The young man was falling. That he was sure of. His senses were assaulted with events without order and visions without direction. Patterns almost crystallized, but as logic closed on the chain of causality; the thoughts sublimed. Time no longer had meaning after he and his temporally displaced twin had tumbled down the infamous ninety-nine and a half stepped stairwell.

One of us had to go, Kyosuke thought as he tumbled through the back alley of reality.

Hitokiri Orange Road

Chapter 1. Enter the Asylum

Time had stretched and compressed in so many streams, eddies, and pools that Kyosuke no longer knew when the falling began, but the bone jarring impact marked his definite stop.

His confused senses slowly caught up with his plunge. Pain had brought back his touch. He lay on something hard, wet, and cold. The indistinct masses of gray hanging overhead separated into the underbellies of thunderheads and pregnant cumulonimbus clouds. Grainy droplets trickled between his slack lips into his mouth. The freshly fallen rain stank of petrol exhaust.

My name is Kasuga Kyosuke, he thought.

He struggled to rise.

"Damn," he muttered, but it emerged as an indistinct groan.

"I thought that you were dead," a girl's voice announced from somewhere above and behind his head. The voice belonged to a teenaged girl; it sounded tomboyish.

Kyosuke tried to raise his head, but the world began spinning violently. He dropped back into the pooling rain. A fit of coughing racked his body; he curled in pain.

"Are you okay?" the girl asked.

"W-where am I?" Kyosuke groaned through the pain. "What time is it?" he asked before lapsing into unconsciousness.

Kyosuke awoke on a rough woolen cot. Someone had also changed him into boxers and coarse pajamas. He was dry and warm. His nose was stuffed up, and his head throbbed. His throat felt as if it had been perforated with bared razor.

Faint light filtered through the dingy curtain at his feet. A nurse in a white uniform stepped through the curtain. She wore an armband on her left arm. In the lighting, Kyosuke could not make out the words.

"Good evening," the familiar voice said. "You are in the Unity Clinic of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Seventeenth Ward. Do not worry, comrade, you will be cared for."

The nurse was young. She had a broad face. Her hair was tidily pinned back beneath her white cap. Her voice was pitched higher; it was a pleasant voice.

"Comrade?" Kyosuke asked.

The nurse brought out her clipboard.

"Your name, please."

"Kasuga Kyosuke."

"Address and Vocational Registration."

Kyosuke gave his addresss. She paused before writing it down.

"What is an Vocational Registration?" he asked.

She looked at him critically.

"Are you sure about the address?" she asked. "I believe that there's is a government office there. Vocational registration, surely you know what your fifteen-digit ID number is. Everyone has it, unless you are burakumin. Even then, you should know that the Great Leader strives for your equality."

Barukumin? Grave diggers and beggars, Kyosuke thought with distaste. Though his head hurt, it was racing. This did not look like his world. Even a quick glance around him reminded him of Reconstruction Era pictures from his social studies textbook. And there was certainly no Great Leader in Japan. North Korea had that distinct honor the last that he had heard.

A chill ran through his spine as he realized that he had nothing: no family, no home, not even an identity to call his own. There was no way for him to prove that he was Kasuga Kyosuke. The student ID and video shop membership card meant nothing here. A cold sweat began to gather on his brow and back.

"Comrade?" she asked.

He looked at here as he rasped his dried lips with his equally dried tongue.

"Even if I wasn't burakumin, I might as well be now," he answered carefully.

Satisfied with his answer, she scribbled onto the clipboard.

"Now can I have a drink of water, please," Kysoske croaked.

"Certainly, Mr. Kasuga," the nurse answered before bustling back through the curtain.

She returned with a cup of broth. He burned the his tongue as he drank the weak soup and devour a several tasteless saltines. Her gaze stopped him from considering seconds. He took a white tablet with lukewarm water. The tablet nudged back him to sleep.

Kyosuke woke up feeling better. He needed to pee. A pair of styrofoam flip-flops sat at the side of the cot. They looked used, but he pushed his feet into them; the only other choice was to walk around barefoot. He skirted around the dirty curtain. Ceiling panels were broken, and a bare bulb hung from the ceiling. Brown stains ran down the walls.

Kyosuke walked through the open doorway. He found the latrine by smell. He looked up the hallway, but saw no other facility, so he braved the full-bodied stench of caked urine and backed up sewage. Kyosuke felt sick when he emerged.

His hands itched from washing in the icy brown trickle. The faucet handle had been a rusted crescent wrench clamped to a hexnut.

Loud coughs greeted Kyosuke as returned to his cot. The coughs became a continuous moist hacking. For long moments, he stood listening to the tortured sound before shoving the grungy wall of cloth aside.

The painful racket had prepared Kyosuke for an old derelict with toothless gums and liver spotted skin. Instead, a pale-skinned youth lay in a cot. Bags hung beneath his eyes and his limbs were sickly thin, but his fine features still held a feminine grace. The boy was fourteen at most. The pain glazed gaze drifted aimlessly. The boy quaked with another round of shotgun coughing.

"Shut up!" called a coarse voice from across the room.

Kyosuke touched a frail arm.

"Hold on," Kyosuke said. "I'll get help."

The youth tilted his head slightly. Though weak from coughing, he murmured something.

Kyosuke leaned close enough to smell the crusted filth from the boy. He could feel the fevered heat. The boy repeated himself.

"I don't want to die," the boy said.

"Don't say that," Kyosuke ordered desperately. A part of him wanted to run away and stay away, but another voice spoke. What would Ayukawa think? He could imagine her glaring at him. With the image of the blossoming woman fixed in his mind, he shakily rose from the cot side. She smiled encouragingly.

"I'll get help. You're going to be okay," he said, mustering all conviction, though it didn't feel like enough. He left the room at a brisk stride.

Kyosuke passed the disgusting lavatory and walked on. Now was not the time to be afraid, though his heart knocked in his chest.

I don't want to die. The boy should be up and about, ready to take his exams or sit in on his welcoming ceremony joking with his friends, not laid up on a cot, Kyosuke thought in a jumble.

The corridor was lined with room after room of dirty blue curtains. Weak sunlight filtered through the cloth, filling the hallway with a melancholy hue. Some patients gave groans of pain. Sometimes he smelled rotten meat. There was not a single nurse or attendant in sight. Kyosuke reached a bend in the corridor. An old man swabbed at the tiled floor with brown water. The mop smeared the grime from one cracked tile to another.

"Excuse me, uncle," Kyosuke greeted the old man politely.

"Uncle, who's your uncle?" the man groused with his smoke scarred voice.

"Do you know where I can find a nurse or a doctor?"

"Shouldn't be up," the janitor said curtly. The blue clad man turned away and continued to mop.

"Where's their office?" Kyosuke asked again with a nervous twitter.

He approached the janitor. After a scant step, the teen stopped as the old man swung up the mop like a lance. The old man fixed his bloodshot eyes on Kyosuke.

"Stay back, I don't know what you've got. Stay back," the man rasped.

"Easy," Kyosuke said as he backed away. Several steps away, he turned from the glaring janitor and picked up his pace. The encounter left him apprehensive as he reached a flight of stairs. Rust spotted the concrete steps like open open sores. A plastic sheet covered a small window; shards of broken glass clung to the frame.

A closed door stood at the top of the stair. It was unmarked. Kyosuke rapped soundly on the hollow wood. He faced silence for a few moments, before knocking louder.

"You're not supposed to be there, please return to your room," a gray-haired woman called to him from down the hall.

"Excuse me, but there's a boy, he's really sick," Kyosuke said.

"Of course he's sick, if he weren't, he wouldn't be here," the nurse said flatly.

"Naw we're here 'cuz we love you," an inmate heckled from a doorway. Eyes peered from up and down the hall.

"That's enough out of you," the formidable nurse stated without turning around. "Now, why are you wandering around?"

"The boy in the bed next to me started coughing and wouldn't stop," Kyosuke answered. "Can you go help him?"

"Where are you?" the nurse asked.

"The floor below at the end of the corridor."

"Not my area," the nurse answered. She pulled a key on a chain from the front of her blouse. The woman put the key into the doorknob.

Kyosuke stood frozen for a moment. The words had not registered until he heard the dead bolt click open.

"Hold on," he demanded. He sprang forward and grabbed her by the shoulder. She gave an ear splitting scream into his face. Surprised, he let go. The nurse jerked away with surprising speed and managed to slip through the door before he could react. Sharp footsteps pounded around the corner. Kyosuke considered running, but he had to get help. The boy frantically continued pounding on the door. He shouted through the door, though he saw a guard in gray charged around the corner.

The stout man grabbed Kyosuke by the corner of his gown. The guard gave a snarl as he slung Kyosuke to the ground. The boy instinctively curled he saw the sole of the gaurd's boot from below. The guard stopped as the door jerked open.

"Stop!" Nurse Tendo shouted. The young woman emerged with her short hair in a disarray. A hatch pattern of red lines were imprinted on the side her face. Her hands fumbled as they pinned her white cap into place. "Mr. Kasuga, what are you doing here?"

Kyosuke peered up at the halted boot, which cautiously dropped to the ground. The glaring guard patted his billy club in his hand.

"The boy next to me, he might be dying," Kyosuke stammered to the nurse.

The teenaged nurse looked down the corridor as the wan morning light trickled through a grated window.

"Crap," the nurse spat.

She rushed into the room and picked up a satchel before taking down the stair. The guard followed quickly. Kyosuke followed her down the stairs and back down the long corridor. Footfalls echoed in the empty halls. Window after window passed as did identical doorways. The dim corridor seemed endless. A wet coughing called to them, growing louder.

At the end of the corridor, two other scraggly patients waited at the doorway.

"Excuse me," Nurse Tendo said as she sped past them.

She paused at the edge of the room to pull on a mask. The guard stopped short of entering, but Kyosuke marched resolutely through the curtains. His stomach heaved as he saw the speckles and splotches of blood sprayed onto the mustard curtains. The cot beside the boy's bed was soaked black. Tears trickled down the sick boy's white cheeks.

"Stay back," Akane ordered Kyosuke. She turned back to her patient. She opened her satchel. "Call the doctor," she ordered the guard.

Akane froze as the bedridden boy grabbed her shoulder. Kasuga stepped forth and took the haggard hand in his own. The skin and muscles felt like raw dough.

"Hang on," Kyosuke pleaded.

At that moment, it felt important that the boy would live. Kyosuke willed it with all his strength. He had no Power into which he could cast his strength, so he prayed, but all he heard was the choked breathing. Even on his knees, he could not think of any words to block out the feeble coughs or even anyone to pray to. The hand had been so weak that Kyosuke refused to believe that it had gone limp.

He only believed it when Nurse Tendo spoke quietly to the guard.

"Don't bother, tell the doctor not to bother."

With a gentle touch, Tendo Akane pulled him away from the still hand.

Kasuga Kyosuke leaned disconsolately on the chipped stairs. The sixteen year old was of average height and on the slight side. His hair was just shy of needing a haircut. The ill-matched shoes pitched the little toe on his left foot and chafed his heel on the right foot. Nurse Tendo managed to find slacks streaked with off-white paint and an ochre pullover.

Evening fell. From the front stairs of the clinic, he could see tall smoke stacks spewing thick smoke into the horizon. The stench of rotten eggs suffused the air. The city that was ruled and mitered into ugly rows of block houses. Dingy gray bordered dingy gray in a relentless repetition of house and street. There was no green.

He saw where his house was supposed to be. A broad three story building squatted in the place of the familiar condominium.

Where do I go from here? Kasuga thought. He had dodged the thought as long as he could, but he could not escape his situation. They had returned his wallet with a warning about counterfeit money. The guard had explained that he would not get in any trouble because the bills in his wallet were obvious fakes.

His mind was drained. He forced the scene of the younger boy's corpse from his mind. He could be wearing the boy's shirt, he thought with a shiver.

"What do I do now?" Kasuga asked.

"Whatever you feel like," Tendo's tired voice said from behind him. She had taken off her uniform. The girl wore an unflattering olive coat over a dun dress. She was a full head shorter than he was. The face was broad, and the skin was snug over the bone

He gave her a weak smile.

"I wish that I knew what that was."

"What's wrong with you?" the teenaged girl demanded. "Anyone idiot could see that he had TB. You could be infected. Why did you run in there? Did you know him?"

Kasuga was surprised by the anger in her eyes and the clenched fists.

"I'm not sure why I ran in there," Kasuga answered slowly. "But I couldn't just leave him like that. I didn't know him. But he was old enough to be my classmate."

"I thought that you said that you were a burakumin," she said suspiciously.

"I said that I might as well be one," he said.

"You're a strange one," the girl concluded. She had relaxed her tone and stance. "275, 58, 64," she added.

"What?" Kasuga asked blankly.

"Where you're supposed to go. You sound like you're from around here."

"Honestly, I don't know what that means."

She sighed. "275th ward, 58th North street, 6th East street. There'll be a sign for the 275th ward workhouse. Over there," she said pointing in the distance. "If you start walking now, you can make it before midnight."

Right, Kasuga reminded himself, he had no money for bus fare.

"It's getting dark, let me walk you to your bus," he offered.

"Bus?" she exclaimed. Her eyebrows shot up. "No bus has run around here for years."

"S-sorry," Kasuga stammered. "Then you're going to walk?"

"Of course," she replied.

"Then I'll walk with you."

"I can take care of myself, besides the biggest threat might be you," Tendo challenged. She strode away from him. "Good night, Mr. Kasuga, if that's your real name. Get yourself to the workhouse before it gets too dark."

Kyosuke looked over the uninviting city below and then at the tired girl. He began walking after her.

"Why are you following me?" she demanded without breaking stride. "You won't get any charity from me."

"You're a girl-"

"That's right," she said gruffly, twirling around. She gritted her teeth. Even in his tired stated, Kasuga noted that anger brought a spark into her features. She was cute when she was angry.

"And girls shouldn't walk home alone in the dark," he explained.

"You're weird, and if you try anything weird, I can take care of myself," she said holding up a fist.

"What's your name?" Kasuga asked as he caught up with her. "My name really is Kasuga Kyosuke."

"Tendo, Tendo Akane," she answered before walking away again. Her shoulders were set stiffly.

Akane kept at least three steps between them. Kasuga did not close the distance. Though he was tired and his feet began to hurt, he kept up.

The curved necked street lamps stayed dark, easing the monotonous ugliness of the buildings. The cracked sidewalk retained puddles of rain water. They detoured a block to skirt a small lake of runoff. The road was in similar disrepair. Only a single truck passed. At most, one in ten windows shed dim light. Their footfalls were the only sounds in the night.

By an alley, a clatter startled Kyosuke. Bright eyes glared at him from the top of a dumpster. It looked like a cat until it bounded away. By the faint moonlight, he could see the rat's worm-like tail.

"They're spreading. They used to only be found by the warehouse district, but they've found a home in the abandoned houses," Akane said from his side.


"There aren't enough people."

The girl began moving again, but waited a moment. She let him fall into stride with her this time, though she remained out of comfortable arm's reach.

At each corner was a brief sign that listed a single number.

When she stopped, evening had slipped into night. A dimly lit and stocky lamp sat a street corner. Kyoske stopped with her. She took two steps more and turned to face him.

"I'll be fine from here," she said.

"Well, then good night," he said.

"You're a strange one."

"So you've said," Kyoske replied with a tired smile. He realized that she was waiting to see him leave. She didn't want him to see where she actually lived.

"Good night," he said. He walked the way that he had come.

"Take a left at the next street, and keep walking. It'll bring you to the 275th Ward," she shouted after him. "And don't forget the paperwork I gave you."

Kyosuke waved a hand in thanks.

More litter cluttered the streets the buildings grew closer together. Broken bottles, broken windows, rusted bikes frames accumulated with other debris as he approached the address that Nurse Tendo had given to him. Paper plastered the ground in an unclean mosaic. The street stank of spoiled sake and greasy food.

Step by step, the night became brighter and louder. Light spilled from open doors. Drunken men reeled into the streets. Kyosuke kept his shoulders hunched and his head down. Their worn clothes and boots were little better than his, but they still spat at him. Derelicts slept under newspaper. Other ragged men wandered cadging for change.

He tried not to look at the painted women on the street corners. He blushed at their low cut clothes. They still made offers in crude voices. No money, he replied. One gap-toothed woman trailed him, asking him if he needed a job.

"With a cute face like that, you could make some good money," she said with saccharine sweetness. Her breath was rank with rotgut. She looked hard and worn beneath her makeup.

The whore pinched on his butt when he didn't answer, and the corner filled with crowing laughter. Kyosuke scampered away, but kept to his path, clinging to the vague promise of shelter.

The streets were empty near the block-long workhouse. The doors of the workhouse were locked. He pounded on the door, but no one answered. Quickly, the boy looked around. There was no one about.

Time for a little Power, he thought.

Kyosuke focused on himself. The effort stabbed into his brain. With a grunt, Kyosuke willed himself to the top of the building. He teleported. The vacuum left by his translocation drew in a swirl of winds and damp wrappers.

His sneakers slipped as they struck smooth gravel. There was no one else on the rooftop. He sheltered from the chill breeze behind the stair shaft. He felt a weary triumph at still being able to use the Power. Exhausted, he curled into a ball and fell asleep to the asthmatic wheeze of the rooftop fan.

Revised 3 April 05