Chapter 06: Answers
“Wow… No wonder you look pissed.” I mutter as Hikari angrily sinks his teeth into his burger, grunting as he does so. I take one last hollow slurp through the straw of my milkshake and place it down, looking around at the relatively small fast food restaurant.
Not quite a McDonald’s but it’s definitely going for that vibe. Like those off-brand franchises you see in anime all the time. God, the Shanghai’s refurb can’t be finished quick enough… I'm sick of eating in this dive. Hikari gulps hard and crumples up the food wrapper his burger came in before continuing his post-confrontation cool-off.
“Yeah… Didn’t realise how much it bothered me until she said that we’d be cute together. Like I was an accessory to be had. Like what we are is a god damn life-style choice.” He growls through gritted teeth, squeezing his wrapper in frustration.
“Well, you wouldn’t be the first to blow up at her. Most people just take her at face value most of the time but there’s some people who really have a problem with her.” I offer with a shrug. “There’s been at least one fight I remember, lots of nasty comments here and there but mostly people leave it alone.”
“I just don’t get it. It’s… Just wrong, y’know?” He fidgets in place, trying to articulate his feelings and only partly succeeding. “When Mono told me, it didn’t register. Not really. Body integrity identity disorder. It sounded like just another reason for someone to be here but the more she explained and the more I thought about it, the more it ate at me.”
“That’s understandable, some of the worst arguments were with another wheelchair user. All last year there was an ongoing feud between Kyoko and Ai Izumi, one of the third-years that graduated before you came in.” I explain, Hikari leaning closer to hear the tale. I’ll give him the cliff notes version.
“Ai was a tsunami survivor, lost damn near everything the way I heard it and when she came to Yamaku, she did everything she could to help the other survivors who became students, as well as the student body as a whole. She lead the Student Council for a little over two years.”
“She sounds amazing.” Hikari leaning on his folded arms, totally engrossed in the story.
“There’s a whole bunch of stories floating around, you’ll probably hear a few… Anyway when Kyoko enrolled, she offered her story to anyone who’d listen, bold as brass and that got back to Ai, who took an instant dislike to her.”
“I like Ai more and more by the second.” Hikari says, the faintest hint of a smirk tugging at the edge of his lips.
“Hell, she hated Kyoko with a passion. Called her all the names under the sun and it kept escalating until they finally had it out, right in the middle of the cafeteria! No word of a lie, they wailed on each other with food trays!” I laugh but Hikari doesn’t find it funny. Guess you had to be there…
“Shit. Makes my outburst seem tame by comparison… But you’ve obviously known Kyoko longer than me, what’s your take?” He asks and I lean back in my chair, crossing my arms in thought.
“I’m not a fan but… At the end of the day, she’s damaged and that’s who this school is for. I think she needs help, maybe more than most of us and in that regard, this is the best place for her. Pretty sure Miss Kapur sees her often and she’s a fantastic therapist. You should have seen Akira when we came in. He hardly ever talked, always hiding in his scarf…”
“He kinda does that now…” Hikari raises a single eyebrow in a confused way and I laugh.
“Yeah but he was a lot worse, trust me. It took three weeks just to get him to say good morning to me!” I smile a little before getting back on topic. “My point is, whether I like her or not, I think she should be here to get the help she needs.”
“I guess you’re right. Man, now I feel like an asshole…” He laments, a sad expression pulling his pretty-boy features downwards.
“Don’t feel too bad, slick. I still think the bitch is crazy.” I smirk and he laughs, hesitantly at first but he eventually finds it in him to genuinely smile for the first time in an hour.
“You can come in, Nomura.” I say to the boy standing nervously at the threshold, hesitant to take even a step into my world. I sit cross-legged in my chair and turn on my computer before he manages a singular step into the room. “Would you mind closing the door?” I ask and he obliges, before walking into the middle of the room and scanning it with his curious eyes.
“You’ve g-got a lot of stuff…” He smiles faintly, pulling the scarf mostly from his face, the most I’ve seen him do so. I follow his gaze to the miniature monsters on the second-from-top shelf of my book case. Neatly lined up, they’re an eclectic mish-mash of gashapon keychains, prize lottery figures and other cultural chachkies.
“What’s this one?” Nomura asks, a slender finger pointing at a 10cm tall jack o‘ lantern in a cloak and hat, holding an old camping lantern.
“It’s from the Persona series, he’s called Pyro Jack.” I say with a small smile.
“Huh. It’s kinda cute.” He smiles, examining it closely. “Did you win it in one of those crane games?”
“Do you think I’d be good at a game that requires both hand-eye coordination and depth perception?” I ask with a hint of sarcasm.
“No, I guess not…” He mutters quietly, a slight lilting chuckle in his voice.
“Cheeky. Actually I did win it.” I puff out my cheeks indignantly at him.
“S-s-sorry! I thought you w-were being serious!” He stammers and I giggle.
“Couldn’t help but make a little fun. It did take me a while to get that little guy though.” I admit with equal amounts of pride and embarrassment. I could have bought him online for less than it cost me to get it out of the machine.
Akira’s attention soon turns towards me, or rather, to the computer screen behind me. I turn my chair to see the file transfer has finished, a brand new folder filled with dated text files and pictures. I scroll through them and see that everything made it across. Akira leans against the back of my chair on the right left side.
“What’s that p-picture of?” He asks, pointing at dark thumbnail next to an associated text document. I open both, reading the text file on my half of the screen while Akira stares at the windowed picture.
“The last recorded instance of the myth last year and the one time someone actually took a photo of the Nocturne Joker. The story was never printed unfortunately becaaaaauuuuse…” I use the mouse to highlight the reason why.
“Editor notes say it was scrapped because it was a commemorative issue of the newspaper. Hm, no place for flights of fancy in a big event edition, I suppose… First photographed evidence of an urban legend and it gets canned for a masturbatory fluff-piece.” I grumble, crossing my arms with a dissatisfied huff.
“Any d-details on the appearance?” Akira asks and I nod.
“There was a fight between a couple of students, an unfortunately rare occurrence here, and the Nocturne Joker appeared in a puff of smoke, demanding they stop.”
“Wait, a literal p-puff of smoke? Like POOF and then smoke?” Akira demonstrates with a mimed explosion and I double-check the document before looking at him with a furrowed brow.
“Going by the eye-witness accounts, yes… Signalling his arrival and his departure. Why?”
A confident grin spreads across his face, almost enough to distract from his scarring, which I get a close look at when he leans across me to grab the mouse from my hand. Faded veins of dark brown and sickly yellow run across his jaw line and down his neck, disappearing below his scarf and t-shirt’s neckline. How far does it go, I wonder.
“H-H-Here! See this?” He asks excitedly, violently circling the mouse cursor around the cloaked figure’s head. The image is blurry but the shape of a masked man is clear enough to make out.
“The mask? What about it, Nomura?” Did he see something I didn’t? I squint at the digital image but it seems too pixelated to me.
“That’s a m-m-mask of Thalia. You kn-know the two m-masks associated with drama; one smiling, one frowning? It’s b-based on Greek myth. This is th-the laughing one, Thalia, though it’s been modified.” He excitedly explains, his jerking hand motion making me look back to the screen to see the mouse juddering up and down the right side of the mask.
“That’s not sh-shadow, that half’s b-b-been painted, the left eye is also a-a-a crescent moon, m-meaning it was made specially.” My eye dart between the screen and Akira who beams proudly.
“How did you..?” I ask bewildered and he scratches the underside of his nose with the top length of his forefinger, suddenly quite modest of his deductions.
“I’ve always b-b-been big into m-movies and theatre. The puffs of smoke were probably m-made either with air squibs or a small f-f-fog machine and I’ve seen that mask h-h-hanging up in the Theatre Club.” He explains meekly and I jump out of my chair, spooking the boy into taking several steps back. I clasp my hands over his cheeks and hold him firm.
“Are you telling me that we’ll probably find the Nocturne Joker in the Theatre Club?” I ask, as serious about this question as I have been about second helpings of pudding. His head bobs up and down, his squished lips managing a slurred ‘Uh-huh…’
“Nomura… You clever, amazing, gorgeous boy, you!” I shriek in delight, letting him go and spinning in place in a fit of giddy pleasure.
“G-glad t-to help…” He smiles with a bemused expression and for a second, I consider kissing him for real this time. Better not… If he got annoyed by me kissing him before, he’s probably holding a candle for his best friend. A tragically common trope amongst our kind but that doesn’t matter right now!
“C’mon, Nomura!” I squeeze his hand tight in mine and drag him towards the door. I look over my shoulder, expecting the shy boy with dirty blonde hair to be tugging his scarf tight around his face once more, trepidation etched into his eyes but I find him looking back at me with a determined expression.
“L-Lead the w-way, partner. We’ve g-g-got a mystery to solve.”