Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

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Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by Feurox » Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:21 pm

Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol

Closing Time

The Shanghai was a generally quiet place, a place that gathered people; a place that gathered stories. But now it was gathering dust, Christmas-Eve shadows that wandered as quickly in as they wandered out again from and into the cold.

In the staff room there was a small window looking out towards the city lights, a crane blinking red like an angel. Yuuko looked out into this cold, onto the Christmas tree city that fell before her from a portal of gold, her hands clasped on a tea cup below the warm water.

Mr Domen, the kind proprietor of the Shanghai, was a man of seemingly infinite resource. It appeared to Yuuko that the café never made a profit, or if it did it wasn’t much of one. But it didn’t seem to matter. Mr Domen had said that the Shanghai wasn’t just a café, it was a bookcase; it was a place where unwritten stories gathered and muddled with one another, never needing to be written down. Something about that resonated with Yuuko, she didn’t know why. Maybe it was the soft clink of the china cups over quiet conversations that never seemed to go anywhere. Or it was the feeling of community, even with the strangers that would sit alone by the windows and never say a word beside from their orders, even when in company. The Shanghai was alive and always contemplating something, something Yuuko didn’t pretend or need to understand. It was a place you could never truly be alone.

Despite this, it was unusual for the Shanghai to be open on Christmas Eve, most of the employees wanted to spend the holiday with their family and loved ones, and Mr Domen was never pushy about getting employees to work on special occasions. When Yuuko insisted that she could work, he knew it was little to do with the money and relented, handing her the keys and a delicate Christmas Card he had written for her. That Christmas card made three, one from her parents and another from her brother in London. They were both pretty formal, more so than a typical family card. It wasn’t like they didn’t love one another, they did, but it had been a few years since they spent the holidays together and everyone had the semblances of their own lives by now.

With the last of the washing up done, and the clock half an hour to closing, Yuuko turned off the kitchen lights, put away the plates and tea-cups left out from the day’s work and was heading towards the back windows to pull down the blinds with a sigh, when with the chime of a bell and a gust of cold air the entrance door swung open.

Rather than annoyed, Yuuko was relieved that the Shanghai was once again open. She turned quickly, a little too quickly, almost falling into the counter top and knocking over the last of the drying plates. She should have received the patrons, that was her job after all, but as frequently happened, she flustered around the wobbling plates as she tried to greet the customers, resulting in a noise illegible to all.

“Hi Yuuko, we’re not too late, are we?” The boy in the doorframe, despite having met Yuuko on multiple occasions both at the Yamaku library and here in the Shanghai, was taken aback by her flustering and hovered his hand between his side and the door frame unsure of where to go.

Composing herself against the bar counter, Yuuko swallowed hard and gathered her thoughts. It was a process she’d mastered, the theory of it anyway. She quickly seated the four people who had come in with an apology. She recognised three of them as Yamaku students who she knew, and the fourth as another student she’d caught scouring the library but never spoke to.

“Thank you Yuuko.” The four took their seats in a small booth by the window at the back, Suzu and Rika next to the glass with the boys, Lelouch and Takeshi, next to each of them on the outside seats. Usually there would be a few more members of their ragtag group, but most people were spending Christmas day with their families. Takeshi, Suzu and Rika would likely have done the same if it wasn’t for Lelouch, who had no family to spend the day with. It was Suzu’s kind idea that saw the four set up a Christmas tree in the common room and spend the day at Yamaku together. Lelouch found it difficult to express himself, but he managed when it came to his gratitude. Takeshi continued, “Can we please get four hot chocolates and something for yourself?”

Yuuko was flattered that the group would offer to pay for her drink, despite it being unnecessary. Mr Domen had always allowed the employees to make themselves whatever they wanted, which was another reason she had her suspicions that the Shanghai was not cash solvent. Still, she dutifully carried out the order, darting behind the bar and pulling out the cups she’d only just put away, a smile plastered on her lips.

The group chatted and chattered, the cold from outside losing slowly to the warmth of the café. They hadn’t expected the Shanghai to be this empty but then again, they were also unsure if it’d be open at all. One of the café’s niches was that it didn’t have menus or opening times, Takeshi thought it added to the relaxed environment but Rika, who was usually right in these matters, felt that the lack of menus blurred the lines between café, hang-out and restaurant. Takeshi pretended to agree with her.

Finally warmer, Takeshi, Rika and Lelouch shed their winter coats. Suzu was wearing an oversized woollen jacket that made her look several sizes bigger than she was and unlike the others she was still feeling the chill. Instead of taking it off, she swung the jacket round to her front like a blanket with cosy arm holes. Lelouch made a joke about it being a dangerous came for the sleep-prone girl, and after the time had been taken to understand him the group laughed.

Lelouch, the slender looking fellow pressed up against the window, was the only member of the group that Yuuko didn’t recognise. He seemed familiar, he had a handsome mature look that made him look much older than the boy Takeshi sat next to him. Overhearing him speak helped Yuuko understand why she’d never interacted with him, he must have had some condition that affected his speech, poor kid. Still, the last thing kids at Yamaku needed was pity, she’d worked their long enough to know that.

Yuuko’s nimble fingers worked over the machines behind the counter, shaking the cream canister, plucking out tiny marshmallows, shaking powdered chocolate over each mathematically considered swirl of cream. She wanted the drinks to be perfect for the four, their laughter and cheer proving contagious.

She wanted Christmas Eve to last forever, the sounds of joy in the café its soundtrack. If the night never ended, she’d never have to wake up alone tomorrow.

Shaking that naïve dream from her mind, Yuuko finished the last of the beautiful hot chocolates and topped of her own, admittedly less impressive looking drink, with a flourish of chocolate buttons. Takeshi saw Yuuko balancing the tray as she brought them over,. Yuuko was normally timid, but she’d seemed to settle down, and none of the cups clanged as she lay them gently in front of each person. It was different. The drinks were beautiful.

“Thank you Yuuko, these look amazing,” Rika said and budged up in her seat to make room, “would you like to join us?”

Yuuko was once again surprised. “Th- that would be improper of me,” she stuttered, “and besides I still – “

“Nonsense,” interrupted Takeshi, “you’re more than welcome, not like there’s anyone else to serve anyway.”

Unsure, but flattered, Yuuko took the seat Rika had patted next to her. The conversation was mostly gossip about other Seniors at Yamaku, some of the names she recognised. They mentioned a boy that had come into the library recently, a somewhat new student by the name of Nakai that had apparently started dating the polite and lovely Lilly Satou who frequently took the time to speak to Yuuko. Rika seemed to like the girl, but Suzu didn’t seem fond of her. Of course, Yuuko didn’t speak to ask why, her hands clapped firmly on her own drink sipping away the warm chocolate. Inside Yuuko was warm.

For all the names the group mentioned, Yuuko was surprised at two things. The first was that none of the group seemed to hold any malice about anyone, and the second was about how much of this she already knew. As both a librarian and a barista, she had subconsciously collected these stories, it made her think about Mr Domen, about the café. Maybe part of the Shanghai lived inside Yuuko, the arbiter of other people’s stories. That was simultaneously a happy and sad thought, what she wouldn’t give to be the focus of her own story, what she wouldn’t give for now to be forever.

Last orders, Winter Goodbyes

Life slows down over the Christmas holidays at Yamaku. The town below the school doesn’t just yawn, it sleeps, the occasional passing car like slumbering breaths that lift and fall in the deception of living. The area around the school was always a quiet place, a place that seemed to always be reflecting.

Reflecting was something Mutou found he had little time for, so why was he here? The semester had finished five days ago yet he kept coming in to campus. At first, he told himself it was to mark the stacks of ungraded papers left on his desk and that was partially true, but he had finished that yesterday. All of today had been spent roaming the empty halls of Yamaku, taking in the facilities for the first time since he began teaching there several years ago. It felt like so much of his time here had slipped through is fingers, like powdered snow.

He didn’t feel purposeless, he truly cared for his students and even the thought of them made him smile-- made him proud. Nor did he feel out of place at Yamaku; it was a special place for unique people and Mutou had lived a ‘unique’ enough of life that he felt he belonged there. The feeling was closer to unfulfillment, he was playing a role in other people’s lives, but something was missing in his own. Another Christmas Eve alone in his apartment was unappealing.

But what did he expect to find in this half-living town? The lights from home windows were already switching off one by one as he walked the streets, like doors closing to him at his approach, puddles of gold sinking into drains.

Mutou pulled his coat across his chest, the winter wind biting his neck and the dying lights of the town proving utterly disheartening. He really didn’t know what to expect from the town-- from himself. He kept wondering why he was there, why he wasn’t in his car, nor his apartment.

Something was eating him, something he couldn’t understand. It was frightening and he wasn’t sure for how long he could fight it away with work and distraction. He felt like a bear just waking from its hibernation, driven by hunger.

Just then, the city lights caught his eye, the blinking red of a crane towering above a sphere of golden light like an angel. He followed that light down, past its scarf of stars to the warm lights of what appeared to be a café.

Unlike the town, the café was alive. Shadows bobbed about inside, the sound of laughter and joy seeped out from beneath its traditional looking doors. The warmth was already reaching him and he wanted to smile. The overwhelming sensation to enter came over him, he had been lassoed by the vehemence of life that rattled the walls of the Shanghai.

As he came closer to the doors, a strange thought occurred to Mutou. For the first time in a long time he was stepping into a story, instead of having his story stepped into. He was an asteroid broken from its orbit, he was excited and alive like the café before him. It was an exciting Christmas Eve and it was time to become alive.

He took a tentative step forwards and looked back up towards that red light, as if to ask permission. If anyone had passed him, which nobody did, they might have seen him praying.

The moon burned behind the angel and the Shanghai doors opened to the chime of a bell.

The Window, The Mirror, The Angel

Yuuko had just gotten settled into the booth with the Yamaku seniors, when the door opened again. This time, a single tall figure stepped out of the winter dark and into the golden light; this time, everyone in the café had the same timid reaction typical of Yuuko.

Mutou had barely stepped inside when the laughter had stopped, he coughed and considered turning around again, but Yuuko quickly composed herself. He recognised her from somewhere, and he certainly recognised the group of students who began whispering as he entered. He felt like an intruder--like a ghost.

“H- Hello Mr Mutou, please take a seat anywhere yo-,” Yuuko swallowed and got back into the mindset of a waitress, “please sit anywhere you’d like, I’ll take your order shortly.”

Mutou obliged, sitting at the front of the café. Despite his attempts, he realised that it was impossible to ever be out of ear shot of another conversation in the Shanghai, and with only himself and the group of seniors at the back, he was destined to be a fly on the wall.

True to her word, Yuuko, once fully back into her role, approached Mutou, who was scouring the café for a menu. A tiny smile played on her lips, again another reason to call the Shanghai niche, and she asked him what he would like.

“A coffee will be fine, thank you.” Yuuko nodded and turned away to work the machines, which left Mutou kicking himself. He felt awful that he couldn’t remember her name, though he recognised her from the library. Aside from a few other teachers at Yamaku, he felt that he hadn’t branched out enough, didn’t know enough.

The chattering of the senior students picked back up into a higher volume, the laughing and snorting easing both Mutou and Yuuko, who had begun feeling awkward in the silence of the café. Yuuko made the coffee easy enough and brought it back over to the table, setting it before him with another calm clunk. He asked her if she’d like to join him; he had done so before properly considering it and once again Yuuko was stunned.

Yet surprising herself, she again obliged.

This was strange and nerve racking for them both, and at first it appeared to be a colossal mistake. Both of them were aware of the snickering coming from the seniors at the back, and both were paranoid enough to think it was about them. Despite everything however, the initial awkwardness seemed to end, and Mutou even asked her to call him by his first name. They talked about Yamaku and its lonely halls, about their families and their plans for Christmas. Mutou, like Yuuko, was spending the day alone out of choice, not necessity, and like Yuuko he was distracting himself from Christmas Eve.

They were both awkward people, one wore their feelings on their sleeve and the other locked them inside a rusted tin, but somehow the two connected, like phantoms of one another. The silences weren’t awkward, the conversations weren’t dull, and they’d seemed transcended the strangers that they began as.

It was the Shanghai effect, Yuuko thought, two unspoken stories mingling like roses and white water; two half people alive at last like the café. Another bell chimed out from the town; striking 11pm-- an hour after the Shanghai should have closed.

For a while, Yuuko had forgotten that she was meant to be working, the Yamaku seniors eventually waking her from the stimulating conversation that occupied her. Both Mutou and Yamaku were victims of nebulous dreaming, and they had been caught in the riptide of one another as the minutes ticked away toward Christmas.

As the seniors left, they waved to Yuuko with their thanks and the wishes of a merry Christmas. If they hadn’t caught her attention, the Shanghai might have stayed open all night with the two halves fusing and melting together in the warm golden light by the window. It seemed a shame to interrupt the two, but Rika felt remiss in leaving without proper goodbyes.

Mutou was just getting up to go in light of the time, as Yuuko; alarmed at her negligence, was quickly finishing the closing process she started earlier. From the window the two appeared once again to be stark oppositions of one another, Mutou yawning in lethargy and Yuuko speeding from corner to corner of the Shanghai in an attempt to perfect everything; an attempt that ultimately insured she would have to re-do at least twenty percent of the simple tasks she would have done fine if she’d only slow down.

Eventually the Shanghai had been almost entirely put to bed and the two stood outside of the traditional double doors, the warm golden glow submitting to the long dark of winter and the dim stars above. They were hesitant to separate as Yuuko reached into her bag for the keys to lock the hope-filled doors.

She felt on her purse the word ‘L O’, embossed onto the material. It had originally spelled ‘LOVE’ but the letters had worn out under the oils of her thumb as she rubbed it over and over from the portal of gold at the back of the Shanghai. Now, she was on the outside, and was sure she could once again feel the ‘V’ and the ‘E’, faded as they were.

Inside she was hoping not to find the keys, as if the two could carry on their conversation in the cold like a movie, they could carry on together, shadows dancing in the winter night.

But they couldn’t, and she reluctantly linked her fingers in the hoop of the key chain.

Yuuko locked the door, the Shanghai fell asleep on Christmas Eve.

The bell chimed midnight, the blinkering red angel of the city watching over them as they fell away from one another, exchanging goodbyes and the promises. It was something Christmas had previously lacked, it was hope.

But hope couldn’t wait any longer, and halfway into the dark they found each other looking back at their outlines.

He reached for her, a kiss away from forever. She started walking back to him, her heart heavy in her blood--and with a leap of faith, they -

[Closing Time]

“What are you writing about Rika?”

I jump, covering my notebook with my arms and immediately feel a pit in my stomach, dropping like a plane with no wings.

“It’s uh,” all I can think about is how weird this is, “it’s nothing just so –“

“Let me see,” Before I can stop her, Suzu yanks the notebook from beneath me with a smirk and nimbly jumps backwards onto my bed. I briefly attempt to get it back from her, but she’s too agile and, uh, slippery. I give up and sit back in my chair, my arms crossed. “who’s Yuuko?”

I feel annoyed that Suzu has never noticed Yuuko, or at least noticed her enough to know her name. “She works in the library and the Shanghai,” I tell her, settling back into my seat and feeling my cheeks begin to warm up, “she’s the lady that always serves us.”

“Oh right…” She looks up from the notebook, “Isn’t it a bit weird that you’re writing about her?”

I don’t really know how to respond to that, it is a bit weird I suppose. She gives the notebook back to me, presumably disinterested having realised the subject matter. She continues, probably thanks to the red in my cheeks and my lack of response.

“I mean, it’s kind of sweet, I wish you’d write about me instead though.”

“I’m sure plenty of people write about you.” She snorts at that, pushing my arm and sitting back down on my bed. “Anyway, I thought you were asleep.”

“It’s a safe bet and I really hope not, it is kind of creepy.” I laugh even though she’s basically dissing me, and is maybe right to do so, “You ready to go then? I’m mostly awake now and I think the others are leaving now-ish.” As if to confirm, my phone begins to vibrate on the desk clattering the pens that surround it in its tumult.

We both get up and ready, wrapped up like children in over-sized coats ready for the winter weather. Suzu looks adorable, pouting from beneath the fur lining of her hood. It’s only a short walk to the café, but it’s been a particularly cold December, and if it wasn’t the last time we’d be heading to the Shanghai together, I may have skipped the event in favour of my warm bed.

The thought makes me a little sad. Of course, I’m excited to see my family back home, but Yamaku is a family of its own and of all the adjustments everyone here goes through, the most difficult one is that it isn’t forever. Maybe that fact comes as a relief to some people, but as a kinder, gentler microcosm, Yamaku is infinitely more comfortable than the real world with its sharp edges.

Still, I don’t know if I’d change anything, everything has to transform eventually, the end is something new. We’re products of the past but we’re built for the future, and if Yamaku is anything, it’s a preparation, part of which is letting go.

With Suzu halfway out of the door, I turn to grab my notepad, Yuuko lying between the pages. I reach out for it but stop myself, and instead close the book.

After all, the Shanghai is a place for unwritten stories.


Huge thanks to Prof for oraganising another successful and enjoyable secret santa, and Zerebos for proofreading and keeping me sane. My prompt was submitted by Scroff:

"Yuuko volunteered to do the Christmas Eve shift at The Shanghai for a number of reasons: she had no date for the most romantic night of the year, she didn't want to spend the evening home alone, but she didn't want to go anywhere on her own. She is thinking about shutting for the evening when a group of Yamaku seniors arrive accompanied by her crush."

I have to admit, this made me squirm at first. Yuuko is a chracter I've never written before, nor do I desire too again. Once I settled down to writing this however I really had a lot of fun with it! I hope you enjoy it Scroff and have a fantastic Christmas and New Year!
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Re: Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by Scroff » Sat Dec 22, 2018 7:11 pm

Feurox wrote:
Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:21 pm
I have to admit, this made me squirm at first. Yuuko is a chracter I've never written before, nor do I desire too again. Once I settled down to writing this however I really had a lot of fun with it! I hope you enjoy it Scroff and have a fantastic Christmas and New Year!
Thank-you so much for this wonderful work, I enjoyed it very much. I think the fact that you had fun shines through. I love how it turned out to be an unfinished tale - I wonder if Rika's grandparents would sit and watch old British black and white films with her on rainy Sunday afternoons?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

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Re: Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sat Dec 22, 2018 8:03 pm

Beautiful story - especially the last part. It's a nice explanation for some OOC moments that somehow aren't in light of that ending.
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Re: Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by ProfAllister » Sat Jan 19, 2019 3:19 pm

Lovely writing and a cute story. The subversion of expectations at the end is a nice touch (also a bit of an obvious cop-out, but the delivery was good, so we can let it slide).

Oddly enough, what I find most intriguing is the introduction of Mr. Domen. He could be an interesting figure to play with.
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Re: Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by brythain » Sat Jan 19, 2019 10:35 pm

Ah, that's a beautiful and intriguing tale.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
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Re: Christmas Spirits, City Angels, A Shanghai Carol - S9 Submission for Scroff

Post by Oddball » Thu Jan 24, 2019 7:46 pm

Nicely done. The story had a calm sleepy dreamy sort of feel to it that perfectly fits a Christmas story. The owner of the Shanghai also comes across as an interesting fellow and one I'd like to learn more about.

The ending was a bit of a cop out, but I can't complain too much. It does help make the rest of the story make more sense, although I probably would have given a pass to the somewhat off kilter characterization due to plain on simple Christmas magic.
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