A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

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Feurox
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A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Feurox » Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm

ON THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, HISAO IS VISITED IN HIS DREAMS BY THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE - EACH A GIRL (OR PAIR/GROUP OF GIRLS) HE KNOWS AT YAMAKU. HOWEVER, ONE GIRL IN PARTICULAR IS NOTICEABLY ABSENT - UNTIL, THAT IS, HE WAKES UP.
A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9.


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Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

The whistle, and then bright explosion of a firework, paints the night sky in colour.

“Woah!” Emi exclaims, pressing her face against the chain link and pointing as another rocket shoots into the air, and again, explodes into those falling crackling colours. She turns to face me and sticks her tongue out.

“I thought you’d never wake up!” she teases. Beside her, Rin is sitting cross-legged, the knotted-off sleeves where arms should be flapping about in the occasional breeze. It should be colder here on the roof of Yamaku, but it feels warm, I think.

I feel peculiar, like I’m made of water. My arms don’t feel like mine when I stretch them out, but when I hold my hands in front of my face, I recognise them as distinctly Hisao. Rin is looking at me quizzically, but she turns away to watch the display.

“I thought he had died again,” she says. Like she’s not saying it to me, or to Emi, like she’s just saying it to the world.

“Rin!” Emi chastises her, but she seems unfazed.

“Again?” I ask. Even my voice feels strange, like I’m hearing myself in a recording, or like I’m talking from inside a glass bottle.

Another firework explodes behind the girls, painting the two briefly as silhouettes. I sit and stretch my legs out in front of me, but the gravel feels strange too, like it’s not as sharp as it should be. It’s a bit uncanny.

“Well, you haven’t been taking your health very seriously, Hisao,” Emi laughs.

My…health?

I feel a sudden, searing pain in my chest, like someone is hammering a nail into me. I massage it, and the pain briefly subsides, but Emi is now looking at me with a pretty nasty scowl.

“See,” she says, “you’ve just spent your first week here moping around, doing nothing, dying.”

I don’t know why, but that sounds a bit unfair. I mean, I didn’t spend my first week at Yamaku moping… did I?

“I’m just glad you came with us for the festival,” Emi sighs.

That feels wrong too, like I’ve lived in this moment before, or like I’m remembering two different times or things at once. It makes me feel like my head’s going to split in half, so I shake away the thoughts and massage my chest until the pain is completely gone.

“Why don’t you come and see the view,” Rin half asks, half states. I can’t say the thought of standing on the ledge when my legs feel so loose is appealing, especially since that fence looks like it’ll give way in the wind.

Something about all of this is so wrong, it’s like my head is filled with sand. Still, I get up, and find that my legs feel a bit better, a bit stronger.

“Okay,” I reply, and slowly walk over to the edge between the girls. Emi gives me a smile and looks out into the sky as another streak of light explodes across the sky.

Below us, there are stands, trees, crowds… it’s familiar to me somehow. What isn’t, however, is the city skyline ahead of us. It seems strange to me that Yamaku is so close to the city, or that the roof of Yamaku would be so high up that you could jump from one roof to another.

I can’t help but feel like I’m forgetting something. In the distance, beside the blinking red light of a crane, I see a plane disappearing behind the horizon, and I feel something awful in my stomach turning over and over again. Down below, a girl I recognise and young child disappear into a sea of faces.

“Do you feel better now?” Emi asks from beside me. She’s smiling and looking over the crowds that swarm below, darting between stands or sitting to watch the fireworks that occasionally leave their fading lights in the night sky. Something smells amazing, I think it’s the noodle stand where that I went with Lilly… Or at least, that seems somehow familiar, but I can’t find the memory anymore.

“Not really,” I say, “I have a headache.”

Rin shrugs and gets up onto the ledge of the roof. She looks me square in the eyes for a moment, before turning around and walking along the edge like she’s a tight-ropewalker or something equally bizarre.

“You don’t look like Hisao anymore,” she declares, like I’m guilty of something.

“Rin!” Emi laughs, “People change! You can’t expect him to look like he did in school!”

I lift my hands to my face again and feel around, but I can’t feel anything different about me. At least I can feel something now, that’s better than water, that’s better than nothing.

“I wasn’t looking at his face,” Rin answers, before jumping down from the ledge and spreading herself out on the floor.

“What’s going on?” I manage to ask, but Emi just gives me a sympathetic look and hugs me from the side.

I turn to look at Rin but she’s not there anymore.

“Where did she go?” I ask, and Emi shrugs.

“I guess she said everything she had too, I’m just surprised she came at all.”

“Came to what?”

“To this, Hisao. I mean, you must know,” Emi explains.

None of this makes any sense, and my head feels like it’s about to split in two.

“You were so mopey, you know.” Her voice sounds sad, and a bit lonely. She keeps looking off into the distance, through the buildings, where the fireworks explode silently and dissipate.

“Everyone was trying their best, to make you feel welcome, to help you. When you stopped running with me, it was like you’d just given up on a normal life.”

That stings, but it’s not entirely unwarranted. I still remember standing Emi up, more than once. I stick my fingers through the chain link, and unsurprisingly, it feels like it might collapse under my weight. For a moment, I wonder if she’d hate who I eventually ended up with, but I don’t even know who that is.

“I was finding it hard to adjust, anyone in my position would.” It feels wrong to defend myself, and Emi scowls at me. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“I don’t know why you keep coming here, either,” she says quietly. I don’t know how to respond, so we just stand there silently watching the fireworks explode without a sound behind the city. “You come here every year, for the last fifteen.”

After what must be at least ten minutes, Emi steps back off the ledge and offers me her hand.

I tilt my head at her quizzically.

“Let’s take one last look around, for old times’ sake.”

“One last time?” I ask.

“Well, usually you go before we get this far, this time feels different.”

“What do you mean?”

“Does it matter?”

I think on that for a second. Does it matter? All of this feels ethereal, unreal, like I’m living in a sketch. What happens if I say no? If I just stay here watching the fireworks? Will I end up here forever?

I take her hand, and Emi smiles, I think that’s the first real smile I’ve seen her give yet.

“Come on, then,” she tugs me towards the stairs. Bizarrely enough, even though I can’t remember how I got here, I do remember these stairs. We take them quite quickly, down into the second floor and into the hallway. There’s this awful picture hanging there, like some existential nightmare, it always reminded me of Rin’s mural. Which, if this if the right festival, should be displayed now, right?

“Can we see Rin’s mural?” I ask, and Emi laughs.

“Do you remember it?”

“Vaguely,” I laugh a bit too, but Emi sighs.

“Then there’s not much point, you’ll only see the bit you remember.”

We stop in the hall, and she turns to face me.

“I don’t understand.”

“You really don’t, huh? I thought you were supposed to be smart now,” Emi laughs. “Smarter, then.”

“So, all of this, it’s a memory?” I ask. She bounces back and forth on her running blades, which until now I hadn’t even noticed. I guess that’s because I was more used to them than her everyday prosthetics.

“No, it’s more like an informed projection.” She tilts her head to the side and thinks. “I’m not sure how to explain it, I’m not very good at science.”

After a moment of thinking, she laughs.

“Besides, I’m still a teenager here, you expect too much of me!”

I take another look down my body. I’m in my Yamaku uniform but I feel… fatter than I remember.

Emi just watches me looking over myself, with a timid smile on her lips.

“I guess I really should have kept running, huh?” I joke, and she giggles.

“You’re not that out of shape.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Besides, it wasn’t being unfit that killed you the first time,” she laughs.

“Killed me?” I ask, as we begin walking again down another flight of stairs.

“Oh, Hisao,” Emi whispers sadly, “I think you’d be better asking the next one.” I want to know what that means, but so far, I haven’t exactly learnt much from asking, so I just let it slide.

We exit out into the festival, but there’s nobody here anymore. Just a load of empty and unmanned stalls. It’s eerie, like the world is made of cardboard around us as the city beside us towers above and Yamaku slowly fades into the distance behind.

The whole damn world feels like it’s one strong blow from collapsing.

“Like a festival for ghosts, huh?” Emi nudges me.

“Are we the ghosts?” I jokingly ask her, but her face gets very serious.

“I don’t know what we are,” she explains, and suddenly her energy comes back. “Hey look!”

She points towards another couple walking the path. I recognise them both, well, it’d be hard not to. One of them is me. On my arm is Lilly, we look happy.

They walk towards us, but they don’t slow down, not that they’re going fast.

“Hey, me,” I say, but neither pay any attention to us. We’re talking about something, but it’s like we’re whispering, I can’t hear anything. Lilly brings her hand to her mouth; she always had such a dignified giggle.

They walk past us, and I turn to follow them, but Emi grabs me.

“There’s no point, they can’t see us.”

“Why not?” I ask, I try to grab myself, but end up just reaching through me. “They’re not really here?”

“Something like that, but we’re not either.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, Hisao,” Emi repeats, before tugging me along behind her.

I take another look behind at Lilly and me; we look happy. I wish I were there, instead of with Emi, but it’s like there’s nothing I can do. I want to get off of this ride, but I can’t.

“Do you ever wish you could go back?” I ask Emi.

She bites her thumb for a moment.

“Not really, I mean, I used to want that.” She breathes in for a moment. “I just feel like it’s better looking back at the past than living there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what’s past has already, you know, passed,” she explains. She looks pretty uncomfortable with this line of questioning.

“I guess, but things were easier, in a way.”

Emi laughs, but this time it’s almost bitter. “Hisao, you’re a tourist in the past, be grateful you’re not trapped here.”

Before I can ask her to elaborate, I notice the floodlights over the track. Emi is already there, well, another Emi is already there, running around the asphalt. Emi notices herself and chuckles.

“It’s weird to me that you see me like this, it’s a bit insulting really,” she says, but she seems in better spirits now, “I’m more than just an athlete you know!” She sticks her tongue out at me, and we head over to the bleachers looking over the track. I haven’t seen any fireworks for a while.

The other Emi has that determined look on her face that I remember, she passes us but doesn’t notice, and keeps running. Round, and round, and round.

“I used to be so determined,” Emi points out. “Ha, here you come!”

Sure enough, I see myself again, running a lap slowly. The ghost of Emi passes my own shade, and my other tries to catch up. He can’t really handle it.

“I thought I’d killed you that day, you know.” She laughs again, but it’s a bit hollow-sounding.

This liminal space I’m in, it’s unsettling, but somehow, I feel like I’ve seen it before. Like I’m watching the past through a window that I remember.

On the bleachers beside us, I see another set of ghosts. It’s Lilly and me again, this time sitting, chatting, holding one another in the evening. I remember that night, just talking about our futures.

“What even is the past?” I ask, and Emi strokes her chin thoughtfully.

“I guess you can’t really explain it, but I think we can only understand the world backwards.”

She looks out over the memories repeating, and smiles. “I’ve always wondered why I’m the past, but I think I get it now.”

“You do?” I ask, but Emi has her attention on the shades.

“I’m that nebulous ‘what if,’ that regret, the wanting to take your health seriously but not getting there.”

I don’t say anything, so she continues.

“I’m the ‘I wish I had listened,’ I’m the extra years you won’t ever get.”

I look at her and can’t help but feel angry.

“You’re wrong,” I say, “I took it seriously in the end.” I don’t even know why I believe that. An image of a woman and a young girl flash, and then sizzle out in my mind.

I don’t know what it is about Emi that makes me feel so annoyed, but I carry on, frustrated.

“I know what you are Emi, you’re the past glory, that wanting to be something that could never be, that pretence of something inspirational. That’s why you’re in your gym outfit, that’s why we’re here, at Yamaku, you’re the past; and the thing about the past is that you look at it through a window, you never see it clearly.”

I expect her to get angry, but she doesn’t. She smiles at me.

“I guess that could be it,” she says. “It’s been fun, Hisao, living as an echo.”

We sit there in silence after that. Watching the shadows of the past, running, talking, living.

Though part of me wishes I could be there, I smile too. The past belongs in the past.

Our ghosts live on, and I sit back into the bleacher.

“How do I leave this place, Emi?”

“Lean back, look up,” she laughs. “You’ve got cardio to do.”

I look up into the night.

Above me, a plane cuts across the dark sky.

And then another.

And then, another.

And then, the sky is taken over.

And that sky comes crashing down around me.


You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission.
Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away

A plane overhead spirals out of control before exploding above me. All of my senses are assaulted, there’s the sounds of screaming, gunfire, and an overwhelming stench of oil, machinery, and grime.

I try to scream but end up coughing violently. My lungs feel heavy, like I’m breathing in smoke, and another series of explosions overhead send wrecks and bits of debris scattering down to the ground.

From behind me, a commanding voice, one I recognise, stirs me to action.

“On your feet Hicchan, I’m not letting you die here.”

A set of strong arms hoist me up, and effectively carry me back to behind what I can only assume is one of our tanks. I try to survey my surroundings, but nothing seems to be right… the soldiers pushing forward on either side, they’re green. They look like they’re made of…. wax? A girl and her mother are running across the field towards me, I recognise them and reach out and -

Misha slaps me hard across the face, and I immediately focus on her. Her pink hair stands out in contrast to her overtly ‘army’ helmet.

I cough up again, but finally manage to speak.

“I always,” I breathe in, damn that feels good to breathe again. “I always knew you’d be a fine commander, Misha,” I laugh.

Misha’s face is dead-serious; she shakes me by the shoulders.

“Get yourself together Hicchan, General Shizune needs us to break the attack and hold out here.” She gets in close and grabs me by the shoulder, “Until the bitter end.”

Just as she finishes speaking another explosion shakes the sky and several planes fall out of the air and crash to the right of us. Misha doesn’t seem fazed and barks some orders to the green wax men that, I presume, are fighting for us.

“Shouldn’t I at least have a weapon?” I ask, and Misha again looks frustrated with me.

“Would you know how to use one If you did?”

A fair point, but how am I supposed to repel the enemy without any weaponry?

I peek around the side of our cover, but I can’t really make out what’s happening. Some of our green men advance, they sort of, waddle, but there are green men on the other sides of the trenches too, and they’re shooting this way. I duck back into cover.

“I can’t even tell who we’re shooting at!”

Finally, Misha laughs, it’s somehow comforting.

“This is war, Hicchan, it isn’t a game.”

“Then why are the enemy…toys?”

Misha looks over her shoulder, before popping round the corner and unleashing a volley of shots from her rifle. She grabs me by the wrist, and beelines for a trench ahead of us.

I’m not sure how my heart is keeping up with this.

Bits of grime and muck spit up at us as we sprint, some of it’s from the running, but some if it looks like, sounds like, smells like, gunfire.

We throw ourselves into the trench, and Misha immediately starts firing at the two green men already here. I just assumed they were on our side, but evidently not.

One of them goes down, but the other charges us.

“Get him Hicchan!”

I give Misha a panicked look, but she… looks like she’s enjoying this?

“How?” I ask, just as the green man gets into range. He grabs onto my arms, and we fall back over into the mud. “Help!”

I give the wax man a strong kick in the stomach and roll over to be on top of him. Misha is laughing, and I feel sick.

“Finish him off!”

“Again, how?” I panic. The man wrestles with me, so I sock him in the jaw, and he stops moving.

Damn, that actually did feel kind of good. It also feels like I didn’t really deserve to win that fight.

“How can you tell they were enemies?” I ask, trying to catch my breath.

“I couldn’t,” she laughs. “I just went straight for the bunker, that’s what we do every time.”

“What we do?” I try to ignore the quite psychotic implications of Misha’s rampant bloodlust, or the fact that I might have just assaulted a soldier on my side. God, war is hell.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, Hicchan, this makes 15.” She’s remarkably cheery now, compared to her serious tone before. “Though usually we get gunned down by now…”

“Well, maybe today we win, provided we don’t attack any of our own men again,” I tease, and another bullet ricochets overhead. I feel remarkably calm, despite everything. It’s like none of this really matters, like, this isn’t about me.

“It doesn’t matter really, Hicchan!” She laughs and leans back against the bunker wall.

I sit down against the wall on my side, the sounds of gunfire and explosions continue around us, but they seem more subdued now, like they’re happening further away.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we won’t ever win! That isn’t what happens,” she explains, and begins to twiddle with the parts of her hair that poke out beneath her helmet.

A platoon of our soldiers advances beside/above us. They salute Misha, and then me, before continuing onward.

Overhead, a plane, much larger than the fighters from before, careens across the sky. Two doors on the underside open up and pieces of…paper? Yeah, paper, fall softly down to the ground.

Misha looks up and plucks a piece from the sky as it comes into the trench. That plane seems to have brought the night along with it, and it suddenly feels a lot colder, and darker.

Another piece of paper lands in front of me and I pick it up. On the front, in bold, it says: General Hakamichi Finds Pressure Too Much , but the photo isn’t of Shizune in military garb, but rather, a business-like pant suit. She’s being photographed leaving a press conference of some kind. The image seems really familiar to me, but I can’t place it. She looks ashamed.

“Hey Misha, what’s this about?” I point at the picture, but she shrugs.

“You don’t remember Hicchan? Did you not follow Shizune’s career after school ended? You’re a bad friend, Wahahah~,” her trademark laugh throws me off guard for a minute, but that doesn’t seem fair. After all, this picture is familiar.

All of this seems so familiar in fact, so much so that I’m surprised I didn’t recognise it before.

“We’re playing RISK, aren’t we?” I ask.

“Hicchan, this is war not a ga – okay yes, we’re in RISK, and I still don’t get the rules,” she laughs again, and crumples up the photo in her hand.

“Of course, we’re here, and of course, I’m losing to Shizune.”

“Not quite Hicchan, we’re actually all on the same side.”

“Then who are we even fighting?” I ask. The horizon briefly lights up as something explodes in the distance.

Misha closes the distance between us and waves her hands about, “Complacency!”

I laugh and crumple up the photo in my own hands. “Really, who?”

“I’m not sure it is a who, it’s more like an idea, I think,” Misha laughs loudly.

“Okay, but where’s Shizune?”

In the filth of the trench, another photo with a remarkably different frame stands out. I reach for it, and see myself, and two others, that same young girl and what looks like her mother. But they’re just faces, nameless…

Another large plane soars above us, and again, the underside opens up and a flurry of paper comes cascading down. Except this time, the paper doesn’t fall softly like before – it falls hard, overwhelmingly hard. Misha squeals as papers pile up around us and over the bunkers, a few hit me with a pretty painful feeling, but it isn’t the pain that scares me as the mound builds up around us.

I start clawing up, but it doesn’t matter, the papers tower above and around and over me. I can’t see Misha anymore, but the paper continues to fall. I feel like I’m climbing on sand, as stacks of paper slip from beneath me and my hands find purchase on nothing but air.

The papers fall faster and harder, and I feel myself sinking below them. I close my eyes, and can just about breathe as wave after wave of paper crashes over me…

When I finally open them again, the beating has stopped. I feel light, like I’m suspended in jelly. The sounds of gunfire and explosions have long gone, but instead there’s this viscous sound, like I’m inside some kind of chamber filled with water. Above me, the stars shine dutifully, but they sway.

A hand breaks the surface of the sky and reaches down to me. It grabs me by the shirt and yanks me up until the surface fractures and I can finally breathe clearly.

I pull myself up, with a little help, and lie flat out on the… raft? It feels light, and the water around it is perfectly still.

To my surprise, the hand isn’t Misha’s, but Shizune’s. She shoots me a concerned look as I cough up water, but she regains her composure as I shake my hands and head in confirmation that I’m not quite dead.

With my breath back, and my clothes cold and soaked through, I sit up properly and wave to Shizune. She returns the gesture but pulls her legs up to her chest and looks out across the water.

There isn’t anything there that I can see, just the end where the stars meet the horizon. There’s nothing on any side, just the expanse of water stretching out into infinity.

“Where are we?” I ask, but obviously it’s useless. Shizune looks up to me for a moment but shakes her head and returns her gaze to the horizon. Without Misha here, or a means of writing, we’re not going to have much of a conversation.

I pull up beside her and fold my legs to my chest. It definitely feels as though we’re moving, but there’s just nothing out there. Shizune looks as though she’s been crying; it’s not a side of her I remember from High School.

Just as I’m about to move again, something appears atop the water. A cloud dances, and I can just make out shapes.

Shizune holds her legs tighter, and the clouds take on unmistakeable shapes; people arguing, with one higher than the others.

I fish around my pockets for that photo of Shizune earlier, but I guess I don’t have it. The scene seems so familiar to me, but I just can’t place it.

The ghosts are debating something, it looks like some kind of conference. Shizune sinks her head into her arms beside me, and it all comes rushing back. Her time in local government, how short it really was… I remember someone telling me about the disgraced Hakamichi… someone close revelling in it.

I suddenly feel guilty. I try to get her attention, but Shizune is looking over to our right now, where another set of ghosts are waltzing over the lake. These ones look younger, there are three of them, in fact… one of them is distinctly Hisao, uh, me. Which makes the others, by the look of it, Shizune and Misha.

Did the three of us really hang out much in high school? It feels so long ago now, but even so I don’t remember much.

And then again, behind us, more cloud-like… memories. Shizune and I playing RISK in the student council room. And behind that, Misha… cutting her hair? I’m not sure what that has to do with anything…

All of this, it makes me wonder about the real Shizune. The one I went to school with, not this sad, hollow girl beside me. I look to the left and see myself at a desk, looking tired and… drunk.

That’s a far more familiar sight, sadly. I look about 15 years younger, and something knags at me, a memory of being at the bottom…

Shizune leans over to watch me, eh, the ghostly me. Suddenly, she seems less sad.

She points at the ghost, and then at me, and shakes her head.

I nod in a kind of resignation, but she shakes her head again, this time harder.

She points to the ghosts of us together and shakes her head again. Then at us playing RISK, and then at the scene of her humiliation. She pauses for a moment on that one, bit bites her lip and shakes her head aggressively.

“I don’t understand,” I whisper, and Shizune looks like she’s trying to read my lips.

She shakes her head again, and points back at my ghost.

A strong wind blows past us, and the ghosts go flying beside and behind us. They keep going further and further back, as they recede into that infinite sea.

Shizune taps me, well, more like punches me honestly, and points ahead of the raft, where the first ghosts were. Now, if I squint, I can just make out another two spectres. One of them is clearly me, and the other… Shizune.

We look different somehow… older, older than I am now. The ghosts walk away from us, they walk ahead.

Shizune points behind the raft and shakes her head again.

Then, to my surprise, she speaks.

“No,” she practically yells.

“No,” she repeats.

The ghosts ahead disappear with another gust, and this time, nothing replaces them.

I look up to see the blinking red and green lights of another plane.

“No,” I repeat.

I lie back against the mast and hear the faint chirp of crickets.

I close my eyes, and the raft drifts silently past the past, present, and future.

We drift away on a ‘no.’
Last edited by Feurox on Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Feurox » Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:14 pm

I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Someone is shaking me.

I don’t want to wake up.

“H-Hisao.”

I feel someone’s hands trail through my hair. It feels calming, and familiar. It’s another lazy Christmas morning, another beautiful day…

“Maybe we should let him rest.”

Another voice, softer than the one before but firm, and ladylike. One that feels less familiar now.

Lilly.

Whatever I’m resting on, presumably Lilly’s lap, threatens to send me to sleep again, so I groggily open my eyes to the sight of swaying wheat and Hanako smiling at me tenderly.

“Did you s-sleep well?” she asks.

I stretch out and hear the unmistakable pop of my shoulder, at which both girls grimace. Wherever I thought I was, I’m definitely not.

“Well, I had the weirdest dream,” I admit, and beside me Lilly smirks.

“Oh, do elaborate,” she says playfully.

“Well, I…”

I…

Can’t remember.

But I can feel myself forgetting, like a fog is descending on me.

“Shizune… and, uh, Emi… and…”

I squeeze the sides of my head, and Hanako looks at me like she’s concerned.

“There were fireworks… and…”

“Oh, it’s gone,” I relent. Lilly giggles, and Hanako calms down and shakes her head.

“Well, I hope i-it w-wasn’t import-t-tant,” she stammers.

“I’m not sure dreams ever are,” I laugh.

Lilly makes a ‘hmm’ noise, and Hanako shakes her head again.

“D-d-dreams c-can be import-t-tant!”

“Quite right! Dreams do matter Hisao, they can tell you things you didn’t even know about yourself,” Lilly explains. Which sounds like something I probably told her. She runs her hand through my hair again and it makes me feel like I’m melting into her.

“I hope that mine aren’t some premonition then,” I say, and Hanako giggles.

“It can’t have been that b-bad! S-sometimes I lo-look forward to-to m-my dreams m-more than w-waking up,” Hanako says. I don’t think she realises how sad that really is. Or maybe she does but is comfortable enough with us both to share something so sad.

I look at Lilly, who grimaces at Hanako’s statement. Surprisingly, Hanako doesn’t look too fazed by the reaction.

“Sometimes in mine, I die,” I said.

Lilly and Hanako giggle, which seems in poor taste honestly.

The wind shakes the tops of the wheat in front of us, and it blows Lilly’s hair back behind her like something from a movie.

She told me she loved me in that field. It’s a pleasant memory.

A memory that, for some reason, feels fabricated. Like it’s someone else’s memory.

I wrap my arm around Lilly, and she smiles, before leaning into my shoulder. Hanako snuggles up on my right… this feels nice.

“I love you both,” I say, and give them a squeeze.

The girls return the gesture.

“So, you’ve enjoyed our trip to Hokkaido, Hisao?” Lilly asks.

I really have. I feel like I’ve been working too hard lately, it’s nice to be back here.

…back, here.

I look up, and sure enough, the stars shine diligently, looking back down at me, but the world hasn’t gone dark. The day and night conflate, the past and the future push so hard on either side.

This is not real.

I sigh.

“It feels like walking back in time.”

Hanako looks at me quizzically and stands up, brushing the grass off her.

“What d-do you mean?”

“This is a pleasant memory,” I explain. “But that’s all it is.”

The girls suddenly look deflated; I suppose that is kind of a depressing sentiment.

Lilly’s smile drops completely, but she still hangs onto my arm. She breathes in deeply.

“It’s better than the alternative,” she finally says.

“The alternative?”

Hanako also looks confused.

In the slope below us the tips of the wheat sway suddenly apart, creating a small space in the field.

On another gust, a mist rises up until I can make out the shape of a table, and a slumped over figure.

It’s me, definitely.

A bottle of something or other spins slowly on the table, back, and forth, again and again. Hanako watches the sight, apparently mesmerised.

It’s definitely a tragic sight, but it also just feels… wrong, somehow.

“Am I dead?” I ask, and the previous dreams, if that’s even what they were, come flying back into my head. I see Emi and me walking around the festival of ghosts; Misha and I pinned down and buried alive, I see Shizune on a directionless raft.

Hanako looks as though she might cry, but Lilly seems remarkably calm.

“Not yet,” Lilly whispers.

I suddenly feel my eyes sting. For the first time, I feel corporeal; I feel alive.

Hanako sits back beside me, visibly distressed, but calm enough to reach her arm around mine again.

I suppose there are worse ways to go.

In the space between the wheat; another scene plays out.

It’s me again. I’m clutching my chest on the floor, and a figure I can’t make out stands over me, obviously flustered.

I drop my head into my hands as the girls squeeze me on either side.

“Let’s look back, shall we?” Lilly asks.

Another strong wind blows from behind me, causing Hanako to shiver, and my dying is swept away. Instead, our three ghosts float into view, having a tea party.

I smile, but it feels bittersweet.

The scene evolves. It shows our trips into the city, the three of us wandering, directionless but free.

Another gust, and Lilly and I are having our first kiss. The wheat tips dance. Hanako blushes beside me. I feel suddenly sick.

And then another, this time the three of us as ghosts again, drinking wine… the girls are in their pyjamas; I remember the first seeing them like that… Lilly and I weren’t together then.

With more wind, the spectres grow older, to our time after Yamaku. Lilly and me in Scotland, reading on the long stretch of beach by her family house.

The two of us waving goodbye to Hanako at the station; Lilly and I leaning on one another as her ghost fades away.

Something about all this stings.

Lilly squeezes my arm and lays her head on my shoulder as another pair of ghosts appear, holding one another, dressed to the nines. They look sad, like it’s their last embrace.

After all, it is.

The ghosts fade away, and the sudden absence of Hanako on my right startles me. It’s just Lilly and me now, with the endless night above.

“What happens now?” I ask, and Lilly lets out a whimper.

And then, without warning, the spectres surround us.

Lilly and me in our late years on our right, reading on a Scottish shore.

Children I don’t recognise playing with one another to the left; Hanako and some guy I don’t know sitting across from us at dinner.

Parties, holidays, Christmases, and Birthdays…

The ghosts orbit us; satellites in an empty sky.

Lilly is smiling; like even through her blindness she can see these visions… maybe she can.

It’s the future.

“Our future,” Lilly corrects my thoughts, and squeezes me again.

But it’s a lie.

It won’t, can’t, come to pass.

I stand up and the shadows shatter like glass.

In a heartbeat, it finally all comes back to me.

Lilly rises beside me, but I bat her reaching hand away.

“This isn’t the future, it’s a dream I had when I was too young and stupid to know better,” I explain, and I don’t even try to hide the venom in my voice.

Even the ghosts from before, the ones of the three of us, they’re a deception.

A final pair of apparitions appear beside us; they hold one another, and then let go.

And then, there’s the roar of a plane.

Lilly winces, but reaches for my hand again, fumbling around the air for it.

I sigh, and carefully offer her mine, and she gives my hand a squeeze.

We stand there in silence for a long while. All the ghosts are gone now, and despite it all, the night seems just a little brighter.

After God knows how long, when the temperature has well and truly plunged, Lilly whispers.

“I know I didn’t make things easy; you must know I know, that’s why you’re dreaming about me again.”

The tips of the wheat sway, the stars spill out over us.

I take her other hand and inhale.

“It was never hard falling, or being in love with you, Lilly,” I explain, and squeeze back, “being in love wasn’t the hard part.”

I bring her hands to my lips and pull her a little closer.

“It was letting go.”

She makes a sad sound, like a whimper, and snuggles into my chest.

We stand like that for a few more minutes, watching the tips of the wheat swaying in the breeze, and an army of stars and ethereal planes sailing back and forth like ships in a sky full of sea.

But I close my eyes.

For death, or for sleep.

I close my eyes.

Touch has a memory. O say, love, say,
What can I do to kill it and be free?
John Keats, Lines to Fanny

A light goes on in the hall.

I groggily lift my head from my desk.

For a moment I expect to see an empty bottle spinning circles in front of me, but I don’t. Instead, there’s a mug of what was hot chocolate but is now just cold…chocolate. The milk and cream have formed a skin on the surface, but it still smells rich. I’m not sure what I was dreaming about, but for whatever reason, I’m glad to be alive.

Papers, journals, and books are scattered across the desk. I really ought to clean up some more, or maybe I should just finish the things I begin reading rather than starting something new the next day.

My laboratory lanyard hangs from a hook on my bulletin board, and I almost don’t recognise myself in the picture. For whatever reason, when I started working there six or seven years ago, I thought I could rock the five-o-clock stubble.

I can’t.

With a yawn, I stretch out, and spin around in my chair.

On the wall, the calendar reads December 24th, but a glance at the clock proves that wrong. It’s actually the 25th, just.

I crack my neck, roll my shoulders, and open the drawer of my desk. Inside there are a bunch more papers, scattered pens, and what I think someone might generously label ‘crap’. I grab the files littering my desk and drop them in. At the very back, there’s a note in a plastic wrap.

A note written fifteen years ago; a note that was never read. Dated December 24th and signed with a bottle of whisky.

I thought that would be my last ever drink. My last ever dream, before the big one.

The note fills me with a peculiar feeling, and I twirl it between my fingers.

How do you wake up from something so real you can taste it? How do you strap back into a ride you’d thought you’d gotten off?

I look back to the bulletin board.

Next to my lanyard, there’s a photo, pinned at the top and the bottom. A photo that makes me glad I woke up, that makes me glad I strapped back in.

I take a deep breath, and carefully place the letter back inside the drawer and shut it.

There’s someone shuffling around outside my door, so I open it slowly.

Sure enough, little Eshima is looking up at my door with a guilty face.

I crouch down and pick her up.

“You know, it’s just a little past your bedtime young lady,” I whisper.

She has her mother’s hair, already long and dark, but she’s inherited my curiosity.

With a huff, she sticks her tongue out at me.

“But it’s Christmas,” she protests.

“Well it is now, because you stayed up so late, see the problem?” I laugh, still trying to keep my voice down.

Eshima pouts, and I feel my heart explode just a little. The good kind, thankfully, I’ve had too much of the bad for this lifetime.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits.

I sigh and put her down. She’s gotten heavier for such a little lady.

“Should we go and see mummy?”

She nods her head enthusiastically, so I take her hand and we head down the stairs.

It was her mother’s idea to decorate for Christmas this year, and she went a bit overboard. There’s tinsel all up the stair banister, and a wreath on our door. We’re probably the only house in the neighbourhood to have so much going on.

She even cut out these little Christmas hats and stuck them on all our family photos, it’s a bit ridiculous but I can’t fight the cheesy grin it gives me as we go past the hallway. Eshima speeds up and pulls me along through the kitchen, and then she skids to a halt in the living room.

She pulls me down firmly.

“Mummy’s sleeping,” she whispers.

“Well, why don’t you go snuggle up with her, and I’ll make us some hot chocolates?”

She grins enthusiastically and tiptoes over, clambering onto the sofa and getting under the blanket beside her mother. I exaggerate my tiptoeing as I head back into the kitchen and hear Eshima giggle quietly.

I grab three mugs from the side. I’m not very good at making hot chocolate, but I can in a pinch. As I heat each one up in the microwave, I can just hear the hushed whisperings of Eshima and her mother. No doubt they’re plotting to pull some joke on me when I come back in.

As the mugs spin slowly around the microwave, I run my fingers across the shelves above our sink. There’s a photo from my wedding, and an ultrasound of little Eshima. Then there’s a photo from the track, and my first attempt at a half-marathon.

It makes me wonder if I would have done anything differently as a teenager. I know Emi would be proud to see me staying fit, but sometimes when I get caught in my own head a little, I can’t help but wonder about all the years I may have lost being so unhealthy for so long.

It makes me think of the past. Was the time I spent with Lilly wasted? I don’t think so.

Everything we do is a part of who we are; who we become.

If I could change anything, would it still allow me to come back to the here right now?

The microwave dings, and I pull each mug out and add the cocoa. My wife would top them all up with whipped cream and chocolates but… I’m suddenly eager to join them on the couch.

With a bit of effort, I get all three mugs in my hands and head into the living room. Sure enough, they’re both pretending to be asleep. Two can play this game.

“Okay, I’ll take these upstairs and have them myself then,” I say.

“Now hang on,” the tangle of girls on the sofa reply.

I laugh and put the mugs down on the coffee table.

Eshima immediately reaches for her chocolate, before scowling.

“No whipped cream?”

“I wanted to be with my girls,” I answer.

“Hey Hisao,” my wife says to me.

I put my head against hers and nuzzle our noses together.

“Hey Miki.”

“Is there room for one more?”

The girls look at one another.

“I think we could squeeze you in,” Miki laughs.

She lifts the blanket a bit so I can squeeze in beside her and stick my arm behind her shoulder.

“Merry Christmas,” I whisper with a kiss.

Miki snuggles into my shoulder.

There’s a world beyond this sofa, out the window. There are people working, celebrating, being. There’s the past and the future, pressing hard on either side. There’s what might have been and what never will.

But that world is beyond this sofa. I have sipped deep on happiness, and I will dream no other dream tonight.

Snuggled up with Miki and Eshima, it’s like that world can wait another day.

I hold both girls tightly, and forget about the past, and the future.

Somewhere in the night sky, a plane sails into another story. A raft drifts endlessly in a sea full of sky. A firework explodes and falls to the earth.

Fifteen years ago, I prepared for the long dream.

That night, something changed in me.

And today, it’s like I’m living it.

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A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Feurox » Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:14 pm

Image

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Feurox
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With Thanks, A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Feurox » Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:21 pm

As always, a huge thank you to Lap for proofreading this Christmas tale. I hope you enjoy the finished product!

And a million, million thanks to Umber! Your talent, friendship, and integrity humbles me - I cannot stress enough how beautiful I think that illustration is, and how remarkably talented I know you are. I hope soon I may repay the favour.

Crafty, this S9 might have been long overdue, but I hope that if nothing else this satisfies you. I'm expecting a scathing criticism, but don't worry, I'll use that energy to ensure I never write a happy story ever again ;)

Only a few unfinished articles remain, and I know now they're in good hands. Happy Christmas for 2 years ago, and more fittingly I suppose, have a great thanksgiving?

You know your friendship means a lot to me, so I won't reiterate that here. Instead, you, and all others reading, can enjoy the song list below.

Under the Pressure, The War on Drugs

What Once Was, Hers

Heat Waves, Glass Animals

And for the sake of consistency...

Sky Full of Stars, Coldplay

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Lap » Sun Nov 15, 2020 4:41 pm

There's one comment which occurred to me & I forgot to make while proffrading this.

A question which has occurred to me a few times, "Would I go back to that earlier time and make another choice if I could?" And the answer as a parent is, "If it would result in my kids not ever having been born, then, no, I could never do that. I wouldn't change one iota, for fear of not having what I have now."

Mind you, I'm sappily happy with my kids. Maybe someone who isn't would have a different answer. But Hisao seems to have a pretty good thing going for him here. :)

Thanks for a fun read!
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Chatty Wheeler
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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Mon Nov 16, 2020 4:34 am

Hello there, Feurox!

Thanks a lot for writing this—it warmed me up like a good cup of coffee. Well, a good cup of hot coco might be more in theme. :D

This was an excellent piece—bursting with creativity, charm, and meaning. I really enjoyed trying to piece together all of the little mysteries that were peppered throughout. With each act, more and more pieces started to fit into place—giving us a fascinating picture of Hisao by the end of it all. Literally. You ended this story with a really lovely picture—courtesy of Umber. Great job on that picture, Umber!

Beyond Hisao, I like how you revealed small tidbits about how the lives of the other girls have progressed in the past fifteen years. Hisao leaving Emi behind. Shizune's struggles in the government. Lilly's ill-fated relationship with Hisao. It's all fascinating stuff. Furthermore, I thought it was clever that the reader only found out about these tidbits if Hisao would logically know about them. For example, the reader only finds out about Shizune's governmental struggles because Hisao remembers reading it in the newspaper.

I think my favorite part of the story would have to be the Shizune Act. Something about it felt... ethereal. It was beautiful, and I was completely captivated. I don't really have too much else that I can say, actually... I just really liked it.

Oh, and of course, that ending was pure charm. I'm not a parent yet, but you sure made parenthood look like fun.

I feel like I should have mentioned this when I was reading your other story, Gravity, but your prose is really good. It's rife with symbolism (the planes being the most obvious example) and clever little callbacks and phrases (see below, I listed a bunch of the ones that I noticed). Your pacing is stellar, and the emotion is strongly felt behind each word.

Below is some notes that I took while reading!

—————————
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
Down below, a girl I recognise and young child disappear into a sea of faces.
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
A girl and her mother are running across the field towards me, I recognise them and reach out and -
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
I reach for it, and see myself, and two others, that same young girl and what looks like her mother. But they’re just faces, nameless…
This is an excellent example of recurring foreshadowing. After reading the first quote, I thought to myself, "huh?" But then the mystery started to make more sense upon reading the second and third quote.

—————————
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
I feel peculiar, like I’m made of water. My arms don’t feel like mine when I stretch them out, but when I hold my hands in front of my face, I recognise them as distinctly Hisao.
Great line right here. Such a wonderfully creative way to convey the sensation of the dream.

—————————
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
For a moment, I wonder if she’d hate who I eventually ended up with, but I don’t even know who that is.
That's some legendary foreshadowing right there. Don't think we didn't notice it. Of course Emi wouldn't like who Hisao ended up with! Very clever, Feurox. :D

—————————
Feurox wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 3:11 pm
A set of strong arms hoist me up, and effectively carry me back to behind what I can only assume is one of our tanks. I try to survey my surroundings, but nothing seems to be right… the soldiers pushing forward on either side, they’re green.
In Lilly's route, Hisao offhandedly named green as his favorite color because it reminded him of the army... I don't know if you were trying to reference that here but if you were... Dang, that's an awesome little touch that you put in. If you weren't intentionally referencing that... then I guess I just outed myself as the biggest nerd on the whole site. Haha!

—————————

Thanks again for writing this, Feurox! Take care, everyone.

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:52 pm

That's some legendary foreshadowing right there. Don't think we didn't notice it. Of course Emi wouldn't like who Hisao ended up with! Very clever, Feurox.
Well, to be fair there are several possibilities Emi would not have liked :-)

So that was the ghosts of Past, Present, Future... and another past? Not that I mind when most of the sequences made more sense than dream sequences usually do :-)
Still not sure if I got all the references or whether I interpreted them correctly - or even whether everything was supposed to have a significance at all... (Especially I'm curious what the significance the 15 years have. They came up multiple times but not with any real explanation.

In any case a very nice story for an interesting prompt... One I probably would have found difficult to write about. I do know A Chistmas Choral, but it doesn't have nearly the same cultural significance where I live than it does in the US or (maybe?) in Britain. (I think I've seen one live action version and the Disney version as a kid, but that's it)

In the story those ghosts set into motion some life-changing epiphanies for the dreamer. That doesn't happen here, which in a way is almost a twist in it's own right :-)

Also in a way this could be seen as a Reverse Feurox Story(TM): A bleak story with a happy ending. 8)
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Mon Nov 16, 2020 4:16 pm

Hey Mirage!

——————————
Mirage_GSM wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:52 pm
That's some legendary foreshadowing right there. Don't think we didn't notice it. Of course Emi wouldn't like who Hisao ended up with! Very clever, Feurox.
Well, to be fair there are several possibilities Emi would not have liked :-)
Ah, well. I thought to myself that Emi doesn't exactly have any enemies in the way that Shizune and Lilly might be considered enemies. Despite this, I always kind of assumed that Miki and Emi had a bit of a rivalry going on—that might just be my headcanon, though. Losing Hisao to her rival might have made Emi upset. At least, that's how I interpreted that line. :D

——————————
Mirage_GSM wrote:
Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:52 pm
(Especially I'm curious what the significance the 15 years have. They came up multiple times but not with any real explanation.
I think that it means that it's been fifteen years since Hisao entered Yamaku. When Hisao wakes up in the real world, he's fifteen years older, with a wife and child.

——————————

Take care!

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by PsychicSpy » Wed Nov 18, 2020 2:57 pm

I thought this story was really good, but that’s expected coming from you 😉
That’s a far more familiar sight, sadly. I look about 15 years younger, and something knags at me, a memory of being at the bottom…
At first I read this without the ‘at’ and wondered what he’d been doing with Shizune!

I thought that this was an excellent piece. Tugged at my heart strings in the right ways, and I found it very faithful to the prompt while also being a unique interpretation of a Christmas Carol-esque story. I think that the ghost(s) of the future at the end were really good, and it definitely threw me for a loop that they were the ghosts, especially with Shizune and Misha seemingly occupying separate parts (Misha as present, and Shizune as future). I also liked his “future” section being like a dream he once had rather than his current future, in addition to something that very well could be his future if he hadn't made the conscious choice to stay in shape and more importantly move on from Lilly.

If I had to say that there is one part that I will have to re-read, it would be the present part, just because I’m not sure that I understand it. I found the line about complacency to make sense after reading about how he’d settled into the lab job 7 years ago and maybe deciding his dream 15 years ago and sticking to it. Complacency doesn’t mean unhappiness of course, but I definitely found it to be the part that I'll have to break down the most.

Great stuff man! Can't wait to see what we end up with for S11!

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by ProfAllister » Thu Nov 19, 2020 8:02 am

As always, your prose is lovely. But what bothered me was more structural.

Specifically, we don't get much of anything about present-day Hisao, or the nature of his relationship with his chosen girl. Nothing about how they got together, the trials they faced, anything. All we get is allusions to Hisao being potentially an alcoholic and/or workaholic. And then the more I think about it, the more I'm forced to ask myself if this Christmas evening is just a slice of an idealised moment, when everyone is desperately trying to pretend that the looming specters of these problems don't exist - a hopeless bargain in which there's a belief that pretending the problems don't exist will make them go away. And while that certainly fits in the general flavor of much of your writing, it feels a bit too dark for you.

Also, on a slightly less depressing note, the lack of foreshadowing/contextual information as to who Hisao ends up with feels like, at best, a missed opportunity. While some of the girls in the dream were definitively ruled out, the only reason we know that they aren't "the one" is because the Prompt says so (there's also something to be said of the lack of a "noticeably" absent, but...). But even outside the core six, there's no hint as to who the mystery "one" is. I mean, you could end it with Suzu, Yuuko, or even (with a bit of clever creativity) Kenji, and barely need to change a single word. Add in the fakeout that is "Eshima", and the reveal just felt a little unsatisfying.

Overall, it's very good, but the end feels "off", and in a way that isn't necessarily what was intended.
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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Razoredge » Thu Nov 19, 2020 4:07 pm

That's a wonderful thing we have right here. And I have to say, thank you, for writting something like that, and share it with us. I really like this piece, because of your writing style (which is lovely), and because I kinda like to see something about present-days Hisao, which is pretty rare, sadly. There is some structures gaps, as Prof said, but for me, they weren't too huge. In any way, I find this piece pretty interesting, that was a lovely read, I really liked the Lilly part, and once again, thanks for sharing this with us.
Lilly = Akira > Miki = Hanako > Emi > Rin > Shizune

Stuff I'm currently writing : Beyond the haze : A Lilly Satou pseudo-route, Razor's One Shots & misc. & Sakura Blossom

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Re: A Chiasmus Through the Night – A Late, Late, S9 for Craftyatom.

Post by Oddball » Wed Nov 25, 2020 1:48 pm

This is a very nice read. There's a wonderful sense of mood and emotion here. It's certainly not what I would have expected from the prompt you started with.

Out of all the dream(?) scenes, I think Emi's works the best, as it more accurately covers the past and Hisao hasn't quite figured out what is going on yet. Shizune and Misha's feel the weakest as it's far more symbolic and abstract in it's dream.

And since I have to comment on Lilly and Hanako's now, I think you overdid the stuttering.

While this does create a wonderful mood, I'm still left wondering why this happened. Why Christmas Carol was to teach Scrooge a lesson, here it just seems to be something Hisao is going through for no reason with him ending up the way he started. The story isn't bad, but it seems to be leading towards questions it has no intention of addressing.
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