Until I Rise Again
Preliminary Notes: This piece was produced in response to a writing challenge by Stiles Long. He thoughtfully provided a number of randomly generated prompts to write fanfiction to, and I made my own choices through the use of a random number generator.
I got out of bed at six, having not slept the entire night. With finals season here, my usual insomnia was exacerbated by exam-stress. I didn’t know if I could continue to stand staring at the ceiling for four am, listening to my heart beat. Worries about exams yet to be passed raced through my skull, yanking me from my rest in an endless series of hypnic jerks.
I wandered out of my room aimlessly. There was nobody in the rec hall, not like I spent any time there. The corridors are empty. Outside the sun is only just rising. I stumped along and took a glance at the pool from outside. Someone, presumably Saki, was diving in and out of the water’s surface with remarkable athleticism. I kept on walking and let her be.
I ended up near the track, wondering if Emi would be there. I knew I’d get berated or guilted into running laps, probably, but even that would have been better than being stuck locked-up inside my own head alone. She wasn’t there. To my surprise, a different solitary figure was sitting alone in the middle of the field within the track. I watched her feet paint away at a canvas. It was Rin.
I clomped my feet across the muddy ground and made my way towards her. If there was anybody capable of filling my head with weird nonsense, it was Rin, and I knew I could use the distraction. Knowing that it hardly mattered to Rin, when I got near I said whatever comes to mind. “I thought you weren’t much of a morning person.”
Rin looked at me, seemingly acknowledging my presence. Then she looked back down at her canvas.
The grass was cold that early in the morning, but Rin found a solid dry spot. I lay down and looked at the sky. It lit up red and orange and white in its regularly dazzling way. It had been a while since I’d watched the sun rise like this. After a while I noticed that that Rin’s paintbrush had stopped moving. I looked over and saw Rin staring at me expectantly.
“Hisao.” Rin said. “I want you to look at my painting.”
I don’t think Rin had ever said that to me before. Somehow I’d never expected her to. I looked over at Rin’s canvas, expecting to understand nothing. But to my shock I instantly knew what I was looking at.
“That’s Hanako.” I said absurdly.
Rin nodded, looking more pleased than I’d ever seen her.
“And she’s pouring a can of gasoline...onto an alien. A sort of zombie alien with a giant worm coming out of its spine.”
Rin smiled. Instead of treasuring that rarest of expressions from her, I just let my mouth hang vaguely open. My eyes flit back to the canvas.
“This is Yamaku. On this track. The whole place looks kinda like volcanic glass and there’s ash everywhere. And there’s Hanako pouring gasoline on a zombie alien thing.”
Rin had that same pleased expression. This was the first time I’d ever known what I was looking at with one of her paintings, but I still felt like I’d understood nothing. I wondered vaguely if I should have become offended on Hanako’s behalf. I decided to ask a question which has always and will always be useless at divining Rin’s intentions.
Rin shrugged, still quietly beaming. “This is the something new. The one that was coming out of me when I was painting differently. The one that was growing when I was working for the gallery. I didn’t think I could do it. I nearly gave up on wanting to.”
She looked at it with something like pride. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about. The art of saying the obvious. Drawing it. Of doing things that make sense, of having an impact on the real world, of starting to draw real things.”
I frowned. “Rin, you’ve completely lost me. I have no idea what you’re going on about.”
Rin laid back on the grass with her eyes closed. She looked content. “That’s okay. I did more today than I ever did before. Or did I do it yesterday? I was here through the night. I didn’t sleep. Or if I did I don’t remember it.”
“Well,” I said carefully, “Rest is important. You should probably catch up on your rest some time. Especially in the middle of exam season.”
Rin didn’t react. I wondered if she was even going to take exams, or if she had gotten an exemption for it. She’d missed so much class and spent so much time spacing out that I couldn’t imagine her doing well on any of the tests. I didn’t know how she did on her quizzes, but I did know that she didn’t always do her homework. Mutou sometimes got on her case for that.
I just sat there. The sun was done rising. It was a Sunday, so without classes, there was nowhere to go. I should have been studying but I frankly didn’t want to. I didn’t feel hungry for some reason, so I just stayed in place. I waited for cicadas to call, but they never did.
After an unknowable amount of time passed, a big daddy-long-legs appeared and came crawling near. I flinched then tried to shoo it away. For some reason it ignored me and crawled straight towards Rin. I accidentally touched it, knocking it back, and I cringed at how it touched my skin. I got up and kicked the frightful thing away. Throughout it all, Rin kept on lying there, her eyes open and watching the scene placidly.
I peered down at her. Rin had just displayed the most flagrantly lazy or indifferent behavior I had ever seen. I couldn't tell if she’d just assumed I’d deal with the problem for her, or if she didn’t care about having something crawl on her face and eyes. Maybe she saw the thing and just didn’t think much about it.
“What stops worms from pushing up through the ground?” Rin asked out of apparent pure randomness. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never see Rin show contrition over the Daddy-Long-Legs incident. I wasn’t even sure I could explain to her what was wrong.
“Sometimes they do.” I replied to her question about the worms. “When it rains, you can see them poke above the ground, trying not to drown.” At least I thought that was what happened. Now that I considered it, I wasn’t so sure. I look around the field to see if I can catch sight of any, but I see nothing.
“What stops them from going through skin? The worms, I mean.”
I took a moment to digest that. I regret having to digest that. “I mean, they don’t have teeth.” I said cautiously. “And we learned from Mutou that the skin is actually quite good at stopping things from getting in. That’s what it’s for.”
Rin was silent for a while. Then she spoke again. “What if we could make our skins softer? Give them teeth? Let them through? I feel like I could do that.”
I closed my eyes. “Jesus Christ, Rin. I don’t want to hear about this.”
By the time I opened my eyes again, Rin was laying down in her usual position, on her back and watching the sky like I was. I saw something shift beneath the contours of that usually placid face, a kind of squirming of her cheeks and her eyebrows and her mouth that looked completely unnatural. I turnt away. I wanted to throw up on the grass.
Rin’s voice was low and calm as ever. “It’s like that leg feeling when your knees hurt. Before a rainstorm. I feel like it’s my fault. Do you think it could be?”
“I don’t think you can blame anyone for the weather.” I said weakly. I felt bile in my throat. Maybe I was genuinely sick. I shouldn’t have been able to feel so physically wrong after a few disquieting words from Rin. But probably it was just psychological. “Nobody can cause it. Not unless they have some sort of enormous cloud seeding machine, or they set an entire forest on fire to change how the clouds blow.”
“I see.” Rin said. “So there’s nobody to blame. Unless there’s a forest. Do you think there’s a forest on fire. It’s not always true that someone started it when a forest is fire, is it? How do they find out if someone started it?”
This was still a morbid subject, but it was still better than thinking about worms. “Police and firefighters have ways of tracking down the source of a fire. I read a book about it. Apparently they can often track down exactly where a cigarette fell if it starts a big fire.”
Rin, as usual, said nothing. I took a long dragging breath and let it out slowly. I dared a glance at her. Her eyes were closed and she looked peaceful. She opened one eye, stared at me, and opened the other. Then she pointed with her left foot towards roughly the middle of the field.
“There.” Rin said simply. “That’s where it is.”
I stared, waiting for some kind of clarification. I know Rin was just being cryptic as usual, but I felt sick to my stomach again. My spine tingled. My skin raised gooseflesh and it felt like someone was crawling through it. I knew there was no reason to feel this way, but I couldn’t fight it off.
Of course, Rin just changed the topic. She lifted herself up from the grass a little and looked at me straight on. Her eyes were unusually clear and purposeful. But she was still saying nonsense. “I feel connected. Like I’m in rain. And I feel like a firestarter. I think those should cancel each other out, but they don’t. If they come one after another, they can both be there. If they come at the same time, we have steam, like making steamed buns. If they meet up on the ground, they can make glass. Like lightning and sand, except there is no sand here.”
I just pushed my breath in and out of my lungs, taking deep breaths, trying to settle my stomach. Outside of the track, I saw Kenji in one of his rare appearances outside of the dorm. I had the sudden and absurd image of him walking out towards us and getting struck by lightning.
Rin was really getting to me. “I’ve got to go back to studying for finals.” I said. I needed some anti nausea pills too. “I’m going to go back to my dorm. See you tomorrow.”
My stomach didn’t stop hurting that entire day. I packed it in for the night early. Just when I thought I was safe, my guts roiled up again as soon as I got into bed. This, combined with my insomnia, was going to mean a hell of a night.
“I’m sick.” I said, sounding surprised to myself.
I’d convinced myself it was all purely psychological. Rin’s words, combined with the stress of worrying about finals, had really gotten to me. I’d figured that the nausea and everything else came from Rin and my lack of sleep. But there was no mistaking it. There was, indeed, something gone physically wrong with me. Maybe that was also partly psychological in origin. Stress and sleep deprivation combined to take my immune system down and let physical illness happen. If that was true, then I was more thin skinned than I thought. Just a couple of weird words in a stressful time was enough to invite all the bugs of the world in.
I rolled onto my back, trying not to squash my belly. I felt bloated and my stomach gurgled. I burped, and burped again. Acid burnt away at my throat and my stomach wouldn’t stop moving. I felt my head spinning. I coughed into my hand and felt something warm and wet and moving.
I slammed my hand away. I coughed again and burped up another wriggling thing into my mouth, onto my tongue. I spat it out. I kept spitting. I slammed the button of my lamp to catch what the hell was going on just when I threw up and my entire mouth filled with the wriggling things and I could see moving white worms filling my bed. I screamed and then my screams muffled when my mouth filled with the worms faster than I could vomit them out.
I fell backwards. My head starred at the point where it slammed into my desk and then I felt something slice out of me. A long white snake stabbed out from the back of my neck and pushed itself upwards, shoving me back as it rose. Another burst out from my belly button and turned upwards to join it, both now above my head, as if watching down at me. I felt their lengths dragging from along my spine as their tips lowered themselves towards me.
They curled like two question marks as they got closer. Then they knifed down and gnawed through my eyes. Choking on worm and screaming in pain, I grabbed at the snakes with both hands and struggled to yank them out. I gripped and pulled as hard as I could against their slippery lengths but they were like impossibly taut cords. They squelched as they bit through my eyes and it hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt.
I kept screaming through all of it, but I felt my screams get quieter and my grip get looser. There was a snap and jerk when the full lengths of the two worms pulled out of my body and crammed completely into my eyes. Blood poured out everywhere onto my chest and legs. Incredibly, I could still see as though I was looking through fish-lens, bloody and bent.
I scrambled onto my feet, now screaming completely silently, the air rasping out from my lungs. In an act of desperation I pushed my fingers into my own eyes to grab the snakes and pull them out. They bit back and when I pulled my fingers out they came with them, teeth clamped down. They let go and dove back in when I jerked my arms back, but tiny teeth remain dug deep into me, hard and dripping with my blood. I stood there, utterly overwhelmed by the shock.
A knocking sounded on the door. The ruins of my eyes widened and I rushed over there. I slammed it open with all of my remaining energy and Kenji’s worried face greeted me. It was the most welcome thing I had ever seen.
“Everything alright, man?” Kenji asked. He seemed a little uncomfortable, but he doesn’t react nearly as strongly as I expected and needed him to. “I thought, you know, a feminist might have gotten to you or something. You can never get too careful.”
“Naw.” I heard my voice say. “It was just a nightmare. This is kind of embarrassing, but I just have them sometimes. Might be a side effect of my medication. I’m really sorry I woke you up, but there’s nothing. It’s all in my head.”
My head tilted down and looked at myself. My face wrinkled to mimic something like embarrassment. The white snakes were gone and the remaining worms on my body were wriggling directly through my skin and into my body. They licked at the tiny remains of blood on my shirt as they went. I silently begged Kenji to notice something, anything.
Kenji nodded seriously. “Your eyes are kinda bloodshot, man. Just all red. You gotta catch up on your sleep, you hear me? We need you well rested in this fight.”
“Absolutely.” My voice said. “I’m glad to have you looking out for me. I’ll try to make up my lost sleep and take care of my health. The feminists might never rest, but we need our energy.”
Kenji smiled and clapped my back. The dumb bastard still didn’t notice a thing. “Hey, it’s the least I can do. We’ve got to watch out for each other, as brothers. It’s always the unknown that gets you, and to fight that you need to be alert. Be seeing you.”
Kenji turned around and my body closed the door. I stepped back to my bed, lay down in the mess of worms, and tucked myself in while they burrowed in through my skin. I kept lying there, unable to sleep, while worms inched up from across the room and crawled towards me. All night the worms punched through my skin.
I lay there until morning, when my body dragged me up again.
Author's Notes: "Until I Rise Again"
This piece is intended to provide an unusual answer to the question of what it would take for Rin to find the transformation she was looking for. It is not intended to be taken too seriously, and instead to be taken with a sort of fun. It is also supposed to be a shocking horror piece. I was very pleased about it when I wrote it and for the week following that. At the moment it feels inadequate to me.
I would like feedback, in particular, about the pacing of events and whether the introduction succeeds in drawing in the reader. It begins slowly and with a number of seemingly irrelevancies. It is also intended to have reread value due to foreshadowing and references to the events ahead.