Fanfiction: Fractures (Completed 07/11/15)

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 02/09/15)

Post by Sharp-O » Wed Sep 02, 2015 6:10 pm

Sadako wrote:But I love these characters, I don’t want to see them wallowing in misery (not for long, anyway), I want to see them picking up the pieces, gluing the teacups, kicking ass and taking names.
Exactly how I feel! I've got faith that you'll bring about a damn fine resolution to this story and I can't wait to see it.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 02/09/15)

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Wed Sep 02, 2015 8:46 pm

Great chapter. I really like how it seems Shiina(almost typed Misha) and Shizune are making up. Hopefully they continue that way and Shiina doesn't cut herself of from her friends again. Also, her reasons for doing so initially make allot of sense in a depressing way. I remember you saying before that their story is the saddest, and I think I agree. That was a very emotional talk between them. I also agree that this can't be over yet. Way to sudden and inconclusive for how good this has been so far.
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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 02/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Tue Sep 08, 2015 6:52 pm

14. Gregor Samsa’s Unsettling Dreams

The gun went off with a hard, flat sound, like two slabs of wood clapped together.

Emi launched herself off the blocks, surging away from the start line almost before the sound of the pistol reached her. It was pure reflex, nothing that required conscious thought. All her preparations – stance, breathing, target - were done long ago. She had reduced herself to a kind of bound energy, almost without intent, a point of pure focus. A bullet waiting to be fired.

As the hammer fell, she was gone.

A hundred metres were already behind her, the curve of the track approaching fast. She accelerated slightly, putting her head forward, keeping her balance as she shifted her weight to compensate for the curve. She felt her right thigh twinge, barely noticeable, easily ignored, a flicker of pain in her back that she left behind like the air swirling in her wake.

The line was within touching distance. She pushed her head out and down, heard the timer chirp, and slowed. Executed her trademark bounce-turn and trotted back to the start line.

Kamiya showed her the timer readout as she got close. 27.58. “God damn it.”

He shrugged. “Point two up on the last run.”

“Point two?” Emi bounced on her blades. She was warm, sweating hard, but it had been dark for an hour and the air temperature was tumbling. She didn’t want to cool off just yet. “Come on, Coach, that’s like, four seconds off my practice best.”

He stuffed the readout back into his pocket. “Yeah, and five days ago you got clipped by a car. I told you to ease back into this, didn’t I?”

“I am.”

“Yeah, nice try.” He jerked his head back towards the bleachers. “We’re done for tonight.”

“One more run. I can shave a second off that, easy.”

“I’m sure you could, before spending the next two weeks in a wheelchair.” He folded his arms tightly, his breath puffing out in clouds of vapour. “You’re still favouring your right leg and that latissimus isn’t fixed. I can see it from here.”

Emi batted her eyes. “Aw, come on, Coach. One more to wind down.”

“Yeah, maybe the puppy dog act worked when you were twenty.” He grinned. “Go. Physio, shower, home. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Meanie,” she replied, playfully raising the pitch of her voice and sticking her tongue out. Then she winked at him and jogged away.

It was only when she was inside, far away from Kamiya’s analytical gaze, that she let the fake smile slide off her face.



Later, on the train, she chose her seat carefully; close to the door, and on the far side of the carriage from the platforms, so she had a good view of everyone who boarded. Usually she would put on headphones and watch a cartoon on her phone, maybe read a book, but today she stayed bolt upright, tense and watchful with her bag half-open on her lap.

There was a lipstick-sized pepper spray in it, next to her phone. Rather a grey area legally, Shizune had told her, but a risk worth taking. It was Emi’s first trip on public transport since Osamu Kodai’s killer her been arrested, and she had no intention of relaxing just yet.

Despite assurances from Assistant Police Inspector Namba, Emi’s doors and windows stayed very firmly locked.

Opposite her, a businessman slumped over his briefcase, two schoolgirls gossiped behind their hands, a young woman caught her eye and smiled shyly before looking back down to her comic. Beyond them, Chiba slid past her in a succession of grey walls, lit windows, traffic jams and billboards and neon. An endless sea of dull, safe, ordinary little suburbs, hunched under a black winter sky.

And, she hoped, somewhere among the apartment blocks and convenience stores, deep within the sterile, foreboding bowels of a central Tokyo police station, Teiko Furuta would be sitting in a cell, contemplating life on the wrong side of a prison door.

Emi had never heard of Furuta until two nights ago, when Inspector Yagi of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department had finally released his name in an official statement to the media. There was no reason for her to have ever known of the man, of course: Furuta was a thoroughly unremarkable specimen who, by all accounts, had led a quiet and blameless life in the northern suburbs of Tokyo. That was until, at the age of twenty-eight, he had been laid off from the architectural firm at which he had worked for three and a half years.

Perhaps it had been coincidence that Furuta’s dismissal took place just six weeks after Osamu Kodai had been taken on at the same firm, perhaps not. In any case, Furuta had weathered the humiliation of being ousted by a younger, more promising and more talented man for several days. And then, after a night’s drinking, he had forced his way into Kodai’s apartment, beaten the younger man semi-conscious and partially decapitated him with a kitchen knife.

And that, according to Yagi and his fellow officers, was the end of the matter. The murderer had been apprehended, interrogated, and had confessed to his crimes. The good people of Tokyo could once again rest safe in their beds at night.

Emi Takada did not feel safe.

Furuta had apparently been cornered after short, and relatively low-speed car chase. However, Emi had been unable to determine what kind of car he drove, or even confirm its colour. She had learned that certain items had been stolen from Kodai’s apartment, but whether or not a Yamaku yearbook had been among them remained a mystery. There seemed to be no indication he had burglarised Jiro Umeda’s house, or that he had ever fired a rifle through a window in Niiza. In fact, Emi had been unable to learn of any link between Furuta and herself, other than the fact that she and his victim had once attended the same high school.

She felt as though she’d been handed the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, only to discover that the piece was the wrong shape, the wrong colour, and came with a free mallet with which to pound it into position.




Rin had gone home two days previously, early on Wednesday morning, leaving her parents’ house only a few hours before Yagi’s statement. With Furuta in custody the police had handed ownership of the apartment back to her, and Lilly had arranged with Superintendent Isei to replace the broken door and window before she returned.

Emi had driven her back, but the journey had proved troubling. Rin had been nervous and uncommunicative, perching stiffly in the car seat and barely speaking at all. When they pulled up, she had asked Emi for her painkillers, and then got out of the car and begun walking to the door without another word.

“Hey, wait.” Emi swung herself out and trotted after her. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Rin, don’t tell me that.”

Rin paused. “Thinking. Thinking very hard. Can’t think this hard and talk at the same time.”

“Okay. Ah, I guess.” She had known better than to ask what Rin was thinking about. “Listen… Am I gonna see you again?”

The woman had looked at her strangely, as if the question puzzled her. “Do you want to?”

“Of course I do!”

“Oh. Then yes. Not yet, but yes. Come back in two days.”

“Two days, right.” She’d watched Rin hook her keys out from a pocket, deftly unlock the door. “Are you sure you don’t want me to see you inside?”

Rin had shaken her head. “Best if you don’t.”

“But-“

“Emi.” Rin had leaned forward, touched Emi’s forehead with her own. “Please. Say goodbye Rin.”

It hadn’t been easy. She didn’t quite manage her own Goodbye Rin until the door had already closed.




Rin’s apartment was reasonably close to Niiza station, and the roads Emi took to get there were busy and well-lit. Still, she kept her hand in her bag the whole way, and found herself waiting so cautiously at pedestrian crossings that she began to wonder if she was developing a phobia.

It was a relief to finally reach Rin’s block. She climbed the steps as quickly as she could, stabbed nervously at the entry button.

A few seconds later, the speaker crackled. “Who is it?

“It’s me.” She glanced over her shoulder to make sure no-one was close, not for the first time that night. “Emi.”

Are you sure?

“Pretty sure.”

Another few seconds passed. Emi stood and shivered, wondering if Rin had changed her mind. “Hey Rin? Look, if you’re busy I can always-“

The door buzzed. Emi pushed it open and stepped warily inside.

The corridor beyond was cool and quiet, as soundless as when she had arrived here with Lilly just five days ago. Emi stood where she was for a few moments, listening for any sign that the building was inhabited, then shook herself and moved on.

“Thick walls,” she muttered under her breath. “Gotta be.”

When she rounded the final corner she was relieved to see that Isei had been as good as his word. Rin’s door was closed, and completely intact; either repaired and repainted or replaced entirely.

There was a spyhole mounted in it now, a tiny glass fisheye glaring out at the corridor.

Emi walked to the door and tapped on it. As she did so she noticed a fragment of yellow tape still clinging to the doorframe. She peeled it off, folded it up and put it into her coat pocket.

She didn’t want Rin seeing that.

There was a metal ratcheting sound, and the door swung open a few centimetres, just enough for one big, bottle-green eye to peek out. “Hello.”

“Hi,” said Emi gently. “I brought cakes.”

“Do we need cakes?”

“Need and want are two different things.”

Rin stepped back and tugged the door open with her foot. “Most of the time this is true. Please come in.”

“You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. Why would I not be sure?”

Emi went past her, watched Rin nudge the door closed as she slipped off her shoes. The surgical dressing was gone from her forehead, she noticed, and her bruises were smaller and paler. Rin’s wound was still stitched closed, but it looked to be healing. “Well, it’s been a funny few days.”

“If by funny you mean scary and happy and painful and sad all at the same time, then yes.” Two extra latches had been fixed to the inside of the door; Rin slipped one across with her chin, the other with her knee. “It has. But you being here makes it less of all those things except happy. I’m glad you came back.”

“Me too,” Emi told her, suddenly very relieved. She had been worrying that Rin might simply revert back to the way she had been before the attack, isolating herself, shutting Emi out. But, as usual, she had been underestimating her friend. “So how’s the thinking going?”

Rin appeared to ponder this. “I’ve reached the limits of the thinking I can do on my own. Luckily you’re here. What kind of cakes?”

“Those little ones you like,” Emi replied, taking a wrapped paper packet from her bag. “From the patisserie near the sports centre.”

“I love you, completely and forever.”

“Are you talking to me or the cakes?”

Rin gave her a small, sly smile. “Not telling.”

The apartment was as clean and well-ordered as when Emi had last seen it, if not more so. The workspace had been tided away; the rubber mat rolled and placed neatly under the window, the paints boxed, the backless chair and stand folded up and set aside. Rin had dragged bean bags into the space, and set up a little folding table between them.

That ugly russet stain was gone from the flooring, too.

There was a canvass on a tall wooden easel set up next to the window. Emi remembered it from before, but she was certain that it had been blank then, the surface primed but unmarked. Now it was a maze of colour, deep purples and crimsons and fleshy, unsettling pinks. A perfect, brilliant spot of white at gleamed at its centre.

She nodded at it as she unbuttoned her coat. “Is that finished? Can I…”

“If you like.”

Emi drew closer. It had been a long time since she had seen any of Rin’s work, and she had expected to see broader strokes, brighter colours. This, though, was precise, finely detailed, almost photographic in its intensity. There was no actual subject that Emi could name, just a morass of surreal, half-recognisable forms and structures, twisting, writhing, flowing one through the other in eerie procession.

It was simultaneously mechanical and organic, disturbing and beautiful, melancholic and queasily erotic. It was a landscape, a birth canal, an orgy from the depths of some sweat-drenched, liquid Hell. It was amazing.

Emi swallowed hard. “God almighty, Rin.”

“Hm. We had some fun, this one and me.”

“Wait a second…” Emi peered more closely at the canvass. What she had taken to be a white spot at the centre was actually a round hole, the width of her forefinger. Its edges were very slightly raised and ragged, as if something had punched its way through from the other side.

She recoiled. “Shit. Rin, is that…”

“Yup.”

“Isn’t that evidence?”

“Not anymore.”

Emi stared at her. Here’s me, she thought, shaking like a leaf every time I have to cross the road. Rin’s taken what that bastard did to her and she’s owned it. Turned it into art. “What the hell were you thinking about while you were painting that?”

“Butterflies, mainly.”

“You painted that while you thinking about butterflies?

“Or was it Shiina? No, I’ve been thinking about Shiina. And butterflies. Caterpillars. Embryogenesis and metamorphosis. Butterflies are the best animal, but I used to hate caterpillars. Isn’t that weird?”

Emi idly made one of her fingers arch like a caterpillar. “They’re kind of gross, so not really, no.”

“One time last year,” Rin continued, as if Emi hadn’t spoken at all, “I went out to look at clouds and fell asleep in the park, and when I woke up there was a caterpillar on my face. On my mouth. He wouldn’t get off. And I thought, if I make a fuss here with all these people playing and having picnics and being families I’ll end up in hospital again, this time with wires in my brain. So I got up and walked home and then screamed into a pillow. For a bit.”

“How long is a bit?”

“Maybe two hours. And then I thought, why am I screaming? A caterpillar is just a butterfly that’s waiting to become a butterfly. A butterfly in potentia. Screaming about it is silly, it’s like screaming about something that hasn’t happened yet and when it does happen it will be wonderful. Also, my throat is sore.”

“I’m not surprised.” Emi slipped out of her coat, went back to the entranceway to hang it up. “Two hours? Really?”

“After we met Shiina I started thinking about this again. Thinking very hard, I think. And I think…” Rin slumped back, quite suddenly, thumping down into a bean bag. “I think the reason I like butterflies is that they don’t change anymore. They’re all done with the changing. All they do is flutter and look nice and die, and that used to sound pretty good to me.”

Emi sat down opposite her. “You were scared of caterpillars because they do change.”

“Yes.” Rin nodded. “I’m glad you’re here, did I tell you that? Change is inevitable for a caterpillar, unless they die or get eaten by a bird. It’s something they’ve got to do. All this time I thought I was the butterfly, but I’m just a caterpillar, crawling along all green and squishy.”

“You think Shiina’s a butterfly?”

“Not yet. She’s still pulling her wings free. But she’ll be lovely when she’s finished.” A wicked little grin appeared on Rin’s face. “Shizune thinks so, anyway.”

“Ah, so that wasn’t just my imagination.”

“Nooo…” said Rin, stretching the word out into a long, slightly lascivious sound.

Emi chuckled. “Wow. You know, I used to pick that vibe up from Misha back at school, but I never figured Shizune was interested.”

“That was quite a long time ago.” Rin had that intensely thoughtful look to her again. The speed at which her moods altered never ceased to amaze Emi. “People change their minds. Some people change more than that.”

“It’s not compulsory, Rin.”

“I know. It would be very hard to enforce. But still.” She stood up. “I think I need to go somewhere.”

“What, now?”

“No. But soon. And quite far away.”

Emi didn’t very much like the sound of that. Perhaps she’d been too complacent about Rin’s state of mind after all. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not good at explaining things.” Rin was shifting her weight about, nervously rubbing one foot against the other as she stood. Then she stopped, closed her eyes. Emi saw her mouth the words One, Two, Three. “I don’t feel finished. I feel okay, I’m not sad and I don’t have bad dreams, but I’m still green and squishy. I have to go back to the chrysalis. I started to weave one but I never got the chance to finish because everything went wrong. I got pulled out too soon.”

Emi stood up, moved very close to Rin and put her hands up on her friend’s shoulders. “I like you the way you are.”

“I know.” Rin smiled. “It’s okay, maybe I‘m supposed to be squishy. And even if I’m not, maybe I’ll only be not squishy on the inside and you won’t notice the difference. But unless I try I’ll never know and I can’t not know. I need to show you something.”

She turned away, went over to the bookcase. Emi followed her, watching Rin trail a foot along the line of books, then stop at one and tip it back. “Let me,” she said.

“It’s heavy, mind your bad back.”

“You sound like my coach.” Emi lifted the book carefully. It was a big, solid volume, wide-format with hard covers and the kind of weight that spoke of several hundred glossy pages. She carried it over to the table and set it down. “Abandoned: Life in Dead Places. Rin, what is this?”

Rin didn’t answer, just reached down to the book and opened it, began to flip through the leaves. As Emi had suspected, it was a collection of photographs, some in colour but mostly monochrome. There was very little text, often just a fine line of characters under a picture to denote where it had been taken and who by.

Page after page flopped by, and on every one Emi saw peeling walls, littered floors, broken windows and sagging ceilings. Cars reduced to rusted skeletons by time and fire, sprawls of graffiti, plants growing through window frames and up through cracked concrete. Every image crystal clear, painfully detailed. Dozens upon dozens of empty, abandoned buildings in all their faded, tragic beauty.

“Here,” said Rin. “This is where I started to become me.”

“Oh my God…” Emi dropped to her knees. Rin had stopped at an image of a long exterior wall, red brick under a grey stone balustrade. The wall was heaped with litter, plastic bags and dead leaves, and much of its paint had peeled away, but Emi could still make out the mural that had once covered it; an unmistakable chain of twisted human forms and grimacing faces.

“Rin, you can’t go back to Yamaku. It’s gone, remember?” She squinted at the line of text under the image: Photograph by Hanako Ikezawa. “They demolished it.”

“They started to, but then they had to stop because of the earthquake.” Rin knelt down next to her. “They’re starting up again soon, though. I want to go back while I still can.”

“I don’t think they’ll let you in there.”

“Hanako managed it.” Rin sat back on her heels. “And even if I can’t go in there, I can be there. Do you understand?”

“This is really what you need to do?”

“Yes.”

Emi looked down at the photograph for a while, then glanced back to the apartment door, to the new lock and the heavy latches. She thought about the folded piece of tape in her coat pocket. “Hey Rin… You don’t have to do this on your own, do you?”

“That all depends,” Rin smiled. “How much cake can you carry?”
Last edited by Sadako on Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 08/09/15)

Post by brythain » Tue Sep 08, 2015 7:43 pm

What a brilliant chapter. What a wonderful Rin. And the photograph collection at the end, excellent!
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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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 08/09/15)

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Sep 08, 2015 10:00 pm

I third that. Very well done. I know it's kinda repetitive to say that, but I can't think of anything else.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

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Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 08/09/15)

Post by Skeeve » Tue Sep 08, 2015 10:01 pm

I liked it rather a lot too. Rin made sense to me, though. I'm not sure if I ought to be worried about that.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 08/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Wed Sep 09, 2015 5:41 pm

Thanks very much, people! It’s always nice to be told that you give good Rin. :D

Meanwhile, in central Tokyo...

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 08/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:48 pm

15. Ghosts

Naked, she stands at the edge.

Her back is straight, her head high and arms spread wide. One foot reaches into the sharp night air. The slightest tilt forwards and gravity takes over, the slow arc, poised body pivoting around the other foot until that falls free as well and then the world is turning, the rushing wind lifting, caressing, tearing at her hair, sailing between outstretched fingers. Over and down, over and down.

It feels like flying, until the ground comes up and-


Shiina Mikado gasped, and blinked awake.

Her heart was racing, fluttering frantically in her chest. The transition had startled her; in one moment she had been whirling down through freezing air and in the next she was motionless, cocooned in warm darkness. For a few strange, disorientating seconds Shiina wasn’t entirely sure of where she was.

Far above her a smooth, vertiginous cloudscape sprawled out into the gloom, lit by sporadic flashes of bluish light. Her bedroom ceiling. She groaned and rolled her head forwards, feeling her neck crack alarmingly.

The room was in darkness. Her TV was still on, but showing a completely different programme to the one she’d been watching. She must have nodded off partway through.

After a long time, and with considerable effort, Shiina had been able to overcome many of the traits that had defined her early years. She was now able to keep the volume of her voice level and controlled. She didn’t laugh often, and when she did it was usually a proper laugh, quiet and self-effacing, hidden behind a hand. She had trained herself to respect the personal space of others. She could even, if she concentrated and took things slowly, climb several flights of stairs before getting dizzy.

But the compulsion to lie down and go to sleep as soon as it got dark just wouldn’t go away.

She sighed, switched the TV off with its remote, then swung her legs off the bed and sat up. In the sudden quiet she could hear traffic, a few cars in the street outside, and from downstairs the murmur of another television. A loud, barking laugh in response to some comedian’s joke or pratfall. Her father was still awake, at least.

Her phone was on the nightstand. She picked it up and tapped the power button to check the time, and was surprised to see that it was still early. She’d lost half an hour of her evening, at most.

That was good news. In a few minutes, she decided, she would go downstairs and make some tea to wake herself up. Maybe she would watch TV with her parents for a while, before returning upstairs to study until she got properly tired. And then…

She frowned, hugged herself. The dream had settled over her again, as fine and unsettling as a cowl of cobwebs.

Shiina didn’t need to be a genius to interpret what her subconscious mind had been telling her while she slept. The idea of renewing her friendship with Shizune both excited and terrified her in equal measure - one way or another, she was on the verge of stepping into the unknown. But there was memory involved too. Being re-introduced to Emi and the others had shaken her, disturbed the dark sediment of her mind, and things that had once settled deep had begun bobbing to the surface.

She stood, padded across the room to the window. The road outside was deserted, a faint winter mist hazing around the streetlamps.

That boy at school, she thought, Hisao Nakai. What had he felt on his final journey? Did he have time to relish the flight, or fear its end? He had been drinking heavily before he fell, so it would be comforting to believe that he hadn’t known what was happening before his skull had met stone. Still…

With a sudden, guilty start, Shiina realised that she could no longer remember what he looked like.

“How awful,” she breathed. Had it really been so long? She’d lost so much.

No, not lost, she told herself firmly. Thrown away. The act had been quite deliberate on her part. Every face she could no longer picture, every voice she couldn’t recall from those days was her own doing, her own fault.

She had discarded her past, because it was the only way she could face the future.

That reminded her of something she still needed to do. Shiina raised her phone again, swiped it into life and navigated to her contacts list, the numbers Emi had tapped in during that terrifying evening at Accelerando. She selected the first new name and hit the Delete button.

Are you sure you want to remove this contact? the phone asked her, an unassuming bar of characters in the centre of the screen. Yes / No.

She looked it for a long time.

You can’t ignore your past, a friend had once told her. But you can’t let it hold you back, either.

Shiina took a long, deep breath. Maybe stepping out into nothingness wouldn’t be so bad after all. She hit No and then tapped Dial instead, put the phone to her ear.

The distant clicks and chirps of connection. Then: “Hello?

She spoke quickly, before she had a chance to change her mind. “Hello, Lilly?”

Shiina, what a lovely surprise!

“I… I didn’t wake you, did I?”

She heard Lilly chuckle. “Not at all. To be honest I’m fighting my way through a rather large file of building regulations, so thank you for rescuing me.

“You work really hard.”

From what Shizune tells me, you’ve been working very hard too. And with good results. Congratulations.

Shiina found herself smiling. “Thank you… It wasn’t always like that, though. Did she tell you I failed all my exams?”

She hinted that you might not have done as well as you’d hoped.

“Yeah, that’s a nice way of saying it.” She turned, put her back to the window and leaned against the sill. “Lilly, listen… There’s something I need to tell you about that. Something I should have told you a long time ago.”

A slight pause. “What do you mean?

“I mean… Well, after I left school, things were really bad for me. I told Shicchan… I was in a bad place, Lilly. For a long time.”

I’m so sorry to hear that. Shiina, are you sure-

“No, I need to say this.” She squared her shoulders, the way she had seen Shizune do. “One night I… Wow, I got so drunk. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t talk to Shicchan about it all, it was too embarrassing. And I didn’t have any other friends from school, not really. I thought I was all on my own.”

There was no reply from Lilly. Shiina was very glad about that. “I did have one number, though. I don’t even know why it was on my phone, we weren’t really friends. But I knew she was nice. She didn’t have many friends either, so I thought maybe she’d know how I felt, at least.”

There was a soft sound from the other end of the line. A stifled gasp, perhaps.

“I didn’t even think she’d answer, but she did. We talked, for a long time. And then we started meeting up. She helped me so much, Lilly. She introduced me to her therapist, told me how to get the help I needed. Made me feel like I wasn’t on my own after all.” There were tears on Shiina’s face, even though she didn’t feel sad. She let them fall. “She’s been such a good friend to me. Even now, when she’s going all around the world, we still talk.”

Lilly was crying too, now. Almost silently, but unmistakably. “Shiina, please…

“Oh Lilly, she’s so beautiful now. And she misses you, she misses you every day. She’d never tell you, because she thinks it would hurt you, but I had to let you know. Emi’s found Rin again, and maybe I can be with Shicchan, even if it’s just for a little while. It’s not fair… I just wish I’d told you before.”

No, no Shiina, it’s all right.” Lilly was speaking through muffled sobs. It broke Shiina’s heart to hear it, but to hear nothing would have been worse. “I understand. And thank you. Oh Shiina, you wonderful girl, thank you so much…

“She’ll be home again soon, Lilly.”

I know. I know. Oh God.” A long, shuddering breath. “Shiina?

“Yeah?”

We’ll see you again, won’t we?

“I hope so. Goodnight, Lilly.”

Goodnight. And Shiina… Don’t let Shizune slip away from you. Promise me.

Shiina nodded. “I promise.”

The line went silent. Shiina closed her eyes, hugged the phone to her chest.

Shicchan,” she whispered.



[It must have been hard, telling her that,] Shizune signed to her, an hour later. [I don’t think I could have done it.]

[She deserved to know,] Shiina replied, when she was certain of Shizune’s words. Her internet connection could be choppy at times, and her laptop was far from new. It made Skype communication a little fraught, especially at the speeds both she and Shizune could sign now. [Besides, I don’t want to keep secrets any more. Whenever I think it’s the right thing to do I find out I’m wrong, in the worst way.]

[Secrets have their place. But not among friends, I think.]

Shiina blushed. She hoped her laptop’s camera wasn’t good enough to let Shizune see it. [Do you think they’ll be friends again?]

[I don’t know. Maybe. I hope so.] Shizune paused for a moment to adjust her glasses. They didn’t need adjusting, Shiina had always been convinced of that. It was just Shizune’s way of giving herself a second or two. [On the other hand, if you look at Emi and Rin, or you and I, you’ll see that there were events that spilt us apart. Lilly and Hanako just drifted away from each other.]

[There was that big argument they had in the cafeteria. That was horrible.]

Shizune nodded thoughtfully. [Yes, you’re right. But that might have just been pressure. Things were bad then, and Lilly was trying to mother Hanako a bit, I think. They forgave each other afterwards.]

[It wasn’t the same, though.] Shizune probably wouldn’t have picked up on that, but it had been plain enough to Shiina. [They didn’t like each other as much after that.]

[Such a long time ago.] Shizune smiled. [Let’s do all we can to make sure they find each other again, shall we?]

Shiina hid a grin. Shizune could never resist moving pieces around a board.

It was later now, and even more quiet. The downstairs TV had been switched off; her father would be listening to music on his headphones, his single, treasured, nightly glass of beer beside him, while her mother sat and read. There were no cars going past at all, now. In the city, the streets would be bright and full, the bars thudding with music and voices, but the suburbs were already settling down for the night.

Shiina knew she should have contacted Shizune as soon as she had finished talking to Lilly Satou, but the conversation had been too draining. She simply didn’t trust herself not to cry, or freeze up, or do something equally shameful as soon as she saw Shizune’s face on her laptop screen. Instead she had sat on her bed for a time, hugging her knees, forcing herself to mentally catalogue all those faces she used to see every day but had paid so little mind to. And then, when she had proved to herself that she had, in fact, forgotten more of them than she remembered, she had roused herself, washed her face until all trace of her earlier weeping was gone, and then walked downstairs to retrieve her high school yearbook from its place on her mother’s bookshelf.

Her study area was a little L-shaped desk in one corner of her room. The long arm was piled high with textbooks and study aids, with only a tiny cavity left among them for her laptop. She kept the shorter arm clear for reading, and it was here that she had sat for almost an hour, leafing through the wide, slightly faded pages of the yearbook, poring over the life she had once tried so desperately to leave behind.

Nakai hadn’t been in it, of course. He hadn’t made it that far.

[I’m sorry, Shiina, please wait one moment.] Shizune turned from the screen and got up, walked away from her desk. Shiina sat and watched city lights winking through the long windows at the back of Shizune’s office.

She glanced at the clock at the lower corner of her laptop screen. 21.12. Shizune worked very late, it seemed, even on a Friday night.

A moment later Shizune sat down again. [Please forgive me. The last of the signers was just leaving.]

[So you’re all on your own now?]

A wicked grin appeared on Shizune’s face. [Finally, I have you all to myself.]

Shiina puffed her cheeks in mock indignation. [Shicchan! Are you thinking dirty things?]

[Are you?]

[I am not.] Trying not to, anyway. [My parents are right downstairs.]

[Then I’ll be good. For now.] Shizune nodded to the side. [I have to say I’m a little surprised to see you still have that.]

“Hmm?” Shiina looked to her left. [Oh, my yearbook! Mom insisted I keep it. I was just trying to remind myself what everyone looked like.] A sudden thought struck her, and she held the book up, flipped it to the correct page. [It’s okay, Shicchan, no holes!]

Shizune giggled silently. [If you were going to start sending death threats, I know you’d be smart enough to copy the pages and not cut up the book itself. Our hooded friend has made a nice piece of physical evidence for when the police finally catch him.]

Shiina set the book down. [You don’t think it’s this Furuta man, then?]

[No, he doesn’t fit at all. At best, I’d say that our tormentor was inspired by Furuta. Maybe he saw news reports of Kodai’s murder and decided to jump on the bandwagon, but that’s all.] Shizune paused, her fingertips tapping rapidly together. [In fact, the more I think about it, the more I start to consider the possibility that our man is an idiot.]

That wasn’t what Shiina had expected at all. [How do you mean?]

[Well, now we can exclude Kodai from his list of crimes, let’s look at the facts. He attempted to run over an unsuspecting woman who walks on two prosthetic limbs, and missed. He fired a rifle at Rin Tezuka from point-blank range and barely clipped her. He’s used easily traceable materials to create his death threats and as soon as he caught a glimpse of Saki Enomoto’s husband he ran away like a dog.]

[Saki’s husband used to play baseball, I’ve seen him on TV. He’s huge!]

[In which case, that might be the only smart thing he’s done.] Shizune sat back, swivelling her chair slightly back and forth. [We all watch TV and read books and expect killers to be criminal masterminds, but that never happens. Mostly they’re just stupid, small, pathetic people. Cowards lashing out because they don’t know any better. I have my issues with the police, but I feel for them, too. Most of what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is just stupidness.]

[Maybe,] Shiina replied. [But isn’t it like what they say about terrorists? We have to be lucky all the time, but he only has to be lucky once. Rin and Emi nearly died, Shicchan.]

[I know, and that frightens me. If this man is as stupid as I think he is, he’s probably too dumb to stop.]

[It scares me too.] Shiina turned to flip the book closed. She lifted the long red cover of it, letting the pages flop over. Grids of faces slid past, maps and photos of the school itself, lists of awards and special thanks and sporting achievements. The fleeting formative years of her life, reduced to a few dozen faded pages bound in faux red leather.

She shut the book. Frowned down at it for several seconds, then turned briefly back to the screen. [Sorry, Shicchan, can you hold on one second?]

She didn’t wait for the reply, just opened the cover again, flipped past the frontispiece and the index, found the page she thought she had seen and drew her finger down it. “That’s so weird…”

Something flickered at the corner of her vision; Shizune was waving frantically at her. [What are you looking at?]

[Here.] She lifted the book up, held it open in front of the camera. After a moment or two there was a sharp snapping sound from the laptop’s speakers. She took the book down to see Shizune shaking her head.

[Your camera’s not clear enough, I’m just seeing a big white blur.]

[Oh, sorry.] She set the book down on her lap, put her finger to the name that had drawn her attention. [There’s a bit here for special thanks. You know, for people who worked at the school who weren’t teachers? The guy at the top of the list is somebody called Kotaru Umeda.]

[Umeda? The owner of the rifle was Jiro Umeda.]

[It’s probably nothing. I mean, lots of people are called Umeda.]

[Yes, but how many of them worked at Yamaku?] Shizune turned slightly away, began to tap at what must have been another computer. [Kotaru Umeda was the senior caretaker at Yamaku, right up until it closed.]

Shiina made a face. [Aw, come on, Shicchan. The caretaker? What is this, a cartoon?]

[He would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for us pesky disabled kids.] Shizune shook her head. [No, he doesn’t fit either. He’d be too old, don’t you think?]

[He must be, you’re right. But…] Shiina’s hands froze. She stopped signing, rubbed the back of her neck nervously instead. [No, I’m being stupid, Shicchan, I’m sorry.]

Shizune gave her a warning look. [Don’t ever call yourself that again, Shiina. And tell me what you were going to say.]

[Well, we thought that the old man didn’t report the burglary because he’d get in trouble for having the gun, right? What if that wasn’t the reason? What if he didn’t report it because he knew who’d done it and didn’t want to get them into trouble?]

Shizune was staring at her. A slow smile spread over her face. [Shiina Mikado, if only you knew how bad I want you right now.]

[Shicchan!]

[I’m joking. No, I’m not joking. Just tell me you don’t have plans for tomorrow.]

[Nothing I can’t cancel.]

[Good. Because I’m going for a little drive in the country, and I’d very much like you to come along.]

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:24 pm

I'm very glad Shiina is making the effort to reconnect with her friends. Now we just have Lilly and Hanako, though like they said, since they just drifted apart that issue may not be as easy to fix. It's not like there's just one major event that they need to get over. And again, great chapter. Can't wait for the next one.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

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Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by Sharp-O » Mon Sep 14, 2015 8:19 pm

Got a bit worried at the "so you're alone now?" line, expecting something horrific to happen but thankfully, it was just adorable flirting and some clever detective work. I love Shizune and Shiina's dynamic.

Shiina's letting go of Misha is a lot less sad than I thought it would be. It's more pragmatic than anything, showing Shiina being more clever than she gives herself credit for. Also loved the flirting, it was really cute.

Another fantastic chapter, Sadako!

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by Alpacalypse » Tue Sep 15, 2015 4:35 pm

YURI GOGGLES ACTIVATEDjk, I don't have a pair of those *nervous laughter*

That was a fun chapter. Nice that Hanako and Lilly might be reconciling - wonder what she's been up to all this time? Besides globetrotting, that is. Shame that Shiina's still doubting herself to such an extreme, but there's definitely improvement. Also, nice that she didn't delete the contacts, too.

Nice work, Sadako! :D
I am the harbinger of your destruction... By herbivorous, mountain dwelling quadrupeds... fear me
---
I also write now, apparently. Since everyone else does it, I'm putting it here
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I have also discovered that I'm a decent proofreader. Anybody with SPaG problems is free to PM me their work for a thorough analysis and/or evisceration. Depends on how I'm feeling.

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:45 pm

Many thanks for all the kind comments and continued support! We’re moving towards the end game now, but still plenty of fun stuff to come.

(Fun for us, that is. For the characters, maybe not so much… :twisted: )
AntonSlavik020 wrote:I'm very glad Shiina is making the effort to reconnect with her friends.
Although her natural inclination might be not inflict herself on anyone she likes (because so many people have told her that she’s unpleasant to be around, she’s come to believe it), I think she’s past the point of no return now, thanks in part to her continuing friendship with Hanako and of course the possibility of getting together with Shizune. Which is still scary enough to give her anxiety dreams…
Sharp-O wrote:Got a bit worried at the "so you're alone now?" line, expecting something horrific to happen but thankfully, it was just adorable flirting and some clever detective work. I love Shizune and Shiina's dynamic.
Thank you! And no, I’m saving all the horrific stuff for later. :D
Alpacalypse wrote:YURI GOGGLES ACTIVATEDjk, I don't have a pair of those *nervous laughter*
These are two attractive, healthy young women in the prime of life, who – whether or not they’ve always been able to admit it – have basically wanted each other for years. When they finally get some private time, the government will have to issue warnings. People in surrounding areas will be evacuated for their own safety.
Alpacalypse wrote:Nice that Hanako and Lilly might be reconciling - wonder what she's been up to all this time? Besides globetrotting, that is.
Well, she was a major contributor to that book of photos Rin showed Emi. What she’s been doing aside from making a name for herself as a photographer may be the subject for later stories. The Continuing Adventures of Hanako Ikezawa, anyone?

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by Sharp-O » Wed Sep 16, 2015 5:56 pm

Sadako wrote:(Fun for us, that is. For the characters, maybe not so much… :twisted: )
...And no, I’m saving all the horrific stuff for later. :D
Sadako... You magnificent bastard I READ YOUR BOOK! :D
Sadako wrote:When they finally get some private time, the government will have to issue warnings. People in surrounding areas will be evacuated for their own safety.
Well,their relationship always has been... hands-on. 8) But seriously, I pity Shizune having to call in the window repair guys. The one time she should be thankful she's deaf.
Sadako wrote:The Continuing Adventures of Hanako Ikezawa, anyone?
If she ended up with Akio Hayashi (the boy she sits next to at Yamaku) I'd be stoked. That'd be three fics it's happened in and, therefore, pseudo-canon :wink: :lol:

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Re: Fanfiction: Fractures (Updated 14/09/15)

Post by Sadako » Sat Sep 26, 2015 12:54 pm

16. Plus ça Change

A mist came down, on the morning that Emi Takada left Tokyo for the last time.

It formed just after midnight, fine and pale, brushing at the tops of the tallest skyscrapers, its grey fingers teasing through radio masts and cellphone antennae. During the early hours it became bolder, caressing its way downwards, and by the time Emi’s alarm woke her it was spreading brazenly into the streets. Emi looked out of her bedroom window to find the road outside transformed; the buildings opposite her rendered as flat and dimensionless as paper cutouts, the streetlamps hazed into eerie globes of amber light.

It was still there by nine-thirty, as she walked along the station platform with Rin. “What is this, Silent Hill? I thought it would be gone by now.”

Rin seemed to be trying to look everywhere at once. “It’s pretty.”

“It’s freezing.” The platform was crowded. Emi noticed a clear spot next to an information board and made her way towards it. “Let’s wait here.”

“Why here?” Rin nodded along the platform. ”Is here better than there?”

Emi put her suitcase down. “It’s closer, and this thing weighs a ton. My arms are killing me.”

One of Rin’s eyebrows went up, very slightly.

“Remind me of that look next time you complain about getting your toenails cut.” Emi glanced enviously at Rin’s luggage. The woman had somehow compressed everything she needed for the trip into a single black duffel bag, which was hooked over her left shoulder. “It’s my own fault, I always pack too much.”

“Why didn’t you get one with wheels?”

“I’ve got one with wheels. But it’s the case I went to Korea with, it’s way too big for today. This is my small case.” Emi glared at it. “My small, really heavy case.”

“I’ve probably got the same amount of stuff as you.” Rin shifted her weight to the right, as if settling the bag more comfortably. “But you look nice, so your clothes need to be folded up so they don’t get squished and you keep looking nice. I don’t look nice so it doesn’t matter if my clothes are squished or not.”

“Who the hell said you don’t look nice?” scowled Emi.

“Mirrors, mostly.”

She reached up and put her fingertip on the end of Rin’s nose. “They’re lying.”

“If that makes me sneeze you’ll regret it,” Rin smiled. “Do you think Lilly will get here soon?”

“I hope so.” Emi peered around, wishing she was about a half-metre taller, or at least standing on a box. The early rush was already past, but the platform still seethed with passengers; business travellers working the weekend, families on day trips, shift workers and sightseers and bewildered little knots of foreign tourists. It was almost impossible for her to see any distance at all. “No sign of her yet, though.”

“I’m glad she changed her mind.”

“Yeah,” Emi said quietly. “Yeah, me too.”

It had been Rin’s idea to invite Lilly Satou on the trip back to Yamaku, but when Emi had called to ask if she was free Lilly had initially declined. While the idea sounded charming, she had said, the past few days had already eaten too far into her work schedule. Perhaps another time?

Later that night, though, just as Emi was preparing to leave for home, Lilly had called back - she had apparently been wrong about her workload and, if it was no trouble, she would very much like to accompany Emi and Rin to Sendai. Her secretary would arrange the ticket reservations.

Emi could tell that Lilly had been crying, but hadn’t said anything about that. The sudden reversal had been perplexing enough. And, if she was honest, the thought of having Lilly at her side while Rin attempted to metamorphosize was an enormous comfort. For no reason she could adequately name, Emi’s stomach had been a knot of apprehension ever since Rin had shown her the photos of Yamaku.

There was a soft chime from somewhere above her, and recorded voice. “The Yamabiko 133, Tokyo limited stop to Sendai will leave in fifteen minutes.”

“Hope this damn mist goes away,” Emi grumbled. “They might slow the train down if it doesn’t.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Depends how long you want to spend at Yamaku, I guess.”

Rin looked pensive. “I don’t know how long I’ll need. It might be a minute or two or it might be a thousand years, I’ve never done this before so I can’t say right now.” She tilted her head slightly, as if pondering the implications of spending a millennium wandering around a demolition site. “But seeing how you need to get back to work on Monday it had better be around twenty-four hours. Hello Lilly.”

“Hm?” Emi turned to follow Rin’s gaze, in time to see Lilly Satou emerging from the crowds behind her. She was dressed in a rather beautiful russet-coloured coat and matching scarf, and wheeling a compact silver suitcase along behind her.

At her side, his hand on her arm to guide her, was a tall, sandy-blond European man.

Emi had never seen him before. She would have remembered if she had; the man was strikingly good-looking. “Wow,” she breathed.

Lilly looked momentarily puzzled. “Um, hello?”

“I… I meant wow, what a lovely coat!” Emi laughed nervously, feeling herself going scarlet. “Who’s your friend?”

“Ah.” Lilly hid a smile behind her hand. “The coat, of course. And this is Marcus, my assistant. Marcus, these are my friends Emi Takada and Rin Tezuka.”

“I am pleased to meet you,” Marcus said, bowing precisely. His Japanese was good, but very formal and heavily accented. “I have heard many things about you both.”

“Have you?” said Rin. “That’s a worry. Who from?”

Emi elbowed her in the ribs, very gently. “So Marcus, will you be coming with us?”

“I apologise. No, I will stay in Tokyo.”

“Aw.”

Marcus turned to Lilly. “Miss Satou, please enjoy your journey. Contact me if you need anything at all. Remain safe at all times.”

She patted his hand. “Thank you, Marcus. I’ll call you as soon as I return.”

He bowed to her, and then smiled and said something, quietly, in a language Emi thought was probably English. She didn’t hear it properly, but it made Lilly giggle.

Another couple of bows to Emi and Rin and he was gone, weaving quickly away through the crowds. “You sly girl,” grinned Emi, watching him go. “You never told us you had a PA.”

“You never asked,” smiled Lilly. “And you can both stop looking at his backside now.”




Emi couldn’t let it go. As the train accelerated smoothly away from Tokyo Station she put her elbows on the little table between her seat and Lilly’s, rested her chin in her hands. “So. Marcus…”

“…has a husband waiting for him in England.”

She slumped. “God damn it.”

“My my,” Lilly chuckled. “Shall I get some water to put out that fire?” She folded her hands on the table. “And technically, Marcus is the office assistant, not my personal one. I don’t quite merit that kind of budget.”

“I should get a Marcus,” said Rin. “He could do my invoices and help me with hats.”

“He’s a very efficient young man,” Lilly replied. “You can thank him for this seat upgrade, among other things.”

Yeah, thought Emi. Him and your scary evil credit card. “So what did he say to you back then? My English is lousy.”

Lilly coloured slightly. “He said to beware of ghosts.”

“Oh, so Yamaku’s haunted as well, now?”

“Just the usual internet horror stories.” She sighed. “Any empty building gains them. Floating lights at night, mysterious noises, shadowy forms prowling in the early hours…”

“I’d quite like to go home now please,” said Rin, in rather a small voice.

“That was fast.” Emi smirked. “Have you been watching Grudge movies again?”

“There was a marathon.”

“Well if you get nightmares, don’t think you’re sleeping in my bed tonight.”

Rin leaned against the window and closed her eyes. “Another plan foiled.”

Beyond the woman’s tousled head the city was already beginning to blur, mist-shrouded buildings sliding past her and away, vanishing into the damp grey distance as the train gathered speed. Rin and Lilly were in the two front-facing seats, Lilly by the aisle, but Emi had never been troubled by travelling backwards on public transport. In a way she preferred it, although the notion was strangely at odds with her usual need to be out in front, setting the pace.

Perhaps, she thought idly, there was a part of her that, if it wasn’t entirely in control, didn’t want to see what was coming. “Lilly? Listen… I don’t want to stick my nose in, but is everything okay with you?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

Emi found that she was tapping her fingertips together, and forced herself to stop. “When you called back last night you sounded kind of upset. That’s all.”

Lilly sat quiet for a moment, an uncertain look on her face. “I spoke to Shiina Mikado,” she said finally. “She called me, not long after you did.”

“Really? What, is something wrong?”

“No, not at all. Just something she needed to get off her chest, I think. But, well…” She smiled sadly. “Let’s say that our conversation brought the past into sharper focus than I might have liked.”

“So that’s why you changed your mind.”

“In a way.” Lilly nodded. “I won’t lie to you, Emi, the idea of going back to that place frightens me. But the truth is that, just like Rin, I have unfinished business there.”

“Got some ghosts of your own, huh?”

“I made mistakes, back then…” Lilly’s voice was barely a whisper, almost lost in the rushing murmur of the train’s progress. “I need to remind myself of them, properly. If I do that, I may even have a chance to correct them before it’s too late.”

Emi shivered. Rin was bolt upright in her seat, looking nervously at Lilly. It’s okay, Emi mouthed at her.

Then: “Lilly? Is there anything we can do?”

“You’re already doing it.” Lilly took a deep breath, then smiled and turned her head away. “Emi, I apologise. There’s nothing wrong. And please forgive my little moment of melodrama, I’m never quite myself after an early start.”

“Sure,” Emi said, as reassuringly as she could. She could tell that Lilly was faking the smile – there was something seriously bothering her, but she was doing her best not to let it affect anyone else.

Some things just don’t change. But for Lilly’s sake, she would keep up the charade. “Still not a morning person, then.”

“Far from it. On a brighter note, I have to say I was pleased to hear from Shiina again. I wasn’t sure we would.”

“Well yeah. I kind of got the feeling that she couldn’t get away from us fast enough that last time.”

“To be fair, it was rather an unusual situation. And the first time she had seen any of us for some years. I get the impression that life hasn’t been especially kind to Shiina since we left school - I wouldn’t blame her for being wary of re-opening old wounds.”

“Being friends with people is hard sometimes,” said Rin.

“Are you saying I’m hard work?” Emi pouted theatrically. “Is that what you’re saying?”

Rin stuck her tongue out. “It’s easy when you’re at school. It’s like grass, you don’t have to do anything and it just keep growing. But as soon as you leave and get a job and keys and bills it stops being grass and starts being a plant in a pot. You have to water it and put it in the sun and sing to it or it goes brown.”

Emi’s eyebrows went up. “Sing?”

“Show tunes, mainly.”

“You haven’t even got any pot plants!”

“Of course I haven’t.” Rin stared at her as if she was pointing out the most obvious thing in the world. “I can’t sing.”

“If we’re talking about failing to nurture friendships, I’m more guilty of that than anyone.” Lilly ran a hand back through her hair, an uncharacteristically nervous gesture. “If Shiina has been through as hard a time as I suspect, gaining her trust might require some rather special handling.”

“We can do that,” said Rin. “We’re nice people. We’ll look after her, won’t we?”

Emi winked at her. “Great. Another mouth to feed.”




The mist that had enveloped central Tokyo seemed content to stay there. As the train raced away from the city Emi watched its vapours thin and fade, the buildings it revealed becoming lower, the spaces between them wider.

The sky was blue by the time they passed Omiya.

As the view from the windows grew clearer, the mood inside the carriage seemed to lighten in response, and the conversation turned away from the ghosts of the past and the demons of recent days. Instead, they spoke of more pleasant things; their homes and their dreams and the small, silly, entirely inconsequential details of their lives that are of no interest to strangers but endlessly fascinating to friends.

Rin told them about her work with a small group of independent artists based around Harajuku, and her plans to exhibit with them before the New Year. Emi talked about her dreams of qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics, and about an apartment she had seen near Niiza and which of her list of indulgences she would have to give up in order to afford the rent. And Lilly spoke of Scotland; of all the ways in which it differed from Japan, and those in which it was strikingly similar. She talked about its beaches, the feel of cool sand between her toes, warm sunshine and scouring storm winds. The history of the place, the ageless solidity of its cities and its stones.

She talked for a time about her sister’s complicated love life, her mother’s attempts to write a book, her father’s funeral. And then, when it became clear that Lilly’s need to be alone with her thoughts was outweighing her desire to speak, Emi just sat back and watched the roads narrow and the hills rise red and gold, and tried to shake off the feeling that she was racing headlong towards a gathering storm.




Rin’s original plan was to change trains at Sendai and take a local service into the little town that clustered below Yamaku. Marcus, however, had worked his magic on that part of the expedition, too; Emi’s phone chirruped as soon as she stepped out onto the platform, announcing that it had received confirmation documents from a car hire office just a hundred metres away. Within minutes the three women were climbing into a crimson Mazda roughly twice the size of Emi’s little blue Toyota compact.

Emi sat in the driver’s seat for a while, just looking around the interior of the car and marvelling. “So many airbags…”

“This is a lovely car,” said Rin. “I love your car but this is really nice. Can I drive it?”

Emi pretended to consider the question for a while. “I’m gonna have to say no.”

“Give me two reasons why not.”

“You’ve got no license and no sense of direction.”

“This is true,” Rin sighed. “I get lost sometimes.”

“If I recall correctly,” said Lilly, fastening her seatbelt, “you once spent an hour trying to get out of the school cafeteria.”

“It was forty-five minutes, and that wasn’t my fault. They’d moved all the tables.”

“It wasn’t all the time.” Emi was adjusting her seat forwards. She needed it set at a precise distance for her legs to work on the pedals. “But I’ve got to admit, whenever you went off to the Worry Tree I wondered if you were ever going to make it back again.”

Lilly frowned. “The Worry Tree?”

“Yes,” Rin replied. “It’s a tree you go to when you’re worried.”

“And do you tell your worries to the Worry Tree, is that it?”

Rin looked slightly puzzled. “You can if you like, but I very much doubt it would be listening.”

Emi saw the expression on Lilly’s face, and decided to cut in before things got any more perplexing for her. “It’s more about the walk,” she said. “It doesn’t even really matter which tree, right Rin?”

“I does matter which tree,” Rin told her. “It’s very important. It’s just never the same tree twice in a row, that’s all.”

Lilly rubbed the bridge of her nose. “If we substitute worry for confusion, I think I’m in need of a small forest.”

“I’m in need of lunch.” Rin clicked her own seatbelt in with her right foot, then slipped back into her sandal. She was wearing socks with individual toes; a novelty item for most people, but for her a necessity in the colder months. “Is anyone else hungry? We should eat something.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Emi turned the key, felt the bass vibration of the Mazda’s big engine thrill up through her spine. “Let’s go see if Yuuko’s still around.”




The Shanghai Tea Room was gone, of course. In fact, from what Emi could see, it hadn’t existed for a long time.

At some point in the past its frontage had been almost entirely torn down and replaced; pale plaster and dark wood sliced away, aluminium framing and plastic signboards fixed over the wounds. In turn, this too had been abandoned and left to fade. Closed down and locked and emptied, its surfaces bleached and crazed by the sun, its glass cowering behind steel security shutters.

Even those were corroded, laden with dust. Emi sighed, leaned back against the side of the car. “Well, this sucks.”

“It never had very many customers,” said Lilly sadly. “I suppose once the school closed, it simply became unsustainable. Poor Yuuko, I wonder where she is now?”

“I hate this.” Emi wrapped her arms around herself. “Is everything different, now? Hasn’t anything stayed the same?”

“My hair, I think,” said Rin. “That’s about it.”

“Time makes fools of us all,” Lilly whispered. “What is it called, Rin? The tendency for things to fall apart.”

“Entropy.”

“Yeah?” Emi glowered at the shutters. “Well entropy can kiss my ass. I’m sick of it.”

“I have the feeling you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the next few hours.” Lilly moved closer to her, fingertips brushing the edge of the car roof. “What remains of Yamaku will be in far poorer repair.”

Emi nodded. “I guess. But we probably won’t get close enough to…” She trailed off. Her bag was vibrating against her side, and music, jarringly cheerful, was issuing from within. “Hold on, I’ll just get this.”

She pulled out her phone and swiped the screen. “Hello?”

Emi?

“Hey Shiina! Great to hear from you!”

I’m really sorry, Emi, I’m not disturbing you, am I?

“No, not at all. Rin and Lilly are here with me. Lilly’s waving, Rin’s sort of bobbing about and grinning.”

She heard Shiina giggle. “Say hi for me. Listen, Emi, I know you’re heading back to our old school today.”

Emi frowned slightly. “How’d you-“

Shizune got in touch with Lilly’s office to tell her something, and a really nice English man told us you were on your way to Sendai.”

“Oh, Magic Marcus.” Of course he would have known Shizune, from all the times her firm had worked with the Foundation. He’d not have been so free with Lilly’s whereabouts otherwise. “Yeah, Rin wanted a look at the place before they finished knocking it down.”

That’s going to be so sad.

“Tell me about it. We’re in front of the Shanghai right now, you know that tea shop? Looks like it got turned into a pizza place about a million years ago, and even that’s closed down.”

Aw no! They used to do the best parfaits there… Oh, wait a second.”

There were a few moments of silence. Emi caught Rin’s eye and shrugged, then realised that Shiina was probably talking to Shizune. She would have had to set the phone down to do that. “Sorry Emi-chan, back now. Shicchan was just telling me to focus.

She chuckled. “Thought so.”

Listen, Emi? You won’t believe this, but we’re pretty close to you right now!

“You’re kidding.”

No, we’re in a town called Murata, it’s about half an hour away. We found out something interesting, you know, about these letters and stuff? So we drove up to investigate.

“That’s quite a hike,” said Emi. Driving from Tokyo would have taken Shizune at least four hours, and she and Shiina wouldn’t even have been able to talk on the journey. “Shiina, I don’t like the sound of you two playing detective. What if you run into trouble?”

We’ll be okay, Emi-chan. Shizune’s office knows where we’re going, and we’ll call the police if anything looks funny.”

“Text me the address too.”

Sure. And when we’re done, do you maybe want to meet up later? We could have a meal. Maybe I won’t be so scared of everybody this time.”

Emi couldn’t help smiling. “That would be fun. Call me when you’re finished being Miss Marple.”

I will, Emi-chan. And you all be careful too!

“Always. See you later.” She took the phone from her ear and looked over at Lilly. “How much of that did you get?”

“Enough to be concerned.” Lilly brushed her watch face. “Perhaps we should begin making our way up,” she said, very quietly. “The sooner we’ve said our goodbyes to this ruin, the happier I’ll be.”

“Me too.” Emi turned, and noticed that Rin had crossed the street. “Hey, don’t wander off!”

“I’m not wandering.” Rin stopped, tilted her head back. “It’s there.”

Emi brushed Lilly’s shoulder, then trotted over to where Rin stood. “Where?”

“I’d point it out but I can’t do that, so you’ll just have to look.”

“You’re taller, I’m not sure I’ll see it.” Emi cupped a hand over her eye to shield them from the sunlight, and squinted upwards, following the direction of Rin’s steady gaze. And there, far uphill, among the green of the pines and the red and gold of the zelkovas she could see stark edges; brick and stone and the bright yellow glitter of great machines.

Her heart juddered in her chest. “Damn,” she whispered.

“We should go soon. Before it starts getting dark.”

“Not still worried about ghosts, are you?”

“Yes,” said Rin. “Also rats and broken glass and mud and spiders and security guards.”

Emi squeezed her shoulder. “You don’t have to go any further if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to,” said Rin. “But I do have to.”
Last edited by Sadako on Fri Oct 02, 2015 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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