Sorry, Shicchan.]

[Nervous?]

[A little, I guess.]

[Me too. And that’s a good thing. It keeps us on our toes.]

She nodded, then stood still and took a couple of deep breaths to try and calm her heartbeat. [It’s smaller than I thought it would be,] she signed.

Shizune was walking around the car to join her, unbuttoning her black coat. [The name makes it sound like a road station,] she replied, when her hands were free. [But I think it’s really just a convenience store and a couple of restrooms. If you want fuel you’re out of luck.]

They walked past a trio of vending machines towards the front of the Road Stop. A small wooden counter had been fixed to the wall there, facing the road; wrapped fruit and vegetables were lined up neatly on wire racks, probably produce from local farmers. Shiina had already eaten – they had stopped for half an hour in Murata, and Shizune had bought lunchboxes while Shiina called Emi – but she still licked her lips at the sight.

Shizune caught it, of course. She grinned. [Look at you, the healthy eater.]

[Fresh fruit can be yummy, Shicchan.]

[People keep telling me that.] Shizune moved past her to slide the door open, then stood aside and followed Shiina in. [I remain unconvinced.]

The interior of the Road Stop was very much as Shizune had surmised, a small, single-counter convenience store for travellers who didn’t want to go all the way into Murata. Shiina walked in past racks of magazines and newspapers, a microwave oven, a humming fridge stocked with sodas and iced coffee. She stopped at a counter topped with faded melamine, the windowed racks beneath it stuffed with candy bars and novelties.

There was no-one in sight, but a door behind the counter stood open. An office, Shiina decided.

“Hello?” she said, forcing her voice to raise above a whisper. “Excuse me?”

From inside the office, the thud and click of another door closing. Then a small woman in a dark blue tabard darted through, practically hurled herself at the counter. “Welcome to Peach Tree Hills Road Stop!”

A small cloud of cigarette smoke had followed her in. Shiina took an involuntary step back. “Uh, hello…”

The woman was older than her, perhaps in her late forties, with rather bushy hair surrounding a narrow, nervous-looking face. “Sorry to make you wait, we’re kind of short-staffed at the moment. Is there something specific you’d like? Or please feel free to browse…” She trailed off, staring as Shiina signed her words. “What’s that you’re doing?“

Shiina bobbed an apologetic bow. “I’m so sorry, I was wondering if we could speak to Masae Umeda?”

“That’s me.”

“Mrs Umeda, my name’s Shiina Mikado and this is Shizune Hakamichi. We spoke on the phone last night?”

“Oh. Oh, I see.” There a strange expression on Masae’s face, a wary, slightly embarrassed realisation. “You’re from the school.”

“That’s right. You said we could talk to you about your husband’s work there. Is it still okay?”

Masae folded her arms. “Like I said, we’re short-staffed. I was hoping Ryo would handle the counter for a while, but there’s no sign of him as usual. Maybe you could come back when we’re not so-“

“Busy?” said Shiina, rather surprised at herself.

For a long time, the only sound in the Road Stop was the hum of the fridge, and the high sad squeaking of the metal sign.

Masae sighed. “Fine,” she muttered, reached over to lift part of the counter. “Just promise me you’ll buy something on the way out.”




The office was just big enough for the three of them. Masae Umeda sat behind a tiny desk, almost hidden by an elderly beige computer monitor, while Shiina perched on a plastic chair in front of her. Shizune had taken up position on the edge of the desk, back to the wall, so she could see them both.

The external door didn’t fit very well; there was a cold draught coming in past it and hitting Shiina squarely in the neck. She did her best to ignore it. “This is a really nice place,” she said, as convincingly as she was able.

“Used to be.”

“Have you worked here long?”

“Too long. Sorry, what is it you’re doing, again?” Masae still seemed unsettled by Shiina’s signing. “Writing a book?”

“Not a book, exactly.” Shizune had come up with the cover story the previous night, before Shiina had phoned ahead to the Road Stop. “We’re making a history of Yamaku Academy. For, uh, a reunion we’re planning. It such was an amazing place, Mrs Umeda, and we don’t think the story’s ever been properly told.”

“Pretty sad story.” The woman frowned. “So are you gonna be writing this down?”

Shiina blinked. She hadn’t thought about that. “Um, I can’t write and sign at the same time, Mrs Umeda.”

Masae narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Okay…”

“Oh, wait!” She reached into her bag, took her phone out and tapped at it until the voice recorder came up. She set it down on the desk. “Sorry. I haven’t done this too many times, I keep forgetting.”

[Sunflower,] Shizune smiled. [Good thinking.]

“Well,” Masae muttered. “I guess that proves you’re not reporters.”

“Not very good ones, anyway.”

“Trust me, I’ve met enough of those assholes to know.” The woman’s expression softened slightly. “And I’ve worked here, oh, eleven years now. Used to belong to my first husband, I took it over after he died.” She ran a hand back through her hair. “Look, how do I do this? If I’ve got a question for your friend, do I ask her or you?”

Shiina smiled reassuringly. “Just talk normally. We’ll understand.”

“Okay, I’ll do my best. And if I screw up it’s just because I’m, well, not used to…” She made a vague gesture. “To this.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t think you’re a bad person, right Shicchan?”

Shizune shook her head. [Sunflower. Try to get her to talk about Kotaru.]

“Shizune says, ah, no, that’s okay, she’s kind of used to it.” Shiina shivered. Signing something that Shizune hadn’t said felt horrible, worse than dishonest. “Um, your husband, though. He worked at Yamaku right up until it closed, didn’t he?”

“And afterwards. One of the first people taken on, too.”

“He worked at Yamaku after it closed?”

“Uh-huh. I mean, when the place finally went belly-up he was laid off, same as everyone else. But he got re-hired as site security, looking after the buildings until they got demolished.”

“Oh, I see. And when the demolition stopped because of the earthquake, did he keep doing that?”

“Mm.” Masae scowled. “I asked him not to. The money was lousy, and I could have done with the help here. He insisted, though.”

“Why was that?”

“Because he loved the place. He was devoted to it. He…” She closed her eyes, just for a moment. “Sorry. It’s still hard, you know?”

Shiina felt a chill that had little to do with the draught. According to what Shizune had been able to find out, Kotaru Umeda had walked out of his house on one warm night back in August, and never returned. It had been Masae who had found him, eventually, out in the woods with his wrists and throat cut.

He’d been there for a week. “It’s okay, Mrs Umeda,” she breathed. “Take all the time you need.”

“Thanks.” Masae squared her shoulders. “He said he had a duty. Even after the school closed, he couldn’t abandon it. Me, this place…” She gestured out of the office door. “None of it mattered, as long as he could still look after Yamaku somehow.”

Shiina didn’t know what to say to that, so she didn’t say anything at all.

“Listen,” Masae told her. “I don’t want to sound like I didn’t understand. Okay? I did. I do. I know how important that place was. And it made him proud, just to be part of it. He used to keep everything they gave him, all the yearbooks… Whenever one of the pupils went on to do something, achieve something, he’d tell all me about it. He’d keep newspaper clippings, all kinds of crap.” She chuckled. “God almighty, he could bore for Japan. Used to drive me crazy.”

Shiina glanced over at Shizune. “Wow. I wish I enjoyed my job that much.”

“Guess you could say he lived for it.” The smile slid off Masae’s face. “I remember the day that boy died. When Kotaru came back that night, he was…” She shook her head slightly. “He knew it was all over, even way back then. He could see what was coming.”

“That the school was going to close.”

“Uh-huh. Did you know him? That boy, was he in your class?”

[Sunflower,] signed Shizune. [No, we didn’t.]

“Um, not really. I don’t think he’d been at Yamaku very long.”

Masae’s voice had dropped low. It was almost as quiet as Shiina’s now. “Kotaru blamed himself. Said he should have checked the fence up there, locked the door to the roof, put signs up… I told him, kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do, but he wouldn’t listen.” She looked away. “He wasn’t the same after that.”

A thought occurred to Shiina. “Did he get into trouble?”

“The police talked to him, but not seriously. They were too busy trying to pin something on that other poor kid who was up there. He got the worst of it.”

“Kenji Setou?”

“That’s the one. Kotaru had some clippings about him, too. Didn’t he join a band, or something?”

That was news to Shiina. “I don’t know, I’m sorry.”

“That’s gonna be a hole in your story, then.” Masae smiled sadly. “We had reporters poking around for a while. You know what it was like, you were right in the middle of it.”

“It was pretty bad.”

“But the worse it got, the more determined Kotaru was to see it through. When the place closed I thought, you know, finally he can let it go, be here with me, maybe even patch things up with Ryo, but it was too late by then. As soon as the chance came for him to go back, he jumped at it.”

Masae had mentioned that name earlier. Shiina had thought she’d been talking about an assistant at the Road Stop. “Ryo?” she asked.

“Ryoichi.” A shadow seemed to cross Masae’s face. “My son.”

Shiina found herself becoming very still. “Does Ryo work here with you?”

“I wish.” Masae fingers were knotting. “Most of the time I don’t even know where the hell he is. He can go missing for days at a time, worries the hell out of me. I mean, I called him today, I knew you were coming and I called him to watch the counter. Sure, he said. I’ll be there.” She spread her hands. “You see him?”

“Um, Mrs Umeda? Did Ryo and Kotaru get on?”

“God no. I mean, Ryo’s always been the quiet type, since before his father died, but he never liked Kotaru and I think the feeling was pretty much mutual. He used to spend more time with Kotaru’s dad than he ever did here.”

“Jiro.”

Masae’s eyebrows went up. “You’ve done your research. Yeah, that crazy old bastard. He’s half the problem, I’ll bet. Any time things kicked off between Kotaru and Ryo, he’d drive back there, hide out in the old man’s attic, listening to Jiro telling him shitty war stories.”

Shizune stood up. [Sunflower. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.]

[Me too, Shicchan.] An unholy cold crawling sensation was clambering up and down Shiina’s spine. “Mrs Umeda? Ryo didn’t go to Yamaku, did he?”

“There wouldn’t have been a problem if he had, would there?” Masae puffed out an exasperated breath. “Any time he got into trouble Kotaru threw that right in his face. ‘Look at all these disabled kids, making something of themselves.’ That runner, you remember her? God almighty. When she won a medal, you should have heard them go at it.”

[Shiina, we need to leave.] Shizune had forgotten the code word and Shiina didn’t care. [I hope I’m wrong about this, but I think we’ve just walked right into the lion’s den.]

[I think you’re right.] Shiina got up from her chair. “Mrs Umeda, thanks so much for your help. You’ve been really-"

The door burst open, sending in a wash of freezing air. Shiina span around.

“There you are,” said Masae. “About damn time.”

A young man in a black hooded top stood in the doorway. He was tall, well-built, and staring at Shizune with a look of absolute horror on his face.

“Ryo,” whispered Shiina.

The man turned, scrambled away, the door slamming hard in his wake.

Before she knew what she was doing Shiina was racing after him. She wrenched the door open and ducked out, looked wildly around. The man had vanished, but there was a big, rust-spotted green car parked awkwardly alongside the Mercedes.

She took a step towards it, and then something flashed at the corner of her vision, whipping towards her from the shadows.

Pain exploded through her skull.

The world turned to light, to darkness, to a sickening red sludge that wheeled up and slammed into her face. Her fingers scrabbled in cold gravel, trying to get a purchase, to force herself up, but her arms were damp clay, heavy and cold and impossible to control. She fell again.

There was a scuffling sound, nearby but dulled, muffled, as though she were hearing it through thick cloth. She heard a short cry, an impact. Something heavy hitting the ground not far away.

Shiina moaned, gathered what little strength she still had in her, and raised her head. Opened one gluey eye.

What she saw made no sense. She was seeing through a slick crimson haze, shifting and oily. She could make out a few shapes; an ocean of gravel stretching away from her, the wheel of a car, a black stick of metal lying a few metres from her head, curved oddly at one end. A dark mass on the ground, a silent squirming thing, desperately trying to shield itself as the hooded man leaned over it, raining down blow after blow until it finally jerked and became still.

She reached out a hand towards the mass, but it was already being hauled up and out of her sight.

Darkness sluiced in from the edges of her vision.

There was a grumbling, a mechanical clatter. Shiina opened her eye again, saw the car wheel rolling towards her. She wondered, vaguely, if it wouldn’t be best to move out of its way, but the last of her strength was gone. She couldn’t even roll over. All she could do was watch as the clatter rose to a roar, and the wheel bore down.

Small, strong hands pulled at her, dragging her over and away.

Her world filled with sky, too bright to look at. And a face, mouth open, eyes wide, streaming tears. Masae Umeda was howling something down at her, over and over again, but the words were slipping past Shiina before she could grasp their meaning, slick and glittering, just fish in a murky, bloodied stream.

It was like listening to another language.
Last edited by Sadako on Sat Oct 10, 2015 6:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Yukarin » Mon Oct 05, 2015 10:45 pm

oh my god

shit went down

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 9:31 am

Well shit. That went to hell fast. Hope Shiina's OK. Looking forward to the next update.
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Sharp-O » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:04 pm

God damn. Get the girls together, we've found the ass to be kicked. Gotta say, Shiina took that pipe like a champ. Benefits of a thick-skull perhaps (continues to make jokes to cover how not-okay he is)

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Skeeve » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:10 pm

Oh, damn. So if our Shiina took a pipe to the head and is our point of view, and Masae Umeda is still there and screaming... then there's really only one person that could have just got hauled into the car.

I say again, damn. This is getting really good.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Alpacalypse » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:04 pm

My response to this chapter can be summed up with this: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock: ouch.

Pls be okay, Shiina and Shizune. My poor little heart can't take any more shit happening to these guys.
I am the harbinger of your destruction... By herbivorous, mountain dwelling quadrupeds... fear me
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Sadako » Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:57 pm

As always, huge thanks to everyone for all the great comments! I’m really pleased to see so many people reading this and (hopefully) enjoying it, although the exact nature of said enjoyment might be a little different for this chapter. :twisted:

And possibly the next couple. I neither confirm nor deny.

(Seriously, it’s very, very hard to not even hint at what’s coming next, but I shall resist. I really don’t want to spoil any surprises…)

So, full speed ahead on the next one! And thanks again, people. It's a genuine pleasure having you along for the ride.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 05/10/15)

Post by Sadako » Sun Oct 18, 2015 12:35 pm

18. …Came the Minotaur

No-one spoke, on that final drive up to the school.

Emi Takada wasn’t entirely sure what had robbed her companions of speech. Apprehension, maybe, or the weight of their memories. Perhaps the sight of the Shanghai tea room standing so empty and defiled had stilled them. Whatever the reason, none of the three friends had managed more than a few words since getting back into the car. They made that slow, sad, sunlit journey in silence, up the winding mountain road, from the empty edges of town to the place where, in happier days, Yamaku Academy once stood.

Emi’s own reasons for staying quiet were mostly pragmatic. Driving the Mazda took all her concentration; the hire car was heavier and far more powerful than her beloved Toyota, and while it was a thrill to handle such a machine on level highways, on that steep, sinuously curving route up the mountain it was all Emi could do to keep from stalling on every corner.

Had she tried to talk and steer at the same time, she would probably have hit a tree.

So with her mouth clamped shut and her eyes narrowed against the glare, Emi had driven through flickering bars of light and shadow, the bright low sun stabbing at her through bare branches and blood-red leaves. And, quite unexpectedly, the higher she climbed the more lost in memory she became. It was as if her thoughts were reversing as the car surged on, taking her back to the times she would walk along this same road with Rin on their trips to the art store or the park, or jog down alone for no reason other than the joy of movement, the high gliding pleasure of outrunning her troubles, of leaving the bad dreams and the phantom pains swirling in her wake.

Then she rounded the road’s final curve, and the light faded. She had passed into shadow, hard-edged and artificial; a transition so sudden, so unexpected that she felt, for a few unspeakable seconds, as thought she had passed through a barrier between worlds. A membrane separating light from darkness, and a tragic, unfinished past from a future that was much, much worse.



It was just a trick of perspective, of course.

Standing outside the Shanghai, Emi had been able to see enough of Yamaku to convince herself she could simply walk up to the front gates and let herself in. Once level with the site, though, she had discovered that the school, or at least what remained of it, was walled off and entirely blocked from view. A safety perimeter had been erected by the demolition firm; hundreds of sheets of rough fibreboard, each one almost twice Emi’s height, screwed firmly onto fenceposts and painted an official-looking green.

Emi was making her way carefully along the line of them, with Lilly holding onto her left arm and her right outstretched to steady herself against the boards. The ground under her feet was treacherous; mud and sand and brick dust, churned up and hardened into a rutted, pitted moonscape.

She had parked the Mazda further down the road to avoid attracting attention, and was beginning to regret it. Her prosthetics didn’t function well on such an uneven surface, and her thighs were already beginning to hurt.

“Look at this,” she muttered, disgusted. “I didn’t know this would be here. Why couldn’t we see it from town?”

“Trees,” Rin replied over her shoulder. She was trudging along a few paces in front of Emi, had been since leaving the car. “Probably. Forests tend to have a lot of those.”

“You wanna walk home?”

“Um. It’s a nice day, but maybe the train would be quicker.” Rin stopped dead, and swivelled to look at the boards. “There’s a gate here.”

“Locked, I assume,” said Lilly.

Emi was close enough to see it, now; two double-width boards fitted with massive metal hinges and drop bolts. When they were open, she guessed, they would probably leave a gap wide enough to admit a truck or some of the smaller construction equipment, which made her think there must be another entrance for the really big stuff.

This gate, however, was very far from open. “If by ‘locked’ you mean ‘wrapped up with a chain as thick as my arm’, then yeah.”

“That’s hardly surprising. But disappointing, all the same.” Lilly sighed, a sad little cloud of vapour in the cold still air. “We do seem thwarted at every turn, don’t we?”

Emi glared sullenly at the gate. “Guess we came a long way for nothing. I just hope Shiina and Shizune are having more fun than us.”

“Are you saying this isn’t fun?” asked Rin.

Despite her surroundings, Emi grinned. “More fun than I can stand. Just wait here a second.”

Lilly took her hand off Emi’s arm. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t think that gate fits together too well.” She had seen a thread of light between the boards. She took a careful step closer and pressed her face to the gap.

The fibreboard was rough and cold against her skin, and smelled musty, stale. The space between the two boards was no wider than her finger. “Ah, anyone got a ladder?”

“I’m not normally one to ask this,” Lilly said quietly. “But what can you see?”

“Not a lot. I think most of it’s already gone.” From what little she could make out, it seemed that the demolition site was less than half the original size of Yamaku’s campus. It was impossible to tell for sure, but Emi guessed that she was standing roughly halfway down what had been the tree-lined walkway leading up to the main building. “They must have moved the wall inwards once they knocked down the outer stuff.”

“I suppose they’d want to keep their machinery as far from the road as possible. Can you see the dorms?”

“They’re gone.” Emi twisted her face to try and get a better view, closed one eye. “That whole part of the campus is flat. There’s something on the ground instead, big slabs of concrete?”

“Foundations.” Lilly’s voice was closer now. “I believe a housing developer had purchased the site.”

“The main building’s still there, but not much else. Looks like they quit hallway through tearing up the auxiliary block. That’s a real mess.”

“Ah. So no chance of a swim, then.”

Emi chuckled, then spotted a familiar splash of colour. “Hey Rin! I can see your mural!”

There was no answer. Emi turned from the gap to see Lilly standing expectantly just behind her, slim white hands folded neatly around the handle of her cane.

She was alone. Emi looked quickly around. “Where the hell’s Rin?”

Lilly stepped back. “I heard her moving away, but then I was listening to you…”

“She’s wandered off again. God damn it.” Emi cupped a hand over her eyes and glared down the line of boards. The wall angled away from her a couple of dozen metres ahead. “Give me a minute.”

She paced away, as quickly as she was able on the ragged ground, keeping one hand on the wall.

As she reached the corner she slowed, peered warily around the rough painted edge. The line of boards continued away from her, an endless, monotonous procession of dull green wood and churned earth. To her left, between her and the forest, scrub and rubble and great stacks of building materials hemmed her in, a chaotic, looming funnel.

In the midst of this unappealing view stood Rin, quite still, facing the wooden wall.

Emi stalked towards her. “What the hell, Rin? Where did you go?”

Rin turned her head to blink lazily at her. “Right here.”

Suddenly, all the day’s disappointments, all its fears and failures coalesced into a hard, cold knot of anger behind Emi’s eyes. “Stop doing that!” she snapped. “Stop saying things that are true just to make me look stupid!”

“What?”

“And stop wandering off! What are you, six years old? This place is dangerous, and you left Lilly all on her own.”

“She wasn’t on her own. She was with you.” Rin looked puzzled. “She’s on her own now.”

That’s not the fucking point!

Rin flinched, stepped back. Then her gaze dropped. “I’m sorry, Emi.”

Oh, nice going, Takada. “Rin, look, I-“

“This is my fault. I made you come out here with me and it’s all gone wrong. Nothing’s how it should be. I’m really sorry.”

“No, don’t say that.” Emi put a hand on Rin’s shoulder and squeezed it hard. “It’s me who should be sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I’m just…” She supressed a shiver. “I’m scared, Rin.”

Rin didn’t answer, but her head tilted slightly.

“It’s stupid, I know. But this place is freaking me out. You’re right, this isn’t like we thought it would be. It just feels wrong.”

“Then we should go home.” Rin nodded slightly, as if confirming something to herself. “Yes. If you want to go then we’ll go.”

Emi smiled. “Damn straight I want to. But we’re not going to, not until you’re done here. I know you need this, Rin. I’m not going to take it away from you just ‘cause I’m scared of…” She shrugged. “I dunno, ghosts or something.”

Rin’s eyebrows went up. “What, actual ghosts?”

“No, figure of speech ghosts.”

“Oh, that kind.” A tiny smile flickered across Rin’s face. “Thank you. Also, I’ve found out how to get in.”

“Wait, what?”

“There.” Rin nodded at the wall behind Emi’s shoulder. “Look at the frog.”

“The what now?” Emi turned, saw a large warning poster pasted across two of the boards. She had seen dozens of them on the wall already; faded and stained, barely-legible lists of grisly dangers and legal repercussions presided over by the demolition company’s incongruous cartoon mascot. A frog in a hard-hat. “Oh, okay…”

There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about the poster Rin had pointed out. Then a tree moved behind her, the angle of sunlight shifting fractionally, and Emi saw the faintest thread of shadow appear on the paper. She reached out to it, trailed down the line with her fingertips.

The poster had been cut in two. Somebody had taken something very thin and very sharp, and drawn it carefully down the join between one board and the next.

“The screws are gone on one side,” Rin told her. “And there are marks down the edge, like it’s been pried open a few times.”

“What with?”

“I don’t know. A screwdriver? Maybe a crowbar.”

There was a faint tapping at the boards. Emi looked around to see Lilly walking quickly towards her. “Hey.”

“I thought you’d forgotten all about me.” Lilly was smiling, but she looked a little rattled. “Have you found something?”

Emi described the modified board to her. “Hanako got in to take those photographs, but that must have been a year ago, at least.” She watched Lilly’s long fingers explore the poster, the gouges in the edge of the board. “Does that feel like something she’d do?”

“I hope not,” Lilly breathed. “I’d hate to think of her becoming the kind of person who carries a knife.”

“Yeah, I kind of imagined her just climbing over.” Emi put her fingers into one of the gouge marks, gripped the rough edge of the fibreboard as hard as she could, and pulled.

The board resisted for a moment, then some minor obstruction gave way and the whole thing jerked a hand’s width towards her.

She’d been rather hoping it wouldn’t. “Oh shit.”

“Just because we can,” said Lilly, “doesn’t mean that we should.”

“Are you saying we shouldn’t?”

“Not necessarily.”

Emi squinted warily through the gap. “Your call, Rin.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Rin was shifting her weight nervously from one foot to the other. “Um. Okay. On the minus side, it’s scary, it’s dangerous, it’s probably illegal. We could all wind up with a criminal record. And tetanus. And I refuse to rule out ghosts.”

“My my,” said Lilly. “That’s quite a compelling list, Rin. And on the plus side?”

“I can’t really give you a plus side right now.”

“But you want to go in anyway.”

“You don’t have to come in with me. You could stay out here where it’s safe.”

“What, and let you have all the fun?” Emi gripped the edge of the board and pulled it all the way open. “Let’s just hope they’re not the kind of ghosts that follow you home.”




Emi had expected the school’s main entrance to be locked, but it seemed that the demolition company considered their wooden wall security enough. The doors swung open as she pushed them, with only a faint groan of protest from the hinges.

The sound was small, but it echoed around the lobby for a long time.

Emi stepped through. “Okay,” she said, very quietly. “Now this is weird.”

“Why are you whispering?” asked Rin.

“Why are you not?

“Such a strange feeling,” Lilly said. “Between us we must have walked through these doors hundreds of times. But never onto silence.”

“It doesn’t even look all that different.” Emi took a few paces into the lobby, hearing the soft crackling of her footsteps bounce and fade off into the gloom. There was grit on the floor, building sand and dry leaf litter around the entrance, as though someone had walked in with the stuff on their shoes. “Just sort of… Neglected.”

In a way, that made the sight even sadder. She could have accepted seeing the lobby in ruins, or as dilapidated by time as the structures in Rin’s book. Shattered windows and plant-infested stairs would have been horrifying in their own way, of course, but that kind of shock was immediate, visceral. Easier to process, in the long run.

Entropy was, after all, the natural order of things.

Yamaku Academy’s lobby, however, looked almost untouched by its years of abandonment. The glass beneath the safety rails was grimed and dusty, but unbroken. The pale wood panelling along the central ramp was intact. Even the vast checkerboard painting, a source of utter bemusement to every Yamaku student, still hung in its usual spot on the left-hand wall.

None of the lights were on, but muted sunshine filtered in through the high strip of windows at the lobby’s far end.

“I can hear water,” said Lilly. “Something dripping. Are there holes in the roof?”

“Don’t think so.” Emi frowned, listening hard. At first she could hear nothing other than her own breath, the faint padding of Rin’s sandals as she wandered slowly up the ramp. Then, from somewhere to her right and quite clearly in the lobby’s echoing stillness, the soft tap of water on metal.

She moved over to that side of the ramp, leaning against the rail to peer around a pillar. “Just a water fountain.”

“Don’t drink it,” said Rin. “It’s ghost water. If you’re thirsty I’ve got a juice box in my bag that almost certainly isn’t haunted.”

Lilly had a puzzled frown on her face. “Wouldn’t the demolition company have turned that off?”

Rin shrugged. “Somebody must have turned it on again. Emi, I’d like to go upstairs please.”

“I thought you might. Lilly?”

“Hm? Oh, of course.” Lilly reached out, her left hand effortlessly finding a rail. She flinched.

Emi walked back to her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I believe so. It’s just…” She tapped her fingers nervously against the dusty metal. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think this would all still be so familiar.”

Emi took Lilly’s other hand. “You and me both.”




Rin led them upstairs. Emi was glad to see that she did so slowly, not moving on at her own pace but constantly looking back to make sure she and Lilly were all right. Luckily the stairs were as frozen in time as the rest of the building; of all the things that were making Emi nervous, at least coming to grief on loose masonry wasn’t one of them.

Once on the third floor they followed Rin past the main classrooms. Emi found herself slowing as she reached 3-4. She turned the handle, pushed the door open slightly. “Aw man. They didn’t even take the desks out.”

Lilly had paused next to her. “Everything’s as it was?”

“Almost.” She stepped into the doorway. “The blackboard’s gone. That’s weird. The rest of it, though…”

“Old school furniture has so little value,” sighed Lilly. “Trying to remove and sell it all would just cost the demolition company money. Cheaper to let it stay here and be destroyed.”

“There’s my desk,” said Rin, nudging Emi. “Next to yours.”

Emi chuckled. “They should sell those two as barely used, ‘cause you were always goofing off in the art room and I was running every chance I got.”

“What was your final score in English again?” Lilly put her hand to the doorframe, then turned, orientating herself back towards 3-2. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stay here for a while.”

“Sure,” Emi said absently. She had spotted another desk she knew, two rows ahead of hers. Osamu Kodai had sat there. She supressed a shudder. “Yell if you need us.”

“I will call, Emi dear. I never yell.” A sudden, rather wicked smile lit her face. “Well, only under very exacting circumstances.”

Emi watched her tap her way to the next room. “Why do I get the feeling she’s got a better sex life than me?”

Rin was at the door to the art room. She hooked it open with her knee. “Because everyone’s got a better sex life than you.”

“No fair,” Emi pouted, then followed her as she pushed the door open and went in. “That include you?”

“Not telling.” Rin padded between the long, six-drawered benches, avoiding a couple of stools that had been tipped onto the floor. She went to a desk near the window, perched on it and swung her legs up, put her back against the wall.

Emi lifted one of the stools and sat down, smiling across the room at her. “You used to eat your lunch here.”

“On occasion. And not usually at lunchtime. Up on the roof with you was more fun though.” Rin gazed out of the window, blinking a little. The corridor had been quite gloomy, but the art room’s big windows flooded the room with cool sunlight, despite the brick dust and the spiderwebs. “Did I ever tell you that? I should have told you that.”

“I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter.” Rin turned her head to fix Emi with a surprisingly intense gaze. “It matters a great deal. There were a lot of things I should have told you back then. But I was too squishy, so I didn’t say any of them. I…”

Her voice trailed off. She was silent for a long time, a pause Emi knew better than to interrupt.

Then: “I know it’s not easy, being my friend.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it is demonstrably true.” Rin was looking back out of the window again. “You’ve had a lot of practise, so you can make it look easy, but I know that it’s hard for you. I can’t do things friends are supposed to do.”

Emi folded her arms. “Like what?”

“I can’t talk about hair or clothes or music or movies, not the way most people can. I can’t talk about what I like about those things, even when I do like them. I don’t know the words for what I like about things.”

“I don’t think there are words for what you like about things.”

Rin stuck her tongue out. “You saying stuff like that would have worried me, back when were here before. I would have thought you were a mind reader, or something equally sinister.” Her eyelids drooped, and she smiled. “I may have been ever so slightly paranoid, in those days.”

“And now?”

“Now I know I’m just not very good at knowing what people mean. Including myself.” She nodded. “Especially myself. Feelings are still something of a mystery. Like electricity and skeletons. I know that not having them would be bad, but I don’t really know what they’re like or how they work.”

“You’ve seen skeletons. That school trip. We went to the museum, remember?” Emi found herself grinning. “We were all freaking out looking at this human skeleton and suddenly you said ‘He’s lost weight’ and the whole class cracked up.”

“I’d forgotten that. I wish I wasn’t good at forgetting things, but I am. It’s one of my talents.”

“I wish it was one of mine.”

“I think what I mean is that I have no way of knowing if a skeleton on the inside of a person looks the same as it does on the outside. I assume it does, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it changes colour when exposed to air.”

“Yuck.”

“Also feelings. I know what feelings look like on the outside. I can even copy them sometimes. But do they feel the same on the inside as they look like they do on the outside? It’s a puzzle.” Rin put her head back and closed her eyes. “Friends should be able to talk about their feelings to each other, and I can’t even do that. I think I’m a terrible person.”

“And I think,” said Emi, sliding down off the stool, “that you’re about the least terrible person I’ve ever-“

Emi!

She froze. That had been Lilly’s voice, echoing up from the somewhere outside the room. Not a call, or even a yell.

It was a scream.

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brythain
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 18/10/15)

Post by brythain » Sun Oct 18, 2015 1:07 pm

All these cliffhangers. ALL THESE CLIFFHANGERS. I shall call you 'Sir Cliff'.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Skeeve
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 18/10/15)

Post by Skeeve » Sun Oct 18, 2015 2:44 pm

Hodamn. It's going down.

I am literally biting my nails over here.

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