Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#54—'Night Terrors')

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brythain
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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (49—'Sinistra') (20160610)

Post by brythain » Fri Jun 10, 2016 12:59 pm

Sometimes, the universal bad ending isn't as bad as you think it is.


Sinistra

He came to me one night, and I knew he had not long on this earth. For a moment, I wondered if I could give him enough lust for life to keep living, but he was too far gone. Yet, I kept his story, as I keep them all. Nobody will ever know.

*****

“Hey, Nakai, what the fuck are you doing sneaking around up here?”

He starts guiltily, caught in the girls’ dorm with no excuse. And no reason? I wonder. I turn the Gaze upon him, and he wilts.

“Uh, Miura, I… don’t know.” He looks at my stump. I wonder what he’s thinking. Some people have a fetish for that kind of thing.

“Got sick of festival talk?” I’m trying, you know. The Empress ain’t here, and nobody will chase him out, but a girl can get into trouble if she ain’t well-liked, and let’s just say that some people have a problem with me.

“I, I guess.” He sounds awfully depressed.

“Tried talking to the guys? Who’re your neighbours over there?”

“I’ve got one. I think he’s a bit crazy. Nobody wants to talk to me anyway.”

Wow, getting more words out of him now. I think for a while and realize which room he must be in. Then again, there’s all kinds of crazy.

“Does he comb his hair neatly?”

He looks at me oddly, frowns a bit. “No?”

“Does he wear a scarf all the time?”

“Um, yes?”

Oh, he’s in the empty room opposite Kenji Setou—the one which is normally kept empty for very good reasons. I make a clicking sound with my lips. This is bad.

“Maybe you should move to a different room.”

“I don’t really care,” he says, half turning away from me and looking down. He has brownish hair that is all over the place and might look glossy if washed and dried well. He’s new in my class, a transfer student just a few days old.

I stare at him, tensing my left elbow. Damn. He really doesn’t care. I feel a warmth between my legs.

“Hey, Hisao,” I begin, willing him to look me in the eye. “You can talk to me. I’m your classmate, right? We’re not all bad.”

He looks up. There’s an old streak of energetic rebel in him, but something’s taken most of it away, made him old and tired and dried-out. “There’s not much to talk about, Miura.”

“You can call me Miki, you know. After all, you’re in my home now.”

I’m in my underwear, and not much of it. I was in a robe making supper when sad boy here turned up. I let the robe slip a bit, enough so that he sees Miki ain’t all good either. My right nipple stiffens a little as I move. It’s like it has a will of its own, so I tell it to stop misbehaving.

I hear his breathing change. It’s like turning the key and listening to a car engine start up. But then, it dies. It’s as if his fuel pump ain’t working right. His eyes are doing perfectly normal things though.

“Why don’t you come to my room for a while, so that you don’t get caught wandering around?”

Blindly, wordlessly, he stretches his right hand out. I’m taken by surprise at first. Then I take his hand, and feel his sadness pressing against my palm. He’s lost one life, and there’s hardly any left to make a new one.

“Oh, Hisao,” I whisper. I’m not all hard-hearted, you know. I’m not as evil as some people think.

“Miki?”

I lead him round the corner, knee my unlocked room door open, and mentally abandon my ramen in the pantry to whomever gets hungry enough to eat abandoned ramen. He stumbles, almost, as he crosses my threshold. Why is he in school uniform? Doesn’t he have anything else to wear?

I come to a dead stop, uncertain about what to do next. He bumps into me from behind, his hand still twisting in mine. He’s hard in his trousers. That’s some kind of life, at least. It gives me something to work with.

I turn myself, and turn him. The door clicks shut. Only my study lamp is giving light, and it isn’t very bright. He smells nice, somehow, as if he’d showered before changing back into his uniform. Weird.

My hand’s between us now. I use my stump to nudge his right hip towards me. He’s not very tall, so I’m looking almost directly into his eyes. He looks frightened, and I can feel his breath coming quickly. It’s as if he’s afraid to be passionate about anything; it’s as if the car engine is attempting to catch but his foot is on the brake instead of the accelerator. Fuck!

Do I dare to do this? My robe wiggles free. I wonder distractedly if he likes dark rose satin. He lets his eyes fall, pretending not to see, but not wanting to pull away. Both my nipples are misbehaving now.

“What are…” I have no idea what he’s going to say. Moving my hand down his belly is enough to stop him from saying it.

*****

He’s lying naked in my bed, lost in thoughts that are the kind you can be lost in. I read desperation, despair. I’ve failed. The only reason he had any life at all was that he’d been storing it in him since the day the girl with the black hair decided to declare her love for him. And now, he’s let go.

He looks relieved, tired, drained. The relief is the kind that man has when he’s discharged his last duty before the end. I feel it sticky on me, sad, fruitless, cooling in the dark room.

We’ve come so far, but not further. I prop myself on my right side and look at him. Wearily, he looks back. That weary look is a shock to me. He’s only that far away from being nothing at all.

“How’re you feeling, dude?” I say, trying to sound cheerful.

“I don’t know. I’ve never felt like this before. At least I won’t die a virgin.”

I grab my pillow and slug him. He smiles, but not convincingly, and doesn't respond in a normal human way. Instead, he shifts his head away from my pillow and asks, “Why do you keep your…” —he gestures at my bandaged left arm.

I sigh. “Do you want to see it, Hisao Nakai?”

“I’ve seen everything else already.”

I glare at him, but the creases around his eyes tell me that this is his last joke. I feel a tiny bit of misery walk across my heart.

“Can you accept what my left arm is?” I ask, making it sound pointlessly romantic, as if I’m a badly written character in some manga.

He nods, more curious than accepting.

“Say it,” I request, my voice too soft for it to be a demand.

“Yeah,” he says, a little sleepily.

Carefully, without breaking eye contact, I begin to unwrap my bandages. First, the elastic cover that keeps everything clean. Then, the gauze which keeps prying eyes away. Then, the leather map that covers the tattoos on what’s left of my left arm.

He looks down, and his eyes open really wide. “Hnnnnnggh,” he says, something in him beginning to twitch.

I don’t want him to die just from looking at some weird tattoos, so I calm him down. I tense my muscles and relax them, let him watch the patterns move in my colourful forearm and across my stump.

His eyes eventually close. I feel him in me, again and again, pulsing, groaning.

*****

I smuggle him out at half past four in the morning, when the security patrols are least likely to be out and about. His body is limp, but I’m strong enough to get him into a more likely location, a quiet spot next to a vending machine outside the boys’ dorm.

As I put him down, he mutters, “Why did they cut off your hand?” He sounds as if he’s dreaming, or as if he’s bewildered by illusions.

He’s asked the right question, but it doesn’t matter. I have to be truthful to him now: we’re bound by blood and fire, by the essence of life, by water and spirit. I bend and whisper into his ear, “Witchcraft.”

*****

Ninety minutes later, I’m at the track early enough to bump into Ibarazaki, that smug little twit with the dangerous lack of consideration. She decides to make it a contest even though all I want is a morning run. This morning, without trying, I get so close to her that she feels threatened, so I relent and ease off.

“Ha!” she says, “Good try, Miura!” and saunters away, pleased to have beaten me again. I smile to myself even as I snarl, “Fuck off, Ibarazaki!” back at her.

I look down at my nicely-rewrapped stump. Inside, the spirit trap is quiet, brimming with freely-given essence. If I’d wanted to, I’d have lapped her. But I don’t waste the stuff of life on petty victories.

The next day it will be the festival. It might be then, or the day after. Poor Hisao, so determined to end it all. It’s probably drinking with his neighbour that will get him. I owe it to him to use his essence well. I walk back to the changing rooms, knowing that part of my stickiness isn’t my own. In the hot shower, I mutter a few words of blessing, and let his memory go free.

=====
alt index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#49—'Sinistra') (20160610)

Post by WillDfly » Mon Jun 20, 2016 10:44 pm

You know, I never really considered that supernatural would work with KS. I mean, the girls, their differences and their stories are already somewhat otherwordly; giving it another layer of unbelievable seems like a bad idea no matter how you slice it. But man, Brythain makes it work. Maybe its because they are short stories or because they are alternative ones from the very title, but it is, nonetheless, a demonstration of skill and creativity if I've ever seen one. For those left behind by their loved ones or lurking right behind unsuspecting characters, there's no half-assing anywhere in sight.
The "normal" stories are great as well, unsurprisingly, but the supernatural ones really surprised me.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#49—'Sinistra') (20160610)

Post by brythain » Tue Jun 21, 2016 10:10 pm

WillDfly wrote:You know, I never really considered that supernatural would work with KS. I mean, the girls, their differences and their stories are already somewhat otherwordly; giving it another layer of unbelievable seems like a bad idea no matter how you slice it. But man, Brythain makes it work. Maybe its because they are short stories or because they are alternative ones from the very title, but it is, nonetheless, a demonstration of skill and creativity if I've ever seen one. For those left behind by their loved ones or lurking right behind unsuspecting characters, there's no half-assing anywhere in sight.
The "normal" stories are great as well, unsurprisingly, but the supernatural ones really surprised me.
Thank you very much for your very kind comments. The two years (and a bit) that I've spent here have honed my art at the hands of our many colleagues who have contributed thought, tough commentary, sound advice, and sharp criticism. If not for them, I'd not be writing fiction at all, frankly; almost all my non-academic writing is in these forums. There's a sort of shout-out list in the Main Index for 'After The Dream', if you feel like looking up some of the people who've helped me develop. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#50—'Source Code') (20170202)

Post by brythain » Wed Aug 03, 2016 3:01 am

Once upon a time.


Source Code

There is a mailbox here, at the beginning of things, in front of the white house with the scrupulously maintained lawn. There always is, whether the house is Japanese, or American, or somewhere utterly different—the boxes may vary, the idea of ‘box’ might vary, as does the concept of ‘mail’, but it’s a place to put stuff that one entity might want to make available to another.

> OPEN MAILBOX

Well, that’s how one often starts the game. This game is not so very different.

[You open the mailbox.]

> LOOK MAILBOX

We’ve gone quite far beyond simple verb-noun parsers, into the realms of lives with choices. Yet, people trust a simple syntax, even though they might hate and fear it. So, the mailbox opens to reveal its contents.

[The mailbox contains an old silver disk about as large as your hand and covered in plastic. It is wedged into a folded sheet of A4-sized paper with text on it.]

> OH GOOD

[I don’t understand that statement. But if you’re happy, that’s good.]

> READ PAPER

[You’ll have to get it first.]

> GET PAPER

[You have a folded sheet of A4-sized paper with text on it. Inside it is an old silver disk.]

> READ DISK

[You’re not that kind of machine.]

> READ PAPER

[The paper says: ‘Welcome to Cataphract Soldier, a game about mounted warriors weighed down by heavy armour while striving to make the best of their sad lives.]

[Kidding. That’s a different game. If you want to know what the paper really says, you’ll have to read between the lines.]

It’s just what he likes. Good ‘old-school’ interactive fiction with minimal graphics and no flashy stuff.

“Boy!” comes a roar from downstairs. “Come down for dinner!”

The boy hesitates for a moment. ‘The threat of execution is more powerful than the execution of threat,’ as his father had once quoted. Regretfully, he saves a bookmark and puts his machine to sleep.

Then he quickly sends off a text message on his phone to a mysterious person named ‘S’: *[Got it, thanks!]

The reply flashes shortly afterwards. [Have fun!]

*****

*[This is about your life in school, isn’t it?] he later texts to the mysterious ‘S’. Four days have passed, during which he’s navigated multiple endings, some rather perverse, some horrific, some awfully sweet, some oddly familiar in character or content.

He’s also suffering from emotional whiplash and an overpowering curiosity to know what’s really happening. Waiting for S to reply is torture.

S is normally busy busy busy, for as long as he’s known. It takes time before he receives a response, and that’s a little after dinner.

[Yep. Something like that.]

*[Is the one you meet in the tea-room someone we know?]

[Ha, don’t you think it’s a compelling resemblance?]

*[The ending was pretty sad. Would L really be like that?]

[Well, you clearly haven’t played that one through to the end.]

*[Ah. That means I know who A is. True to life. How about the friend?]

[Why? Have you got a crush? ;-) ]

*[Ewwww. No! But H is quite sweet. Shy.]

[Yes, H is really like that. And all seven endings are equally likely.]

*[That’s scary. There’s only one good ending! What about yours?]

[Mine? I made it the least exciting. Don’t want to give anybody ideas.]

*[It’s got me in it. Me with undesirable traits added in. Also, Dad.]

[ ;D ]

*[If he finds out, you’re dead.]

[Nah, he’ll be happy I made some money out of personal initiative.]

*[You’re selling this stuff?]

[Yes. Crazy people round the world seem to like Japanese high school stories with sex and violence. And cool objects of affection.]

*[Wow. And people missing limbs?]

[Haha, I was wondering when you’d mention the other two possibilities. Or mine.]

*[I did mention your life. However, I had to avoid the one in which you were the main objective once I figured out what was going on. Would be so wrong.]

[Oh, true. Sorry. Did you prefer unarmed or footloose combat?]

*[Bad jokes!]

[Haha, sorry again. So, which one?]

*[I liked R. I wanted to spend time inside that head. I’m not the running type, so E was a bit too physical.]

[I’ll be sure to let them know. ;) ]

*[No!]

[R probably would want to spend time in your head, come to think of it.]

*[Please!]

[You owe me a cheesecake or some good fried chicken when I get home.]

*[Fine. But which story is most like reality?]

[None. I don’t know if they’ll happen yet.]

*[Oh.]

[But there’s a new boy in class, who’s replaced one of our classmates.]

=====
alt index
Last edited by brythain on Thu Feb 02, 2017 11:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#51—'Call/Response') (20160803)

Post by brythain » Thu Feb 02, 2017 11:20 pm

Once in a while, there are coincidences which shape unexpected outcomes.
(Also, apologies for the odd sequencing. #50 was written before this one, but completed after.
I've had to reshuffle so #50 is where this one used to be. Please scroll up if you've missed it.)



Call And Response

“You know, Nakai-san, we really should call him. It’s been, what, two months since we last talked to Hisao?” Mrs Nakai looked over to sleepy Mr Nakai before fishing the phone out of his pocket.

“Don't you want to talk to your son?” she asked the comatose father. Mr Nakai mumbled a few indistinct words in reply before shifting onto his side.

Mrs Nakai—who used to be named ‘Natsume’ before she became ‘Mrs Nakai’—shrugged before punching in the digits for her son’s phone. “I hope I'm not interrupting anything?” she wondered aloud.

*****

“How’s the apartment, Hisao?” she asked for the second time. Curious. Her son had been known to be easily distracted, but this was different. He seemed as if he was concealing something, or trying hard not to say something.

“It’s good, Mother. Easy to maintain. I’m keeping it neat and every space is used well.”

In the background, she heard an odd thump. “Ow!”

“Son, are you okay?”

“Oh, sorry, it’s nothing. Just, eh, bumped into, um, a piece of furniture.”

“Don’t fall out of the loft!” she said, concerned. The little platform had been a simple way to add more space without extending the footprint of the tiny apartment.

“Don’t worry, no chance. How’s Father? Is he well?”

She relaxed. This was a topic she and Hisao had often bonded over. “Ah, son, you know your father, he’s always eating too much. He used to be as skinny as you when we got married! And now he eats too much, he falls asleep and can’t carry out a civil conversation with his wife.”

“Ah, yes, that’s Father all right. Tell him to eat less rice.”

Hisao’s mother laughed. “Might as well tell him to eat with his feet. You know he won’t give up his rice.”

There was a sudden silence.

“Hisao? Are you there?”

Thump.

“Hisao!”

“Oh, sorry again, mother. Yes, eating with one’s feet is certainly not easy, although if you had no arms, it might become a necessity?” He sounded oddly breathless.

“Hisao?” Natsume Nakai frowned at her phone. What an odd thing her son had said! Had she heard correctly? “Have you been taking all your medication?”

*****

I repeated back to him, “ ‘Have you been taking all your medication?’ ”

“Yes, that became Mother’s code-word!”

I laughed. In those days, I didn’t often laugh that way; my persona had been that of an overzealous interrogator most of the time. “Seriously, Hisao, who were you with at that time? Was it Shizune or Hanako?”

I could tell he felt the heat in his face, but only a bit. His blush was rather half-hearted. “It was 2012,” he said, “and at that time, Rin was living in my apartment. This was just before I returned to Yamaku as a teacher.”

“You and Rin Tezuka?” I stage-whispered, pretending that I hadn’t heard about this at all.

“No, not really. I let her use the loft because she couldn’t stay in the atelier above the art gallery any more. Mother couldn’t quite understand it. She could sort of understand pre-marital sex, but not the idea of having a girl live in your house and you not doing anything about it.”

“Are you looking wistful, Mr Nakai?”

“No!” he said sharply, but he did look a little nostalgic.

“But why did she need a code-word?”

“I think she thought I was becoming a playboy and she didn’t want Dad to find out. Dad tends to joke with her that if not for her, he’d have become one himself.”

“That makes very little sense.”

He shrugged, an annoying tuft of hair wagging in the wind behind him. “Families are like that.”

“So how did it work?”

“She’d ask me that question before dropping by with Dad, and I was supposed to say, ‘I might have missed one or two,’ if there was anyone living in the apartment besides me. If I said, ‘I’m down to just five,’ it meant that it was a serious relationship involving… you know, that kind of thing. And if I said, ‘Everything’s fine,’ then it meant I was living alone.”

I looked at him. I suspect I had a mischievous gleam in my eye. Hisao had always been slightly prudish in public, although from all accounts this was less true in private. “Did you ever make a mistake?”

“Yeah,” he said, with an embarrassed little chuckle. “There was once.”

“Once?”

“I told mother, ‘I missed one but there were serious side-effects,’ because it was the truth and I forgot about the code-words. She thought I meant I had got someone pregnant.”

I couldn’t help but smile again, suppressing laughter. Hisao had always been one for complicating his own life. But it was 2020, eight years after all that had happened, and I had more serious questions for him.

“Sadly, we can’t keep digressing into these humorous aspects of your past, Hisao. Let’s get back to the real topic of my little visit.”

“Go ahead,” he replied, suddenly looking a lot more alert and intelligent.

“This research project that Rika Katayama is involved in? The one with the ruthenium technology in it? Have you been taking part in her research?”

Hisao favoured me with a slightly dirty look. Then he sighed and looked down. “You know,” he began, before pausing for a couple of seconds. “I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if I’d gone after some other girl in our class.”

“Digressions, Mr Nakai?”

A corner of his mouth twisted slightly as he considered his reply. “Not really, Natsume. I just wanted to let you know that I never wondered about you.”

I felt an irrational bit of irritation at what seemed to be a typical male power-play—and one uncharacteristic of Hisao Nakai too. “No surprises there,” I responded, waving my hand flatly as if to tell him to get on with it and stop side-tracking.

“I never wondered, because I always knew. You reminded me too much of Mother when Mother was being Mother. And when you were nice, you were too much like Mother when Mother was being my best friend. Okay, digression over. Let’s talk about bioengineering.”

The rest of our conversation went well. We parted as friends, and would not meet again for about a year—at an interview during which I’d have to pretend I hadn’t met him for many more years. But after speaking with Hisao about his mother, I sometimes wondered: what if I’d –not– been named ‘Natsume’?

=====
alt index | natsume's narrative
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (2017)

Post by brythain » Mon Dec 25, 2017 2:51 pm

This one's written for the 2017 Secret Santa project initiated by ProfAllister.

Victim: Visionary

Prompt: Iwanako x Hanako: Hanako is scarring flame and scorching heat, while Iwanako is freezing winter and deathly chill; Hyperpyrexia vs. Hypothermia; etc.

Please excuse the rustiness. I've not written for a long while!
Also, the story got hijacked by an unexpected visitor.



Truth and Consequences

Her hair flows turbulently across her shoulders. It’s always completely, thoroughly brushed until it glows. They say she burns, she is feverish, that there’s something about the way she moves and feels, something about the way her fingers reach out flickering like tongues of flame before they dart away like falling sparks.

Others say, however, that she is cold, distant, as if a screen of fine steel weave has fallen like a curtain between her heart and the warmth of human kindness. She herself has nothing to say about that; haters will always hate, is what she knows.

Her eyes are always so far away. The way she lets her lustrous hair fall across her face, it’s as if only one eye sees, while the other one was sacrificed for some horrific and unimaginable truth. For those who have seen both eyes, they say that neither one really looks at you.

Those two eyes, they have many stories to tell. They are the eyes of a compulsive storyteller, an obsessive narrator of events. One is shadowed, cold and dead as mud; the other is bright, golden as the scales of a carp. This is what Natsume Ooe looks like to those who dare to gaze beyond her crippled hands, who feel her touch and listen to her tales.

I know about this, because I’ve known her a very long time.

* * *

“Iwanako was always cold after that one day,” she says.

“How do you know?” the boy asks, his careless brown hair ruffled, his voice full of confusion. “How did you know Iwanako?”

“We were in primary school together for a couple of years, back in Yokohama. We’ve kept in touch.”

“What did she say about me?”

“She said that she thought she had killed you, that she thinks she ruined your life forever, and that she was full of shame. ”

“Was?”

“She’s over it now. She wishes you all the best, and she said she’d written to you, but you never replied. She’s okay with that. Once she said to me that if she were in your position, she wouldn’t know what to say either.”

“I’ve been busy,” he says defensively. “I don’t know how to write letters well, I don’t know what’s appropriate. In the letter she told me never to give up, to keep going, but that it might be best we never met again.”

“She liked you a lot.”

“I…” he falls silent. In his mind, the boy tries desperately to remember that one cold winter’s day, the only day it ever snowed in his hometown that year. “I can’t remember what it was like between us,” he says, lamely.

“That’s okay too, I guess. Iwanako’s decided she’ll never confess her love to anyone ever again, but that’s no longer any of your business. She’ll be polite if you write, but I think she won’t be anything but fake-cheerful at best.”

“You… Ooe, you’re horrible.”

Her hands and her ankles hurt. She’s seen how the boy looks at her friend Hanako, and she knows he doesn’t really look at poor crippled Natsume anyway.

“Yeah, I’m horrible.”

Confused, he watches as she walks away.


* * *

He should have known. She should have known. Actually, Natsume should’ve expected it. After all, she and Naomi knew Hanako best.

But months had passed and Hanako’s birthday had come, and from past experience, the girls knew better than to act all cheery and happy on that day, the day she lost her family and half the beauty of her face. The boy himself hadn’t figured out anything, and the only one who could have helped him out of his terminal cluelessness had gone off to Scotland.

And so it is that Hanako is hiding, and the boy decides to check on her. We all know what happened next, it’s in that video game they made about teenage choices and why young Japanese people commit suicide.

Yes, she explodes. The boy, he’s like the high explosives around the heart of the Nagasaki device, creating a fatal implosion that makes everything go critical. Implosion into an instant of silence, then the spreading wrath of what follows, filling the empty space with impossible heat and sound so loud it breaks the world.

It breaks his world. Even in that game, when you hit the right moment, it can break some players. And that, my friends, is only a reflection of the truth.

Naomi and Natsume are standing some distance away when they hear the screaming. They are only slightly closer when the boy, his face ashamed, stumbles past them and towards the rest of his life, however much is left of it.

* * *

Some years have gone by now. I turn to the woman I’ve known for so long, and I ask her, “What did you just say? That’s a silly idea if I’ve ever heard one.”

The woman looks at me, her oddly imbalanced grin infectious. “It makes literary sense, doesn’t it? Time has passed. These people deserve the right to move on with their lives, but they have to meet at least once before that’s possible.”

“Right!” I say brightly and with sarcasm. “You’ll get one of them from down south and one of them from up north, neither of which has a desire to meet the other one. And you’ll just… smush them together and then, what?”

“And we’ll see if something happens!” she replies brightly, in that oddly feral way I’ve come to both love and distrust. She sees those twins warring within me, and makes a face. “Aww, come on, you want to know the end of the story too!”

The problem is, I do. And probably, I think somewhat irrelevantly and irreverently, so do some of the people who’ve played that damned game. And this too is a game, one of Natsume’s games.

I sigh. “All right, which one do you want to do?”

“Let’s rock-paper-scissors for it,” she whispers, her grin broadening.

“I swear, you’re as bad as Shizune was.”

“Ah, but this is one game I always beat that girl in!”

She’s right, of course. And as usual, I lose, arthritis or not.

* * *

The first leg has to do with inviting Hanako to a little remembrance ritual. It’s the right time of year, and shy or not, she can’t possibly refuse.

The second leg is about doing the same thing with Iwanako. This is harder, because as a rule, this woman is reclusive and exclusive.

In both cases, we hire the same contractor. His nasal voice and shady behaviour aside, he has always been reliable as long as you do the right thing by him. And he has always appreciated the black arts of misdirection, having practised them himself for so long.

“Can you do it?” Natsume asks.

“Haha, who cannot do such a thing if fuelled by sufficient high-quality pizza and high-end duty free booze?”

“I take it that you are accepting our contract?”

“Ah, what is it to me if one group of feminists wishes to target another group of feminists? Besides, both of you are good friends who appreciate a manly picnic.”

I cut in. “Be sure you have the stone up and everything in place.”

“Oh, no problem at all. I have always wondered if you would have the guts to try it.”

“It’s Christmas. We have to give a Christmas present that isn’t a huge barrel of fried chicken!”

“That one, you can give to me. Along with the rest of your untraceable payment. I am happy to accept butt-coins, of course.”

Natsume and I can both imagine him twirling his garish scarf in triumph. It provokes nostalgia in me, profound irritation in Natsume. But at least, we’re good to go.

* * *

We sit some distance from the grave, observing. It’s cool in December; the forecast for this week is freezing, just as it was roughly a decade ago. There was only one day that year on which there was snow in Yokohama, though. Poor, unlucky Iwanako.

“She’s here,” whispers Natsume.

“Who?” I whisper back.

“Hanako. She’d always try to be on time. In fact, she’d try to be early.”

“I remember a bit of that.”

Her hair still hides the oddly unfeatured half of her face. The rest is still pretty. My jaw clenches involuntarily as I recall a night many years ago.

We watch as she sees the gravestone, approaches it cautiously. A strange expression crosses her face. She looks hunted. She stops, as if halted by terror in her tracks. She clenches her fists as she looks at the stone, and looks as if she’d rather drink the whiskey than leave the little bottle she’s carrying at the foot of the grave.

I gasp as she kicks the gravestone. It’s unexpected. Even at this distance, the crudeness of the act appalls me. I can barely hear her, but I think she is saying something like, “This was not my fault. I am not to blame! Silly boy!” Later, we’ll go through the recordings and find out what exactly she said.

A hand tightens on my wrist.

“Look who’s just entered the cemetery.”

I follow Natsume’s pointing finger.

“Is that Iwanako?”

The woman looks unfamiliar, a businesswoman in formal attire even on Christmas day. I think I might recognize her. I’m not sure I do.

There’s also a curious symmetry at work. My breath clouds the air.

“You see it too?”

Two ladies with long hair, pale faces, the same height and build. Yes, I see that. But they also look very different. Hanako is pretty despite her grievous scars. Iwanako’s face is stony, as if anything pretty has been plastered over.

Awkwardly, they greet each other, when neither of them can avoid it. They’ve found themselves at the same grave, two strangers who just happen to have business visiting the same person. It isn’t a grave they ever thought about much, I think.

Hanako walks away. I can imagine her saying something like, “I’ve-got-to-go-I’m sorry-please-excuse-me.”

Iwanako looks at the retreating back of the other woman. I wonder what she’s thinking. She essays a tentative step, and then stops herself. It would be rude to intrude, even to say that it doesn’t matter.

After Hanako’s left, Iwanako stands there for a long while, occasionally muttering to herself. She does the right things, attempting to clean the stone even in the cold weather, lighting the candles. She clears up afterwards, before making her lonely way back to the car park.

So that’s it. The big encounter hasn’t been much of one.

I look at Natsume. She looks back, expressionless. No help there.

* * *

“So what did we learn?” she asks, now that we’re back in the dry heat of the hotel. She’s undressing, moving carefully as her stiff joints creak.

“Nothing?” I reply, sarcastic and tired.

“Have you heard the recordings?” she murmurs, taking her glasses off.

“On the way back, you played them loudly enough.”

“Sounds as if Hanako is quite certain that Nakai-san was never her problem. Can’t understand the residual anger, however. Iwanako, on the other hand, hopes that Nakai-san had a good life, short though it might have been. She seems oddly happy that the man is gone.”

“I suppose.”

“Nakai-san,” she says teasingly, staring at me with her differently-coloured eyes, “you can’t win all the girls. You only won one, and now you know what the others think of you. The truth hurts, but it’s a good kind of pain, isn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“It’s Christmas. We give presents to each other, right?”

She grins crookedly and climbs under the sheets. I feel a thawing inside. Her gaze always seems so far away, but tonight, it’s all mine.

“What kind of present was this, Natsume?”

“Well, you put a wedding band on someone’s arthritic finger, and that’s love. If I gave love back to you, that’d be copying. So I thought I’d get some truth for you, and they say truth will make you free.”

“Don’t I deserve love?”

“For you, Nakai-san, it’s free.”

There’s a moment during which I find myself thinking:

Those two eyes, they have many stories to tell. They are the eyes of a compulsive storyteller, an obsessive narrator of events. One is shadowed, cold and dead as mud; the other is bright, golden as the scales of a carp. This is what Natsume Ooe looks like to those who dare to gaze beyond her crippled hands, who feel her touch and listen to her tales.

Then the lights go out, and we fall away into the warmth of our own story.

=====
alt index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Dec 26, 2017 5:43 pm

Probably not quite what your victim was expecting as a christmas gift :-)
Also I thought the meta parts didn't fit the story all that well.

As for the end, I'm still not quite sure what is supposed to be happening there. I've several ways of interpreting the last scene but neither of them makes complete sense...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by brythain » Tue Dec 26, 2017 10:21 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Probably not quite what your victim was expecting as a christmas gift :-)
Also I thought the meta parts didn't fit the story all that well.

As for the end, I'm still not quite sure what is supposed to be happening there. I've several ways of interpreting the last scene but neither of them makes complete sense...
Haha, quite certain said victim was not expecting it. But I aimed for deliberate ambiguity and am glad I hit it! Thanks!
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by Leaty » Thu Dec 28, 2017 2:02 pm

Goodness, it's been much too long since I read a Brythain ficlet. It's like coming home to my abuela's soup.

Also, wait. Was this Hisao/Natsume?

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by brythain » Fri Dec 29, 2017 3:52 am

Leaty wrote:Goodness, it's been much too long since I read a Brythain ficlet. It's like coming home to my abuela's soup.

Also, wait. Was this Hisao/Natsume?
Thank you, ma'am! Yes indeed it was Hisao/Natsume, a pairing I occasionally mull over. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Dec 29, 2017 1:43 pm

That was one of the interpretations I had in mind, but then
- why would "truth" be a gift that Natsume had to give to Naomi instead of vice versa?
- how did Natsume learn what "the others" think of her?
That line felt more like Naomi was adressing the ghost of Hisao...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by brythain » Fri Dec 29, 2017 7:10 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:That was one of the interpretations I had in mind, but then
- why would "truth" be a gift that Natsume had to give to Naomi instead of vice versa?
- how did Natsume learn what "the others" think of her?
That line felt more like Naomi was adressing the ghost of Hisao...
It's a very creepy effect, a lot like 'the ghost of Christmas past', eh? :)

Except that the big question, saved for a follow-up story, is... what happened to Naomi?

Natsume learns what others think of her through Hisao, of course...
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sat Dec 30, 2017 9:55 am

Every answer you give just confuses me more, so I guess I'll stop asking questions...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by Oddball » Mon Jan 01, 2018 6:08 pm

Certainly interesting and original. I agree that the meta stuff doesn't fit though. I'm also not quite sure what the point of it was.

Natsume also strikes me as an incredibly cold individual.
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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#52—'Truth and Consequences') (S

Post by brythain » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:24 pm

Oddball wrote:Certainly interesting and original. I agree that the meta stuff doesn't fit though. I'm also not quite sure what the point of it was.

Natsume also strikes me as an incredibly cold individual.
Hmm, yeah, I'm a bit rusty (possibly arthritic) from lack of creative endeavour. Natsume's a stiff personality, not cold. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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