The Eternity of Haruhi Suzumiya
"Let's just get things back to normal and then, then everything will be fine."
I awoke with a gasp, as if all the air had rushed into my lungs in one gulp. My fingers gripping the edge of the desk in front of me, like a sailor lost at sea.
Wait a minute, my desk?
My mind raced as my eyes searched wildly for clues to my situation. Last night I'd been asleep with Haruhi in my arms, comforting her after a rather tumultuous day. But now, I was back in the classroom at North High, sitting at my usual desk.
Sitting bolt upright, I looked around the room. Taking in the bright summer's morning, as the class chatted to each other at the start of another normal day. At the front, Ryoko Asakura giggled at something one of the other girls said and then gave me a friendly smile. Everything seemed so normal that it was unnerving, so I turned to search for the most abnormal thing in the room.
Haruhi was dozing in a patch of sunlight, her head resting on crossed arms. Sensing my gaze, Haruhi soon awoke, stretching out and yawning like a cat. Then her eyes jerked open and scanned the room until they focussed back on me.
"Why are you giving me that look," barked Haruhi, her cheeks flushing a little. "Were you having some weird dream or something?"
A chill raced up my spine, it hadn't all been a dream had it or had the world reset again?
No, I could remember everything. My memories of previous worlds, thousands of variations stretching into infinity. The terrifying realisation that I was a creation of Haruhi's warped mind, everything. But then, how had I got here and what in the hell had Haruhi done this time?
"Haruhi," I said, stumbling over my phrasing. "Last night we were sleeping, at yours. Do you happen to know, how we got here?"
She blinked for a moment, looking confused. Her expression becoming increasingly disturbed until with a snap, she shook it off. "Don't be ridiculous Kyon," She stammered, her face now scarlet. "Like I'd let you do that. You were no doubt having some perverted dream at your desk, weren't you?"
Punctuating her sentence with a strike from a rolled-up workbook. Forcing me to turn away while I weathered repeated blows to my back as Haruhi hurled abuse in my direction.
Grimacing, I looked about the classroom for clues and at first glance, there didn't seem to be anything wrong. The rest of the class were all chatting and laughing, seeming almost too happy to be at school. Especially Taniguchi, who was having a cheerful conversation with Kunikida like he was having the time of his life. They both saw me and waved, broad grins on faces that seemed wrong somehow. Their smiles too broad, with vacant glassy eyes that gave me the chills.
I realised then, that everyone in the room had the same countenance. Asakura's empty smile giving the urge to run straight for the door. I looked towards it, surveying my escape route and I was thankful when I saw three faces looking back.
Peering around the doorframe; Koizumi, Asahina and Nagato, watched me with cautious gazes. Looking normal for once, only three high school kids that were all very worried. Their lack of empty happy smiles coming as a relief, as it meant the world was insane and not me.
Now that Haruhi had stopped hitting me and resorted to sulking, I started to stand. Planning to go over to them and find out what the hell was going on. But they all shook their heads, motioning me to sit back down. The sound of the school bell broke any argument, so with a sigh, I plonked myself back down and let the lesson begin.
But today's class only amplified the sense that something was wrong. The teacher's voice was impossible to follow, sounding more like a trumpet, than human speech. With the writing on the board reduced to blurred shapes and squiggles. The other students didn't seem to mind though and sat in rapt attention. A concept that used to be inconceivable to Taniguchi, but there he was with gazing in happiness at the board.
The only person who wasn't paying the teacher much attention was, of course, Haruhi. Who swayed behind me, humming a tune of her own devising. I turned to talk to her, but Haruhi glared and motioned that we were still in class. The smack of the teacher's hand against the board emphasizing her point.
Shaking my head as she giggled, I turned back and pretend to pay attention. But as my mind drifted I started to feel another strange sensation. Which was the unnerving feeling of time moving forward a little too fast. The class clock had no hands, but the light from the sun shifted in a noticeable way as I sat there. The natural movement of the classroom jumping every time I blinked.
The bell went again, even though it felt like I'd only been in class for half an hour at the most. I thought that it should be lunchtime, but the teacher announced in a flat voice that it was already the end of the day.
Years and even centuries of this moment caused my body to tense up. Sensing Haruhi's hand reaching around from behind me to grab my tie and dodging in the nick of time. Hoping to go and meet the others, before Haruhi could drag me off on another misadventure.
"Oh no Kyon," Haruhi scolded. "We've got an important meeting in club room now, come on."
I tried to dodge again, but she was faster. Laughing in triumph as she yanked my tie and despite my protests, we were off. Bursting from the classroom and almost bowling over Koizumi as he stood by the doorway. I gave him, along with the accompanying Nagato and Asahina an apologetic look. But Haruhi was already pulling me away, making me stumble.
"Come on you three," called Haruhi over her shoulder. "This meeting concerns the entire Brigade."
I saw the three of them look at each other with a mixture of surprise and fear, then follow. Our quintet moving through the school, following a route that didn't make any sense at all. Before crashing through the door of the club room, where Haruhi finally let go of my tie.
The club room seemed both different and the same, as I gave it a wary glance while trying to fix my tie. Masks, decorations and photos were stuck to every wall, lit by a sun that had decided to fall to evening. A rack of costumes lay waiting for Asahina, with the shelves piled with books and games for the other two. There was almost too much stuff for the room, with items seeming to phase in and out of each other as I watched.
As Haruhi stood proud at the head of the room, I collapsed into a chair with a groan. My growing sense of dread had spread to the others as they joined me at the table. Their eyes glancing about, all trying to assess the situation.
"Okay everyone, pay attention," announced Haruhi. Making us all look up, hoping to hear an explanation for this sorry mess. "I want to get the message of the SOS Brigade out there, so today we're making posters."
The looks we gave our esteemed leader varied from disappointed to incredulous. But Haruhi didn't seem to notice and kept right on talking as she heaved several rolls of paper onto the table. A pile of assorted stationary following them to roll in all directions.
"Right," continued Haruhi. "I want each of you to create something bold and dynamic, that will wow anyone who sees it."
"Haruhi," I cut in, fed up with all this messing around. "Don't we have more important things to discuss?"
Giving me a puzzled look Haruhi asked, "like what?"
"I suggest we play along for now," whispered a harsh voice in my ear.
I glanced at Koizumi and roughly pulled my sleeve free of his grasp. His frown joined by small nods from both Asahina and Nagato across the table. It seemed like I had already been outvoted, leaving me to sigh as I gave up.
"It's nothing," I said with reluctance, as Haruhi's expression became concerned. "Though I should warn you, I'm no artist."
Haruhi blinked at my sudden change in tone. "That's fine," she said. "As long as you try your best."
The atmosphere in the room became awkward enough for me to grab a sheet of paper and unfurl it. Though I lacked the artistic talent to come up with any ideas of what to draw, I thought it best to at least look busy. The others doing likewise and soon the room rustled to the sounds of pens at work. The only other sound coming from Haruhi as she strolled about the room, giving commands as she went.
There was a familiar tranquillity to our work, soothing despite the strange circumstances. Asahina's brush moving with careful strokes as she created a calligraphic masterpiece. While Nagato's design became abstract and striking, if a little difficult to understand. With Koizumi's work being clean and straightforward, if a little boring. Still, it was a damn sight better than my attempt which lay before me, an offence to the world of graphic design. Drawing a shadow to loom over me and I didn't need to look up to know who it was.
"I'm sorry Kyon," said Haruhi. "But that simply isn't good enough."
"Well, I did warn you that I have no artistic talent," I explained.
I was expecting Haruhi to scoff or even become angry, but instead, she smiled. Leaning in close she said with a hint of menace, "I know you can do it. Just look within yourself, find your muse and I'm sure you'll discover talents you never knew you had."
"I doubt that," I said with a laugh.
"It won't hurt to try Kyon," Haruhi insisted.
"Fine," I said with a sigh. "But don't get your hopes up."
But Haruhi was finished with me, waving a dismissive hand and walking off to go and harass Asahina. Meanwhile, I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to picture what I wanted to draw. Coming up with nothing, I stared at the blank sheet of paper and decided to draw some lines at random.
As I drew, I thought I could hear a familiar voice in my mind, telling me where to put each line. My hand moving almost on its own as I zoned out and let myself draw.
I didn't stop until I felt Koizumi leaning over me, looking between the poster and myself. A glance made Nagato and Asahina look over, their faces matching Koizumi's concern. Leading me to look back at my creation and grimace. It was incredible, one of the greatest pieces of design I had ever seen. Drawn and coloured with a level of precision that I was sure was impossible with a human hand.
"See, I told you could do it," announced Haruhi. Grabbing the poster and holding it up with a satisfied smile.
"Haruhi, I don't think," I started. Not sure of how to explain that I hadn't drawn it, because technically I had.
"I don't want to hear it Kyon," dismissed Haruhi. "From now on I want no more negativity in this club or anyone saying they can't when they haven't even tried."
Humming a happy tune, Haruhi stuck the four posters up, then stepped back to admire our handiwork. "Okay everyone, that will do for today," continued Haruhi. "But tomorrow I want you ready and raring for your next assignment."
Then before we could say otherwise, Haruhi gave a final farewell and strode out the door. Leaving the rest of us to stare at each other in confusion, trying to process the day's events.
I gave a tired sigh and stretched before asking, "right, so what in the hell just happened?"
"Why don't you tell us," replied Koizumi with a yawn. "You were the one drawing like a man possessed."
"If you don't mind me saying," added Asahina, resting her head on a hand. "I don't believe I've ever seen you so creative."
I looked to Nagato for an explanation, but she seemed to have zoned out. Her eyelids starting to droop further and further, until she blinked herself awake. "We must assume that Suzumiya's suggestion had some effect on you," Nagato said. "I've suspected she was capable of doing it in the past, but it's never been as clear as now."
"There is definitely something peculiar about the atmosphere here," added Asahina. "It's so relaxed that maybe it made Kyon more suggestible or something like that."
Koizumi swayed in his seat before adding, "I suspect so. Did you notice that Miss Suzumiya didn't enter the room with any art materials, nor acquired any from the locker? Yet she still produced them from nowhere and... " Koizumi stopped and looked with almost drunken confusion at the table. Before continuing with, "… and now they've all disappeared."
We all looked about for the pens and paper that we had all used only moments ago, but they were gone. On the wall, the posters themselves remained, but there was no evidence for their creation.
"It would seem that the world is in a very fluid state," said Koizumi. "With Miss Suzumiya's whims becoming reality at a moment's notice."
"Great," I said, feeling ever so, ever so tired. "When I thought things couldn't get any crazier, they suddenly have."
"We must take care of what we say to her, especially you Kyon," said Nagato. "Reality could descend into chaos if Suzumiya's imagination goes out of control."
"Don't make Haruhi anymore insane than she already is, got it," I said. "But what are we going to do otherwise?"
"We should play along for the time being," said Asahina with half-lidded eyes. Her auburn hair tumbling over the table as she lay her head on her folded arms. "I'm hopeful things will settle down after a while."
Koizumi gave a slow nod and I looked for a response from Nagato. But the nodding of her head was from sleep rather than agreement. Despite that, I found the motion agreeable and felt my own eyes starting to close.
"Yeah, that sounds like a plan," I drawled, but no one was listening. Asahina gave a light snore as Koizumi rested his head on his chest. Nagato stirred for a moment, seeming to fight the lethargy that filled the room, but lost.
I stretched a final time and the slumped forward. The sweet bliss of sleep overtaking me and embracing me in its entirety.
The rush of air into my lungs woke me with such a start, my eyes bulged from their sockets. Blazing sunlight leaving me blind as the soft titter of Asakura's laughter reached me. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw my classroom come into view and I groaned with despair.
Everything looked the same as yesterday, as the feeling of déjà vu, created its own déjà vu in my tired brain. Turning, I saw Haruhi peering at me and the feeling of dread became overwhelming.
"Not again," I muttered. Pushing myself from my seat to stumble in desperation towards the door. Heedless of Haruhi calling after me as I was too focused on finding the others to care. Turning into the hallway to breathe a sigh of relief as Koizumi and Asahina rushed towards me.
"The day has repeated itself hasn't it?" I asked. Fearing the answer, that I knew was coming.
They peered past me into the classroom where Haruhi was frowning back. "It feels that way," said Asahina. "But now it's worse than that, this world is far too strange even by Miss Suzumiya's standards."
"We need to investigate the situation before reaching any conclusions," stated Koizumi.
"Oh please," I said. "I think we all know what Haruhi's done. The question is how bad it is and how long have we been stuck here?"
I rolled my eyes at their clueless faces. "Where's Nagato," I asked, looking about. "She's usually the knowledgeable one on this kind of thing."
A nervous cough from behind me made me spin around. Revealing our diminutive companion, who blushed at the sudden attention. Her eyes failing to meet mine as they darted about behind her glasses. The sudden change made me cautious as I said, "how long have you been wearing glasses?"
Nagato took her glasses off in surprise as if she had only then realised they were there. Squinting for a moment, before putting them back on and blinking.
"I'm not sure," Nagato said. "I rushed here the moment I awoke and hadn't even realised I was wearing them."
"What about that Data Entity thingy," I said. "Have you heard from them, because we could do with their help?"
"No," replied Nagato, shaking her head. "I don't believe they exist here, in this world."
I sighed, turning to Koizumi and Asahina to ask, "what about your people?
Their troubled expressions already told me the answer was going to be a negative one. "If time is repeating like this," said Asahina. "There's a good chance that there is no future for me to contact. I was considering leaving a message, then with luck, my superiors could organise a rescue."
"It could be worth a try," I said. "Do have any idea where we should leave it?"
"Well it's a very long shot," Asahina replied. "But your sister might be able to help."
"My sister," I asked puzzled. Realising I was even more exhausted than I thought, as I struggled to picture the annoying brat.
"It's difficult to explain, but she should be able to pass the message on to the right people," replied Asahina. Rummaging through her bag for a pen and paper before asking, "What was her name again?"
The silence that followed that question was so heavy I could hear the beat of my own heart. The pounding increasing as I tried to find an answer. I could picture her face and that irritating voice telling me my phone was ringing. But what was her name?
The distress must have shown on my face as I saw Asahina go pale. "It's okay Kyon, I'm sure we'll remember soon," she said with a tremulous voice. "In the meantime, I'm sure I leave a message for someone else to…to…"
Asahina's stuttered into silence as her eyes went wild in panic. She stumbled backwards and would have fallen if it wasn't for Koizumi's quick reflexes. Looking at him in desperation Asahina stammered, "I can't remember them, Itsuki. My colleagues, my superiors, my family, they're all gone."
A moment of distress flickered over Koizumi's face as he looked down at Asahina. "It would seem we're all affected by this amnesia," he said, trying to keep his voice steady. "I too am having trouble recalling the other members of my Organisation and it is most troubling."
We all looked back to Nagato, hoping for something that would verify our experience. She squirmed under the attention and said, "I'm trying to recall any details about the Entity. But it only feels like something that I might have read about in a book once. I remember being an interface and how that felt, just not the details."
"Well, I hope you haven't forgotten me," came a voice from behind Nagato. As Asakura wrapped her arms around the smaller girl. "Because I certainly haven't forgotten you, Yuki."
Nagato squeaked as Asakura giggled, but I didn't feel any malice in the embrace. Still, with the class president's happy features, it was a very unsettling scene. Especially when she gave a sweet smile and said, "it's time for class now Kyon. You four have plenty of time..."
Asakura's words came to a jarring halt. Her whole body frozen in place mid-sentence.
I reached out to touch her but snapped my hand back as Haruhi yelled from the classroom. "Yes Kyon, hurry up and get in here. The lesson can't start without you, you know."
"You'd better get in there," said Koizumi, glancing at Asakura.
Nodding in nervous agreement and began to approach the classroom. Only to jump when Asakura suddenly continued, "... for you to have fun with your friends later."
Asakura didn't even notice that Nagato had escaped her embrace. Instead, grabbing my arm in stiff fingers and marching me into the classroom. Sensing that any argument was futile I sighed and let Asakura lead me to my desk. Taking one last look at my clubmates, before the door slammed shut on its own. I slouched back in my chair, rubbing my upper arm and pretending to ignore the glare Haruhi was giving me.
"What was that about?" demanded Haruhi.
"You know," I said with an awkward stammer. "Club stuff."
Haruhi narrowed her eyes with suspicion. "Don't you think as your leader, I would be the one you should ask about such things?"
I could feel nervous sweat beading on my forehead as I tried to dodge the truth. Not the truth had much meaning here, with the fractured nature of our memories. I began to wonder how long it would be until we had no recollection of the worlds that came before. Though I suppose the key issue was what did Haruhi remember, this place stemmed from her mind after all. The school, the SOS Brigade, even me, had all come from there. What would happen to us if Haruhi chose to forget it all and start afresh?
I took a deep breath and said, "we were only running over what we'd done recently. Yesterday we made posters, but what did we do the day before, can you remember?"
There was a pregnant pause before Haruhi started to say, "well we err… we?"
Her face went pale as her eyes lost focus and became dark. As Haruhi wrapped her arms around herself the light seemed to dim. Not only the electric lights of the school but the very sun itself. The shadows in the corners seeming to grow, filling the corners and changing shape.
I shudder went through me as I remembered the nightmare that had pursued us before. Trying to keep my hand steady, I reached out to touch Haruhi's arm. Squeezing her sleeve in a gesture that I hoped felt reassuring.
"Yah, don't touch me!" Haruhi cried, flinging my hand away.
While I may not have reassured her, my action had snapped Haruhi back. The sunlight reaching an eye-watering level of brightness and driving the shadows back.
Looking about in confusion Haruhi regained her composure. "It… it doesn't matter what we did back then," Haruhi stammered. "The SOS Brigade is always about pressing forward into the future."
Her face glowering with a fury that brooked no argument as a glare answered anything I tried to say. Instead, dismissing me with, "anyway, it's time for the lesson to the start."
I felt someone loom over me and a teacher I had never seen before, looked down on me. I couldn't see his eyes behind the clouded grey glasses, but I could tell he wasn't happy. With reluctance, I turned to the front and listened to the unintelligible gibberish. Passing like lightning in a way that felt more like a montage than a lesson.
All too soon, the bell went to announce that it was time for club. We'd completely skipped lunch, but then I had not felt hungry at all, nor had the need for the bathroom. It seemed we didn't need to sate such basic functions in this screwed up world.
Before the bell had even finished sounding, I shot out of the classroom. Leaving Haruhi behind, desperate to get to the other Brigade members in the club room before her. But after a few corners, I realised I must have taken a wrong turning somewhere. The school corridors becoming an impossible maze that led nowhere near the club room.
In each classroom sat neat motionless rows of students, all with the same blank face. Experimentally I opened a door, but the sight of all those empty faces turning towards me in unison was too much. Sending me bolting for dear life before they had a chance to do anything else.
I must have run blind for ages, not stopping until I ran out of breath. As I tried again to get my bearings, the sound of Haruhi's voice echoed down the corridor. Appearing out of nowhere she said, "there you are Kyon, why are you dawdling around out here?"
"I was err…" I started, but Haruhi wasn't interested. Forcing me to match her step in fear of abandoned in this endless labyrinth.
"We've no time for all that," stated Haruhi. "I want to get started on the SOS Brigade's next big project." There was a pause as we rounded a corner, she announced, "Ah good, you're already here."
Asahina stood with Nagato further up the corridor, clinging to Koizumi's arm. They wheeled around at the sound of Haruhi's voice, staring at us and all looking somewhat worse for wear. They watched our approach in silence, looking at our great leader with apprehension.
"Why are you three waiting out here," Haruhi asked. "You can go in."
Gesturing at the club room door, Haruhi opened it and strode in. By the way, my compatriots were staring at the door, I knew that it hadn't been there a few moments ago. Their eyes looking between it, me and each other with clear unease.
"What happened?" I hissed. Glancing into the club room where Haruhi was sorting out her desk.
"There's no way out," replied Asahina. Her voice squeaking as her eyes went wild with terror.
"What do you mean," I asked. Though I knew by now the answer was always, that Haruhi had happened.
"Once we left you, we wanted to investigate the school and we had hoped the wider world," Nagato explained. Pausing before adding, "but everything went dark for a moment. Then when light returned, the school was an endless maze, with no entrance or exit."
My guilt must have shown as Koizumi narrowed his eyes and said, "What did you do?"
"Nothing, I only," I started. "Well after all our memories problems, I thought it would be a good idea to find out what Haruhi remembers. I didn't think it would cause those shadows to come back."
"No, you never do, think," snapped Koizumi. "How many times do I have to tell you to be careful with what you say around Miss Suzumiya."
"Do you think I want those things to appear," I exclaimed.
Koizumi took a deep breath to calm himself. "Kyon, last time it took all three of our combined powers to fend those things off," he said. with Asahina adding a frightened squeak of ascension. "This time, we are for all intents and purposes, ordinary human beings and will not stand a chance."
"I'm aware of that," I snapped back.
"What are you two arguing about?" Cut in an irritated voice from the club room. I was planning on ignoring Haruhi, but as she shouted, "just get in here." I felt my foot move of its own volition.
Koizumi looked in alarm at his own foot, which now pointed at an alarming angle towards the clubroom door. I felt Nagato bump against me as she lost her footing and Asahina almost knocked Koizumi over.
"Let's just get in there and do whatever she says," hissed Koizumi. Wrenching himself around and striding towards the door, leaving the rest of us to follow. Koizumi took a seat, along with myself and Nagato. While Asahina went to make some tea, as much for herself as for the rest of us.
I was turning to look at Haruhi, when I heard a sudden cry and snapped my head back to see Asahina clad in her maid's outfit. She returned a shaking cup to the table as the hot tea started to spill, needing to take a few deep breaths. Before taking the rest of the tea around the table, Haruhi of course getting hers first. Asahina gave Koizumi and me a wan smile as we thanked her. Then sat down, cradling her own tea in trembling hands and hid her face in her hair.
Haruhi stood and grinned as if nothing was amiss. "Right everyone," she announced. "Today we're…"
"Actually Haruhi, can we not," I cut in. Her complete obliviousness to the situation and to Asahina's faint sobs. To the shell-shocked expressions that marked Nagato and Koizumi, was starting to grate.
I ignored the pain of Koizumi kicking me in the shin under the table and levelled a glare at Haruhi. But her initial surprise, soon shifted to indignance as she glared back at me.
"and do what?" Haruhi asked with more than a hint of menace.
Unfortunately, I hadn't thought that far ahead and Haruhi's growing smile reflected that. Grasping for inspiration, I looked at the world outside. The sun glittering on the windows opposite giving a sudden urge to be out in those rays. Feeling the wind on my face and relaxing amongst the sounds of a summer's day.
Despite the risk, I said in a casual tone, "I just thought it would nice to go outside. It's a lovely day and it feels like we've been cooped up inside for too long."
I forced a smile as Koizumi drove his heel into my toes. Trying to make my request seem as nonchalant as possible while Haruhi considered it. She looked outside for a while, watching the clouds drift overhead and the breeze in the trees.
"Okay then," Haruhi said with a shrug. "Though you'll still be performing the same Brigade duties whether you're out there or in here."
Giving her a casual wave of agreement and Haruhi immediately skipped off out the door. But before I could follow her I was faced by a very angry looking Koizumi.
"What in the hell do think you're doing?" Koizumi snarled.
"Getting us outside," I snapped back.
"I warned you not to mess with things," Koizumi replied. "We've no idea what might happen."
"Well you might be happy following all Haruhi's stupid rules," I exclaimed. "But I'm not."
"Please, we must stay united if we're to get through this," cut in Nagato. "But Kyon's right, we need to expand this world."
Koizumi scoffed, "of course you'd side with him."
"I wasn't picking a side," replied Nagato. "It is merely the most progressive position."
"Miss Asahina what do you think," asked Koizumi, gesturing at the hunched figure.
She looked up, surprised at being pulled into in the argument. Sniffing and wiping her nose, Asahina said, "it would be nice to go out."
Koizumi groaned with exasperation. "Fine then," he said. "But we'd better get after Miss Suzumiya before she does something to make us hurry."
Nodding in tired agreement we stood and made for the door. But as Asahina crossed the threshold her maid outfit vanished without warning. Giving us a brief flash of something pink, before her school uniform replaced it. This was all too much for the girl and her knees buckled under her. Leaving Koizumi and myself to grab Asahina, struggling with her as we followed Nagato. Heading towards the distant Haurhi, who was tapping her foot at the head of the stairs.
Stepping outside felt amazing, but the reaction from the others was even better. Asahina taking a step away from Koizumi and myself, smiling as the wind lifted her long hair. Nagato took off her glasses and closed her eyes, drawing strength from the sun on her face. I gave Koizumi a satisfied smile as the breeze tousled his hair, making him roll his eyes in response.
"See, I told you it would be worth it," I said.
"As long as Miss Suzumiya doesn't ask for recompense for coming out here," Koizumi replied. "But still, I hadn't realised how much I'd missed this.
Further up Haruhi stood on the edge of a wall, balancing in a precarious fashion while she waited. "Come on you guys," she said. Before pirouetting and leaping off with the grace of a ballerina into a nonchalant walk. Adding, "I don't see what's so exciting out here."
Breaking from our reverie, we followed. Asahina looking refreshed and bright in the sunshine as she chatted with Koizumi. Soon coming to the slope that leads down to the baseball field, where I chose to lay down amongst the cool grass. Haruhi was less relaxed, marching back and forth at the bottom, waiting for our attention. I was every intent on ignoring her, but as always Koizumi had to interrupt my relaxation.
"So, what is the plan for today," he asked with irritating charm.
"Well today," Haruhi started with dramatic flair. But she seemed to have forgotten what it was and proceeded to search the sky for an idea. Leaving me hoping that would be the end of it, but alas it was not so.
"Today," Haruhi continued. "We are going to search the school grounds for anything mysterious or bizarre going on. This place may seem boring and ordinary, but I'm sure there are all kinds of weird stuff going on somewhere."
I gave the others a sidelong look, which they returned in agreement. Haruhi was as oblivious as ever and I assumed the plan for us was to keep it that way. I can't say I felt enthused by the idea and settled on groaning in apathy.
"Well I'm going to search from here," I said with a yawn. "Good luck."
"Oh no, Kyon," demanded Haruhi. "This is Brigade activity and all members must attend."
We all stood in perfect synchronisation and marched down the slope. Standing before Haruhi like troops on parade, all stiff apart from our terrified eyes. Refusing to give in to her demands, I forced myself to turn away. But my knees gave way and I collapsed on all fours. Sweat pouring from my brow as I looked at Haruhi's shoes, half expecting her to make me lick them.
I felt someone hunker down next to me and glanced aside to see Nagato. She looked pale and unsteady, the effort taking it out of her too.
"Going against her will not help our situation," whispered Nagato. "Your pride will not save anything if she gets angry."
"Get up you two," snapped Haruhi. Both of us feeling invisible forces yanking us to our feet. "Now let's get to the mission and I don't want to hear any complaints."
We slumped off after our great leader, the energy that had filled us when we came outside, diminishing. "I suppose it would be advantageous to see the new extent of this world," muttered Koizumi. "Though I have a feeling it doesn't extend anywhere beyond the school fence."
"Everything beyond does have a strange, painted appearance," added Asahina. "Like the backdrop of an old movie."
"Do you think if we ask Haruhi she'll create it for us?" I suggested.
"It's possible," said Koizumi. "But I'd rather wait until we've got a handle on things here."
"Well, you may like being at school for the rest of eternity," I snapped back. "But I'd rather get out of here."
"Agreed," replied Koizumi. "But we will have to be careful about how we suggest it to Miss Suzumiya."
"So, I recommend you check with us before saying anything," added Nagato.
"Okay, okay," I said. "But I won't wait forever."
"You won't," said Asahina. "Miss Suzumiya is bound to become impatient with the world as it is. I only worry that she'll create something crazy in the search for that excitement."
"The place is already far beyond crazy," I said. "It wouldn't surprise me if we found a monster behind the bike sheds."
All three of them hissed at me for silence. "Please be don't give her ideas," snapped Koizumi. "The way things are, even hearing that could cause Miss Suzumiya to make it happen."
I groaned with exasperation and said, "how in the hell are we going to get out of this mess?"
None of them answered, but their grim expressions said it all. Haruhi skipping ahead, pointing out random pieces of thankfully ordinary things. We meandered in a patrol of the school grounds, never seeing anyone else. Well, apart from the blank-faced students who walked between the buildings. Only stopping if you stood in front of them and then continuing without a reaction afterwards.
A chilling experience despite the sunshine, but still Haruhi didn't notice anything amiss. It was impossible to tell if she saw this insanity as normal or whether her subconscious mind blinded her to it. With only us seeing how bad the world was, with the worrying thought of us being abnormal and Haruhi the sane one.
After a long stroll, we completed our tour and collapsed onto a bench near the school entrance. Haruhi still pacing back and forth with her forever endless energy. Pondering the great mysteries that filled her mind, yet always missing the ones right in front of her.
"You know, I think we should do another round," said Haruhi. "I'm sure we missed something."
"Give it a rest Haruhi," I complained. "That's enough for today."
She gave me a disappointed look, but I made it clear that I didn't care. "Fine," Haruhi said. "I suppose it can wait till tomorrow, they might think we've missed them and slip up."
"Sure, whatever," I said with a shrug.
"Right, I'll see all tomorrow then," finished Haruhi. Giving a half-hearted wave goodbye and walking towards the gate.
Slouching on the bench we relaxed as Haruhi started to turn the corner of the school building. Then once she was out of sight, we leapt into action. Moving in hot pursuit, while trying to make sure Haruhi didn't know we were tailing her.
But immediately, things started to go wrong as the crushing weight of fatigue dropped on us. I heard a cry to my right as Asahina stumbled and crashed into Koizumi. Making no attempt to stand back up as they lay with eyes closed, consumed by sleep.
Nagato staggered beside me and I reached to pull her up. "No," she said with an effort, "keep after Suzumiya."
With regret, I let Nagato fall and pushed all my strength into my legs. My breaths ragged as my body sagged lower and lower. Putting every bit of energy I had into moving forward, even if I had to crawl.
In the distance I saw Haruhi approach the gate, her back getting smaller as she walked through it. I tried to move a little more, to see where she went beyond the school's boundary. But I watched in despair as she faded away into the grey fog outside and all my strength leaving me at once.
Lying in the dirt, I fought as hard as could, but it was too late. The bright summer's day consumed by darkness as blackout and waited for the cycle to begin again.
Despite my slumber, I felt like I hadn't had a good night's sleep in months. It had been so long now, that I'd quite lost track of how many days, going around and around through Haruhi's daily routine. The hard desk leaving an imprint on my cheek, as I lifted my head for a moment to look at the unending sunlight. Before letting my head smack back with a thump, not caring for the pain.
Haruhi was poking me in the back again, but that only made me want to try and sleep again. Burying my head in my arms I fought to find the blissful slumber that forever evaded me. I thought about going to find a quiet corner somewhere in the school, but I knew something would stop me. Haruhi always found a way to make sure I stayed put until she decided it was time for club.
After a particularly violent jab, I turned to glare at Haruhi. My tired eyes blinded by her bright and sunny smile as she giggled to herself.
"Don't you ever get tired of all this," I asked.
"Nope," Haruhi said with too much pride. "Oh, come on it's only school, lighten up."
I gave a dark laugh; this place was a mockery of school. It was impossible to learn here when the teachers talked nonsense and the books were blank. When the other students were mere background characters, blank and empty. Even the activities of the SOS Brigade were pointless and led nowhere.
Sure, we'd managed to go outside, but that was it and the gleam of that had faded fast. The stark reality being that the four subordinates of the Brigade were now well on the way to going mad. You could see the hopelessness in their eyes, craving change, but too scared of Haruhi's wrath to risk it.
I stared into nothing, the teacher's words noise in the background as I tried to remember a tune. But I could hardly recall any music now, whether it be a chart hit, a symphony or my mother humming a lullaby. I felt a tear well in my eye as I tried to remember anything about her, but it was all so vague.
I drifted, waiting for the lesson that Haruhi insisted on having, to end. I'd given up on trying to understand why she indulged in this ritual, but for some reason, it was important to her. Some part of Haruhi's crazy brain had decided that classes were a vital part of her world.
The bell went, way too early as usual. Haruhi grabbed me and we went off to the club room. I didn't fight it anymore, letting her pull me along as she commanded my legs to follow. Only she could find the club room, otherwise, it vanished in an impossible maze of corridors. Usually finding Brigade members en route as Haruhi bragged about how useless they were. They also accepted whatever she said and let our supreme leader lead with the same hopeless look.
We sat at our usual places, where I watched without hope as Nagato counted to herself. She was determined to keep track of the number of repetitions we had gone through. But without the power and fortitude of the Entity, Nagato had lost track a long time ago. Mumbling random number sequences in the hope that they were right.
A whimper pulled my attention towards Asahina, but the sight made me look away quick. Her outfits now changed at a moment's notice, leaving the girl in a constant state of tension and terror. Even the allure of her current bunny suit, felt dirty when you saw the stricken look in her eyes. Koizumi was doing his best to comfort her, though you could see the toll in his eyes as well.
Despite the dismal atmosphere, Haruhi was ever cheerful. Humming a jolly tune as she rustled bits of paper and organised today's project. We couldn't go on like this, someone here would snap and there was no telling what would happen if that occurred.
Glancing to check Haruhi was distracted. I looked at the three other members and whispered, "I'm going to suggest we go into town."
Asahina's heart sank as she said, "Kyon, we've talked about this."
I knew their objections because we'd discussed this idea a hundred times before. "I'm not suggesting we do anything extravagant," I said. "Just a trip down to the café near the station."
"Even something as simple as that carries huge risks," Koizumi pointed out.
"No, it won't," I insisted. "We'll have a coffee and a treat, then come back. Nothing complicated, nothing ground-breaking, only a little change from this god-awful place."
Despite their dismissals, I could see the hungry look in their eyes. Not only for the café's tasty pastries but for something new. I knew I had their support, even if they denied it.
"It could be an experiment into the extent of Suzumiya's current abilities," said Nagato. Her voice flat and scientific, as if she was trying to sound less human than she actually was.
"A change of tea would be nice," said Asahina in an empty voice. "The variety Miss Suzumiya keeps here is so plain."
Koizumi tried to look disapproving, but the slight nod at Asahina's words showed the truth. He took a deep breath and sighed before saying, "very well."
The atmosphere rose a little, though there still wasn't much hope. I still had to convince Haruhi and it was difficult to know how she'd react. But first, I decided we would let her unleash today's project on us. Which I hoped would put her in a better mood and make her more amenable.
My regret was instantaneous, as her plan turned out to be a photoshoot for the SOS Brigade. The rack of outfits growing as we were all forced into ridiculous costumes and poses. Asahina bravely withstood the worst of it, though by the end Koizumi was having to prop her up, as her will faded away.
In the lull, I removed the reindeer antlers from my head and tried to casually say, "hey Haruhi. Do you want to go down the café after this and grab a coffee?"
Haruhi looked at me, her face frozen in surprise. Everything in the room went silent as the others waited for the outcome. She looked back at the camera in her hands and flicked through a few photos on the screen.
"Just the five of us," I added in the uncomfortable silence. "It'll be nice."
"Oh," said Haruhi with a hint of surprise. Before reasserting herself and adding, "okay, but on one condition, Kyon. You're paying."
I shrugged with a relieved smile and said, "sure thing."
I hadn't seen my wallet in ages and to be honest hadn't seen any money in this world at all. But I was sure that Haruhi would find a way to make me pay up. I leant back and sighed, relaxing in the relieved if cautious smiles of the others.
But the reverie was short lived as I felt Haruhi glaring at me at close range. "Well come on then," she snapped. "Let's go!"
She stormed off towards the door with her nose in the air. As we all scrambled to get up and after her, not wanting to risk being left behind. Feeling an increasing sense of trepidation as we headed towards the school gate.
My heartbeat quickened as we stepped through and I heard Asahina sigh with relief. Haruhi giving us a quizzical look, not understanding why we were all so nervous. Because the world at first glance seemed normal, the long road down the hill looking the same as it always had been.
But that was the extent of the normality. For beyond that, the houses on each side the scenery still looked like a painted backdrop. Though as we progressed the painted buildings would suddenly pop into three dimensions. Like the graphics of some old video game, the town grew around us, in a moment that was both surreal and fantastic.
Nagato gasped at her apartment building, the huge complex looming amongst painted trees. While Asahina whispered to Koizumi at the sight of the shopping arcade further off. The sight of my house's roof making me smile, the feeling being like a bird that was finally able to stretch its wings.
Haruhi only complained about our slow pace, but we were so enraptured by the moment that we didn't care. Perhaps because of this, we all too soon found ourselves at the café. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed at leaving the outside world but coming here had been my idea.
The café itself seemed normal, if you considered the silent, blank-faced staff normal. Taking our usual spot, a waitress glided over with unnatural smoothness. Leaving me at a nervous pause, feeling unsure of how to address the silent figure.
But Haruhi ordered as if nothing was amiss and suddenly the blank face began to gain features. Two large eyes faded into being, which was soon joined by a small nose and a simple line of a mouth. The whole effect was more like a drawing or cartoon than a real person. But at the very least it was a little less unsettling than the empty nothing a moment before.
"And what would you like sir," said the waitress. Her mouth only forming simple shapes on her cheerful face rather than truly moving.
Her unsettling nature made me stammer and I buried myself in the menu to hide my discomfort. "I'll have a coffee," I started. Then swallowed and added, "along with a pain au chocolat."
"Very good sir," the waitress said with a smile. Before turning to the others to ask for their orders. Who gave their orders in rapid succession, joining my relief when the waitress glided away.
There was an awkward silence while we waited, but the service was here was fast. If anything, it felt a little too quick, but I suppose there was no way that Haruhi would wait in this place.
Once we received our orders, Haruhi leaned back and asked, "So why did you want to come all the way down here?"
"I only thought it would be nice have some coffee here," I said. Trying to sound more confident than I felt under the wary gazes of the others. "We used to go into town all the time, but it feels like ages since we last did."
"Has it?" Replied Haruhi with surprising quietness. Her eyes darting around with increasing unease.
The lights in the cafe flickered and Haruhi's fear began to seep into me. I could see it in the eyes of the other Brigade members, pleading for aid. As the darkness grew I thought I could hear Haruhi's question echoing, begging me to free her from this doubt.
"It doesn't matter," I said, slamming the table to get Haruhi's attention. "What does, are the mysteries must be lurking in this town, just waiting for you to find them."
I forced an enthusiastic grin and looked at the others for ascension. Their agreement was vague, the flickering lights drawing attention away. A deep groan echoing from the walls like a ship in a storm.
"I suppose," said Haruhi with a gloomy cast. Slouching on her hand as another groan boomed through the cafe. Her eyes distant as she gazed towards the window, heedless of the darkness around her.
"Well, what would you like to do," I asked. "There's plenty of stuff around town, like the park or the pool." I looked at the others for suggestions as my brain jammed.
"The library," suggested Nagato.
"What about going shopping," added Asahina. "We could do with some new things for the club room and..."
As Asahina trailed off Koizumi interjected, "or if you'd rather go back to the club room?"
I narrowed my eyes at him, but Koizumi only shrugged. Haruhi was still gazing off into the distance, mulling things over without enthusiasm. Her finger caressing the edge of the empty coffee cup.
"Nah," said Haruhi with a sigh. Slumping lower as dejection took hold, the lights dimming ever further.
I was beginning to lose my patience with Haruhi. The atmosphere was so oppressive, and I could feel my head starting to pound. The others were no help, looking down at their drinks, too scared or too clueless to act. The situation was becoming hopeless, making me wish that I could fall asleep and start afresh.
Haruhi let out another dramatic sigh, plucking at my already irritated nerves. My eyelid twitching, I demanded, "well what do you want to do. Name it, anything you want, tell us for pity's sake!"
"I don't know," shouted Haruhi, emphasising every syllable.
"Really," I snapped back heedless of what I was saying. "There must be something in the crazy world of yours you want. A party, a date, to hell with it, why not have another cup of coffee."
"I'm fine, thank you," replied Haruhi. Stammering a little as her cheeks flushed.
"What about in the long term," I insisted, ignoring Asahina's hand on my arm. "What's the plan for the future or are we going to keep dancing your little dance. Going around and around forever doing pointless little club activities."
"I don't have to tell you my plans," said Haruhi. Her voice cracking as she tried to remain indignant. "Anyway, who cares about the future, it's better to live in the now."
"The now," I snapped with an incredulous laugh. "You're telling me you don't have a plan. No thoughts about seeing the world or going to college or even starting a family."
"Sure, everyone thinks about that sort of stuff," stammered Haruhi. "I don't know, when I try to think of the future. Everything gets all confused and I..."
Haruhi trailed off, her breath became ragged, her eyes searching around for an escape. Sweat pouring down her forehead as she pushed to leave. Only to find herself trapped between Nagato and the dividing screen. Still trying to explain herself in jumbled words, that were all senseless in her terror.
Realising I had gone way too far, I reached over the table and took a hold of Haruhi's hands. Feeling their heat as I gave them a reassuring squeeze, making her stare at me in surprise. Haruhi's mouth hanging open, she started to tremble, and I thought I saw tears.
"Just tell me, what do you want," I whispered. "That's all I..."
"STOP PUSHING HER, KYON!"
The voice was deafening, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Filled with anger and outrage, but there was no mistaking that it was Haruhi's.
My whole body froze solid, my hand still holding hers. Panic set in as I tried to move, but nothing, not even my eyes would respond. Haruhi was motionless in front of me, her face still locked in terror. The vague shapes of the others, still as statues in my peripheral vision. I felt like my heart should be beating at a billion beats per minute, but that stilled as well. Only my mind raced, searching for an escape, terrified of being stuck like this forever. Offering prayers to any god that listen, hoping for a miracle.
Then something did move, in this frozen world, Haruhi's eyes blinked. Her panicked expression fading as her eyes focused on me and coursed into a frown. Her head turning at an unnatural angle from her motionless body. While her face seemed to flow and distort, channelling all its rage onto me.
"I AM GIVING YOU A FINAL WARNING," boomed Haruhi's voice. "IF YOU KEEP PUSHING HER LIKE THIS, I WILL DO FAR WORSE THAN RESET THE WORLD. NOT EVEN YOU ARE IMMUNE FROM MY WRATH."
Then in an instant, the terrible visage was gone, and the world was in motion again. Haruhi shrieked in a voice that was a great deal more normal and wrenched her hands away. All the energy I had pent up in that nightmare, burst out and I too leapt back. Sending my chair tipping back and hurling me crashing to the floor.
There was pandemonium as everyone began to shout and as Haruhi leapt upon the table. Like a rat out of a trap, she bolted over me and ran straight for the door. Ignoring my cries for her to stop and the others confused exclamations. Grunting with pain, I forced myself my feet. Scrambling after Haruhi, with all the strength I could muster. Ignoring the agony in my shoulder as I hammered through the cafe door.
My mind and legs were racing as I tore up the street after Haruhi, trying to wrap my head around what had happened. What had I seen, it had been Haruhi, but also not or at least not the one I was running after. Her threat didn't make a whole lot of sense, but was without a doubt, very real.
I glanced with despair at the buildings as they grew and shrank alongside the running Haruhi. The town reducing to simple shapes and colours as soon as they were out of her line of sight. If I didn't speed up I feared I would be left behind in the nothingness that followed. Scared to look back and check on the others in case they were already gone.
I had to push forward, catch up before I lost everything.
I drove every I had to my legs, reminding myself that I was a creation of that crazy girl. That all the pain I was experiencing wasn't real, that it was all imaginary. But the cramp running through my side was still agony, no matter how much I gritted my teeth.
She was closer though and with renewed determination, I forced air into my lungs. Expelling it all as I bellowed, "Haruhi!"
Up ahead, her silhouette slowed and turned around. The world bursting into colour and depth around me. Feeling an end to my pursuit, I drew from my last reserves of strength and ran to meet her.
Haruhi was standing in the middle of the empty road, the wind fluttering her yellow ribbon. Her eyes red as she gave me a wary look as her mouth moved without words.
I reached to grab Haruhi's hand and stop her from running off again. But she snapped her hand away, our fingertips brushed each other. All while she screamed, "get away from me!"
The snap of her rejection knocked me back and I raised my hands in defeat. "Okay, okay," I stammered. "But please explain to me what the hell happened back there?"
"Me explain, what about you Kyon. You were all mouthing off about all this weird stuff, getting in my face and then, and then…" Haruhi paused, for breath. Her eyes wild as she blurted, "… then you touched me. Since when have given you permission to do that. Because that's when I knew, when I felt, like I just had to get out of there."
"But you were fine with me touching you the other night," I started though I had no idea how long ago that had been now. "You wanted to… well, we err… you know, when we cuddled at your place."
It was an awkward thing to talk about despite everything, but I hoped the memory might soothe her. At the very least it might restore some trust between us.
"What, we never did that, " cried Haruhi, making my heart sink. Before she muttering to herself, "that was only a dream, wasn't it? I don't know, everything is so confusing. What's happening to me, I don't understand, why does nothing make sense?"
She clutched at her head and began to scream, muttering nonsensical words to herself. Collapsing to her knees and swaying in a way that tore at my heart.
"Haruhi," I said. "It wasn't a…"
Then a horrible sensation hit me. Like a great pair of eyes glaring down at me. Full of anger and the promise of terrible retribution.
I swallowed with fear. Changing my tune as I reached out to comfort Haruhi, only to remember and pull my hands back. "Actually Haruhi," I started again. "Maybe it was a dream."
A single red-rimmed eye looked at me through her fingers. "Why would we have the same dream," Haruhi asked.
The intimacy of the question made me blush. "Well, it might have been a coincidence," I said with an awkward laugh. "but it could be that something actually weird happened, like a psychic link or something."
I was expecting her to admonish such an idea, but Haruhi only looked at the floor with a blank expression. "Maybe," she whispered. Not seeming to have the strength to say anymore.
She looked so broken it hurt, but at least her crisis seemed to have abated. I placed a hand on Haruhi's back and said, "look let's go somewhere and calm everything down."
"But where," replied Haruhi. "Isn't that the big problem?"
My words caught in my throat as that issue rose up again. I looked at the town, even though was only a vague mass of shapes. Seeing one that looked like my house, though I could never be sure in this place. But, it was as good a safe haven as any and it wasn't too far a walk.
"Let's go to my place," I said. "We'll find the others and go back to mine. I'll do some dinner and we can all relax for a while."
Haruhi considered this for a moment, before giving a simple, "okay."
I offered Haruhi a hand, but she chose to push herself up. Despite keeping her face bowed away from my gaze, I gave her a small hopeful smile. But she didn't return it and we both started walking in silence back down the road.
We met the others coming the opposite way, all looking relieved to see us. Haruhi ignored them and Asahina started to greet her, but I shook my head. They fell alongside, giving our leader cautious glances.
"Where are we going?" Whispered Asahina.
"My place," I answered. Responding to the looks they gave me with, "I could think of anywhere else that was nearby."
They nodded and Nagato asked, "what exactly happened back there."
I glanced at Haruhi trying to gauge if she was in earshot. "I'll explain later," I whispered. "But I want to get Haruhi somewhere safe and quiet, the situation here has become a lot more complicated."
Those worried faces were now becoming the only looks I ever saw on the other brigade members. All glancing at each other and trying to have a silent conversation through looks alone. Some of them may have psychic powers once, but in this world, they were long gone.
I was so lost in thought that I didn't even notice that Haruhi had stopped in front of me. Walking into her outstretched hand and meeting her irritated gaze.
"What are you still walking for, Kyon," asked Haruhi. "We're here."
I looked about in confusion, sure that we hadn't been walking long enough. Nor made enough turns to make it to my home. But there it was, looking as normal a family home as it had ever been.
Haruhi clicked her tongue with irritation and marched off towards the front door. But she waited, tapping her foot for me to go in first. I walked up to my home, unease and trepidation growing inside me. Though it was nice to be here after so long, I had no idea what to expect inside.
These days, the memories of my family were a confused mess. The echoes of many worlds layered on top of each other, leaving only broad strokes of what they had been like. Still, right now I didn't know if they'd be home and I wasn't sure if I wanted them to be or not. The idea of my folks being the same as the blank-faced automatons at the cafe, giving me the chills. I eased open my front door and called out that I was home, feeling a little relieved when there was no response.
At first, everything seemed normal, the furniture in the same as it had always been. I heard the others giving their pardons as they removed their shoes. Haruhi striding past to collapse upon the couch, inspecting my home with a casual glance. The rest were warier and I had to agree with them. The place was too clean and orderly to be a real family home, especially one with my sister living there. My mother made sure we kept the place nice, but still, this place felt more like a show home or movie set.
But it was my home, so I supposed that should at least try to be a good host. Motioning everyone to sit, I headed to the kitchen to see about some drinks. Not sure if there would even be any, let alone something we'd like.
Feeling relieved to hear the chink of full fridge door as the internal light showed it to be well stocked. I pulled out a few cans of juice and a bottle of iced tea, checking to see if I had a decent selection. But the labels were strange, with all the text indistinct and only the brand name being close to legible. Leaving me to go by the colours and hope for the best.
I rummaged through the cupboards for snacks and again found a good stock. Though as before, the packaging was blurry, and the brand names seemed wrong. All were slight variants on the normal names with the occasional pun thrown in. I'd no idea what they'd taste like, but they would have to do. Reaching for some glasses, I began to wonder about the contents of the other cupboards. Curious to see if there would be anything to help with our unusual situation.
Ripping open another cupboard, I met only a blank grey wall. Where, instead of shelves filled with household odds and ends, there was only a smoky mass. A fog that shifted as I touched it and flowed towards the floor.
I pushed my hand in, hoping to find something beyond. But a brutal force shoved me back, my knuckles catching an edge as I was almost bowled over. The cupboard door slamming shut by itself and refusing any attempts to reopen it.
"What are you doing, Kyon?" came Haruhi's voice from the couch. "If you need a hand, say so."
Her voice brought me back to my senses enough to blurt a, "no, I'm fine." As I had zero idea how to explain this to her and knowing that it wouldn't do any good if I did.
With unsteady hands, I took the drinks and snacks through as the glasses clinked together. Everyone thanked me, but the atmosphere was so unsettled that it didn't have any heart. Haruhi stared out the window at the sky, eating and drinking without much thought.
The grey wall was beginning to play on my mind and I looked towards the stairs, wondering about the rest of the house. So, after excusing myself, I headed upstairs. Searching for something, even if I wasn't sure what it was.
The first stop was my room and I was thankful that it was normal, if a little cleaner. Even clothes hung in the wardrobe and I considered getting changed. Feeling like I hadn't taken off my school uniform in ages, though it always seemed clean and fresh. I looked at the plain design on the front of a T-shirt, feeling sure I would never have bought something so boring. When I heard the door open.
"Yes, a change of clothes would be nice," said Koizumi with his usual smile. "Though if Miss Suzumiya's mindset is as unstable as I suspect, I would advise against it."
I nodded in vague agreement, putting the T-shirt back with a sigh. While Koizumi wandered over to my bookshelf and studied the spines. Making a disappointed sigh of his own as he ran a finger over the vague squiggles and pulled a book out at random.
It was blank inside and Koizumi said to himself, "Miss Nagato will be disappointed."
I watched him slid it back and said, "That's nothing compared to what might have happened to some parts of the house."
Koizumi raised an eyebrow and asked, "like what?"
While my own room was fine, I hadn't checked the others up here. So, I entered the hallway and pushed open the bathroom door. Though I had felt a need for it in a long time, I was still relieved to see it there. Even though it showed no sign of use and the toiletries had the same generic quality as the contents of the fridge.
I heard a door open next to me and saw Koizumi entering my little sister's room. As I followed, he studied the bright walls and furniture with a critical gaze. It was everything you expected from a little girl's room, only the details had the same was vague quality as before. But the clincher was the areas that could not be seen from the doorway, here the walls were grey and held no decoration.
"It's like the room is only designed for a casual glance," commented Koizumi. Running his finger along the line that split the pink and grey walls.
Wondering where else that might apply, I went to the door to my parent's room and pushed. But only opened a tiny amount, even when I put my shoulder to it. But peering through I could see the same grey mass that I'd seen in the cupboard downstairs.
Hearing my exertion, Koizumi appeared and peered into the crack. With a nod, we both put our shoulders to the door and pushed again. At first, it held, but inch by inch, it began to give. Like pushing against sand, the door began to open.
With a strange sound, like a cry of frustration. The door flew open, sending us both stumbling inside. Gasping for breath, Koizumi and I looked about and saw only an empty grey world. The fog shifting in the breeze that drifted from the open door, which slammed shut with a bang.
"HAPPY NOW BOYS," came a booming voice. Echoing through the void and filling me with dread. Haruhi's distinctive tone filled with anger and indignation.
I looked to Koizumi, wondering if he'd heard it too. With the look of horror on his face, showing that he clearly had.
"ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS PLAY ALONG," boomed the voice again. "BUT ALL YOU DO IS KEEP PUSHING ME. WELL, NOW YOU'RE TRAPPED, AND YOU'VE DISCOVERED THE BIG TRUTH THAT THERE IS NOTHING HERE!"
We both stood still, the instinct to run growing, even though it was futile. I glanced at Koizumi, waiting for him to make a move. But he only glanced back, no doubt waiting for me.
But eventually, Koizumi took a deep breath and looked upwards into the mists. "Who are you," he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
His answer came with a mocking laugh bouncing through the fog. "WHY ITSUKI," the voice said. "DO I REALLY NEED TO ANSWER THAT?"
Koizumi tried his best to stand firm as he stammered, "I only wanted to establish some facts."
The terrible laugh echoed again, but instead of growing, it started to normalize. Then a yellow glow grew, seeming so bright in this grey world. The mists shifting again, patches of light and shade forming a figure walking towards us.
There was no doubt it was Haruhi, a being of fog smiling in a way that always made me nervous. The yellow light emanating from the ribbon in her dark hair, as starlight twinkled in grey eyes. She walked up to Koizumi and smiled, lifting his chin with an outstretched forefinger.
In her normal voice, she said softly, "I'm Haruhi Suzumiya of course."
Koizumi was sweating at how close this new Haruhi was. Her stance seeming seductive and yet threatening. A long fingernail poised a millimetre from his Adam's apple. His voice croaking as he said, "then who is sitting downstairs?"
Almost on cue, a faint voice came in from the world beyond the grey fog. Despite how far away it sounded, Haruhi's voice was unmistakable. Demanding to know, "What in the hell are you two doing up there?"
The sudden cry from downstairs made the Haruhi with us stagger back. Whipping her hand away from Koizumi as her whole body flickered and distorted. An expression of anger and frustration contorting this Haruhi's grey features.
But she calmed herself, the same unnerving smile returning as this Haruhi said with some pride, "she is me."
But our expressions made it clear that such a simple answer wasn't enough.
"I suppose you could see me as her," she said, pausing for a moment to consider." Her subconscious."
Koizumi pondered the answer and asked, "so you're the part of Miss Suzumiya that controls this world. The one that shapes everything with her power, giving form to the town, the school and us?"
"In essence yes," the grey being replied. "I keep everything here running smoothly so that she can enjoy herself. Giving her a perfect world to live happily for evermore."
Haruhi's subconscious had a pleasant smile, as if this was the nicest thing imaginable. But that faded as she gave a bitter sigh. Adding, "at least that's how it used to work, before your little science experiment."
Glaring at him with venom in her eyes, Koizumi stepped back. Raising his hands in a defensive gesture as he tried to respond, but words failed him.
"What do you mean," I asked. "All we did was have a trip down memory lane."
"You saw too much, you let her, see too much," snapped Haruhi, turning her glare on me. "Now there's all these doubts and wild thoughts rushing around in her head. It's taking all I have to stop this world from crashing down around her. A situation not helped by the two of you messing around."
Why not let it come down," I snapped back. "Let her see the truth."
"Not a chance," insisted Haruhi subconscious. "I will fix this mess and make sure it never happens again. Then we can all go back to having normal fun adventures, once I wipe your memories clean of all this foolishness."
"But what if we don't want to forget," asked Koizumi.
"I'm not giving you a choice Koizumi," replied Haruhi. "I created you and I can just as easily destroy you."
Koizumi shrank back as she snapped her fingers in his face. "But I'm our collective friendship means something to you as well," he said. "I would like to hope that you wouldn't cast us aside, like toys that you've grown too old for."
"Don't talk to me about being too old for toys!" Haruhi cried with a suddenness that sent Koizumi stumbling to the floor. Then a guilty look crossed her face and she coughed, before starting anew.
"Okay, okay, I may not destroy you. But I can make things very unpleasant believe me," Haruhi stated. Pondering for a moment before smiling and adding, "Perhaps it's time for a change of scenery. See if Kouyou Academy is more agreeable and leave you guys to your own devices. Would you like that Koizumi, do you remember what that was like last time?"
Koizumi's face went as grey as the fog around us. He tried to hold himself resolute, but he broke and hung his head. A whispered, "yes," escaping his lips.
Haruhi gave a pleased smile and said, "good."
"Don't bow your head to her," I yelled at Koizumi. "There's no way out of this if you do and we'll be stuck playing her stupid games forever."
Koizumi looked at me with empty sadness. "But there is no way out of this," he said. "It's better to submit."
"There, that's better," said Haruhi sounding very pleased.
"Damn it Koizumi, don't give up like…." I started.
"Kyon," cut in Koizumi. "There is nothing we can do. Not here and not now."
The heavy emphasis he put on the words matched his narrowed eyes and made me pause. I gave an exasperated sigh and said, "fine. Then what should we do, right now."
"Actually, I've been thinking about that," said Haruhi. "Something to keep her downstairs distracted while I sort things out. It took some time you know, but I've finally found it and it's funny, because you were the one to suggest it, Kyon."
"I did?" I said.
"We're going to have a party!" She proclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. Her eyes wild in expression of triumph that was terrifying.
I tried to keep my voice level as I said, "a party?"
"Yep and it'll be the best party in the history of everything," said Haruhi with pride. Posing with her hands on her hips.
I sighed and said, "well I'm sure there's some party stuff around the house somewhere. Though we will have to go to the shops for a cake, balloons and the like."
"Not that kind of party, idiot," she snapped. "I mean a big extravaganza. One that…" Haruhi stopped mid-sentence as her train of thought jumped tracks. "Actually, I'll bring the other two here, saves me explaining all this twice."
The grey Haruhi smiled and snapped her fingers.
There was a burst of yellow light and in a flash, Asahina and Nagato were standing in front of us. Their eyes wide in panic, looking at each over and us for an answer. Asahina leaping away with a squeak, when she saw this new Haruhi standing beside her.
"What," said Nagato aghast. "What is this place?"
"Who is she," asked Asahina in a shaking voice. Looking at Koizumi for an answer and only getting a wary smile.
"Never you mind all that boring stuff," said Haruhi. "Listen…"
But Haruhi's declaration was interrupted by another identical voice. One crying in a state of absolute panic screamed, "What, where did you all go?"
The Haruhi in front of us cursed in anger. Her image flickering again as she glared at the floor and presumably at the other Haruhi in the room below us. With another, harsher snap of her fingers, that was another cry from downstairs. Followed by a thunk and the sound of breaking china.
"Right," growled Haruhi, "now that's dealt with, you are all going to listen."
"What the hell did you do to her?" I exclaimed, looking for a way to get down there.
"Taking a nap," snapped Haruhi. "Don't worry, she'll be fine."
"But, you can't…" I started.
"Yes, I can," replied Haruhi with a menacing growl. "Now you are all going to listen to my plan or I will make you listen."
She looked at us with narrowed eyes, daring anyone to speak. But we were all too wary to speak, the only sound being Asahina's tearful whimper.
"Good," said Haruhi. Her smile becoming more genial as she straightened up and gave a polite cough.
"This party," she continued. "Will be like nothing anyone has ever seen before. Better than all those balls and proms you see in the movies. A grand spectacle up at the school with hundreds of people, all dancing in fancy clothes to live music. Tables heaving with the most delicious food and the most amazing decorations. It'll be the most incredible thing you've ever seen."
Contrary to her excitement, my heart was sinking through the floor. Leaving me to ask, "and we're organising this?"
"Of course," said Haruhi. "But I'll make sure everything goes smoothly don't you worry."
"So, what are we celebrating," asked Koizumi.
Haruhi paused for a moment, then shrugged. "Doesn't matter," she said without a care. "Only that it'll be the most amazing thing ever!"
The lack of enthusiasm in the group seemed to echo through mist that swirled around us. We exchanged glances as we waited for this crazed god to demand ever more of us.
"And what if we refuse," asked Nagato.
All eyes went to her and Asahina let out a small gasp. Haruhi's own eyes narrowing with fury, as the yellow light pulsed with rage. She looked down into Nagato's blank eyes, seeming to tower over her in an attempt at intimidation.
"Yuki," said Haruhi. "I've humoured your various attempts at insubordination over the years. They've often been an amusing and mild distraction from the normal scheme of things. But this is the last straw!"
Jabbing at Nagato's chest with a pointed finger. Haruhi seethed, her grey body shifting to become almost monstrous. I went to move closer, figuring to put a stop to this somehow. But Nagato waved a hand to stop me, her eyes still fixed on Haruhi's.
"That may be," said Nagato. "But you did not answer my question. What happens, if we say no?"
Haruhi broke away from the staring match and paced away. Her hands locked behind her back as she walked back and forth, like a teacher deciding on a punishment.
"Simply erasing you from existence, is almost too easy," said Haruhi. "So, I think, I'll have you watch. To spend eternity watching Kyon from afar, where he can never see, hear or even remember that you existed. But you will, you will witness his dreams, his love, his pain, and won't be able to do a damn thing about it."
Nagato was still trying to stand resolute, staring Haruhi down. But her will was starting to shake, her large eyes shimmering and her lip quivering. Nagato glanced sidelong at me and I struggled to think of something. Not wanting her to give in, but not wanting her to suffer either.
Haruhi's subconscious grinned in triumph. "You can pretend to be an emotionless robot all you want, but we all know that's not true," she declared. "So, do I now have your complete co-operation?"
Nagato tried to push for one last ounce of resolve, but it gave out in an instant. "Very well," she said in a quiet voice, looking down in defeat at the floor.
"There, that wasn't so hard was it," said Haruhi. With a face that carried an infuriating level smugness.
I was hoping that would be it and we could get this whole mess over with. My soul feeling heavy inside of me as I tried not to make eye contact with my colleagues. But this Haruhi wasn't done and she rounded on Asahina, making the poor girl squeak.
"Mikuru," announced Haruhi with a fair degree of menace. "Don't think you've escaped my wrath. I'll give you a similar fate if you try to mess around with my plans or maybe, I'll get more physical."
Haruhi raised her hands into grasping claws and stepped forward. Making Mikuru shrink back and protect herself, shaking her head. "I'll be good I swear," the girl cried, trying to hide in a place that had nowhere to run.
I was about to demand Haruhi stop, when Koizumi took a step forward and put an arm in front of Asahina. "We all understand the situation now," Koizumi stated. "Along with the consequences of our failure or refusal."
Haruhi's head snapped to him with a look of surprise. I thought for a moment that she would get angry, but the look of irritation faded. Switching to an appraising attitude as Haruhi considered how to respond.
"Just tell us what you need us to do and we'll get on with it," I said in a blunt tone. Trying to pull her attention away from the others.
"Hey guys, where are you," asked a wary voice from downstairs. The fear in her words audible even from our strange locale. "I'm coming up now."
The yellow light surrounding Haruhi's subconscious began to flicker and fade. "Get back downstairs," she snapped. "Through her, I'll let you know the rest of my plans."
With a wave of her hand, the mist swirled and shimmered, solidifying into a bedroom door. The bright light of the hallway, vivid in comparison to this fogbound world. But our distrust of Haruhi made us wary of the doorway, glancing at each other and waiting for someone to go first.
"Go on then," insisted Haruhi. Gesticulating with a distinct lack of patience.
Koizumi took the initiative, followed by Asahina and Nagato. I took one look back as I walked through the door, to see this grey Haruhi standing alone in the mist. She gave a friendly wave, but I didn't return it. Pulling the door shut hard and breathing a sigh of relief as I let go of the handle.
The others made for the stairs, all lost in their thoughts. I stopped them and asked, "so what are we going to do?"
Their eyes were dark as Asahina said with a glum face, "exactly what she wants us to do."
"You're taking her threats seriously," I said.
"Without a doubt," replied Koizumi. "Miss Suzumiya or whoever that was, meant every word."
"What did she mean by putting you on the sidelines?" I said.
"There was a time when we fell out of favour with Miss Suzumiya," said Nagato. Her grim look shared by Asahina and Koizumi. "So, she decided to uproot the club and start it again at Kouyou Academy with some new followers. Ones that you may remember as comrades of your friend Miss Sasaki."
Koizumi took a deep breath with the weight of the memory as he added. "We still existed within that world of course, but without purpose. Empty, apart from the gnawing feeling that something was missing from our lives. That thing was, of course, Miss Suzumiya."
"You've no idea how maddening that is," he declared. Grabbing my jacket and pulling me close enough to see the fear in his eyes. "To be stumbling blind, with a great void in your heart. Forever searching for something and never finding it."
"Okay, I get it" I replied, pushing his hands away. "Actually, I may have experienced something like that myself." Remembering a time when had been lost in a strange world, searching for Haruhi. I tried to not to look at Nagato as I said this, but she still looked away.
Koizumi stopped and considered for a moment, before nodding in acceptance. "Then you understand why I'm serious about her threat."
"So, are we going to sit here going along with whatever that lunatic wants?" I demanded.
Koizumi flinched and gave the ceiling a wary glance. "In all honesty, yes," he hissed. "We've no idea how omnipresent this subconscious is, but I'm going to presume she is, until we find out otherwise."
I narrowed my eyes at the same patch of ceiling. "Great," I snapped. "As if she wasn't enough trouble already."
Koizumi smile was grim as he replied with, "indeed."
There was another long silence and we started to walk down. In a calmer voice, I asked Koizumi, "so how does it feel, to finally meet your god?"
"I suppose I did, didn't I," said Koizumi with a hollow laugh.
"If that was the real Haruhi, the one behind everything," I said. Then she wasn't quite what I was expecting."
"I know what you mean," replied Koizumi. "It's less like meeting a god and closer to finally seeing the wizard behind the curtain." There were nods of agreement amongst the four of us. Before he added in much darker tone, "it is rather troubling."
But how much it troubled him, Koizumi didn't elaborate. For at that moment Haruhi emerged at the bottom of the staircase, this time in full colour. But there was none of the smug confidence of her subconscious, as this face etched with fear and concern. She rubbed a red mark on her forehead and looked at me with red-rimmed eyes.
But for a moment those eyes changed, becoming darker and sparkling with starlight. Haruhi's mouth twisted into a menacing smile and then as quick as a flash, it was gone.
"Where did you guys go," Haruhi asked in a quavering voice.
I steeled myself and gripped the bannister. Then walked down the stairs to meet her.
"Who was that voice?"
"What is happening to me?"