Hitokiri Orange Road

12. A Brief Sanctuary

Umao showed Kyosuke how to load, unjam, and aim the rifle. Kyosuke had his hand one of his pistols the entire time that the taller boy handled the gun. Once he got the long gun back, Kyosuke tucked the stock beneath his arm, where he sweated despite the cold night. Six rounds were stored in a groove carved into the wooden stock. One bullet was already chambered in the weapon.

Kyosuke guarded the rear of the trio. He stole glances over his shoulder. Akane sidled behind a fence as Umao tried another door. The lanky boy managed to jimmy the lock without damaging it this time.

Umao ducked before shoving the door open. He flicked on a plastic flashlight, swiveling it next to his pistol as he advanced. Akane followed with her weapon drawn. Her face was white. She stayed in the doorway, while the tall boy crept from room to room. His footsteps creaked up the stairs, followed by the sounds of doors opening.

Akane flicked her fingers for Kyosuke to enter. The boy swept the street, behind the black bar of the gun sight, then stepped into the foyer. He quietly locked the door behind him.

"Sorry to intrude," Kyosuke whispered reflexively.

He felt vaguely uncomfortable keeping his shoes on, but the disgorged drawers and cabinets assuaged his guilt. After conferring with his fellows, Kyosuke scouted around the house a second time, making sure that the windows and doors were closed and locked. When he descended from the second floor, he found Umao and Akane sitting in a room at the back of the house. The heavy curtains had been drawn.

A portable heater radiated warm waves from the middle of the room. A kettle sat on its top. It emanated thin slashes of red light that cut down Akane's face. They had spread out three futons on the artificial tatami mats: two for the guys on one side of the heater and one on the other for Akane.

Kyosuke made his way to the nearest futon and fell heavily on the inviting softness. He heaved a sigh as the heat washed over him.

Akane gave a muffled giggle.

"What's so funny?" Kyosuke muttered.

"Nothing much. It just struck me that it feels like a field trip. This situation seems so unreal," Akane said.

"I heard that's how they got some classes, by taking them on a field trip then gassing them to sleep. That way, they can drive them to the battle site," Umao responded. He grunted as he stretched out. "That's right, you weren't there, were you? I remember that the guys from the government were talking about you three with the teacher."

Kyosuke sat bolt upright, which sent a twinge of pain through his side. His intuition told him to hide the truth. He beat Akane to the explanation.

"They corralled us later," Kyosuke mentally cursed his tense laughter. "What did they, I mean the government suits, do to you?"

"The teacher led us to the gym for vaccinations. They said that there was a nasty strain of avian flu making the rounds. After we got the jabs, we became so sleepy that we couldn't move. The next thing that I knew, I woke up with this fashion statement," Umao said with a tug at his metal collar.

"They gave us some shots, too," Kyosuke said as he volunteered his arm for inspection. "The nurse wasn't too gentle with it."

"They should have asked Tendo to do it," Umao rejoined with a weak laugh.

Kyosuke joined the boy's lame laughter. Kyosuke felt another twinge of pain in his abdomen. "Please excuse me, I've got to go to the WC."

Kyosuke carried his bag with him to the bathroom. He kept his flashlight low to keep the light from flashing out of a window. After entering the restroom, the boy set a pistol on the edge of the washbasin and closed the door.

He turned on a trickle of water. Without the gas, it was icy, but still felt good to clean his face. He pulled off his shirt. A deep band of black and blue ran across his body. Tanaka's droning warning came back to him. The painkiller needed to anti-coagulant to offset the increased clotting. Kyosuke found the package at the bottom of his bag. The instructions were still intact.

Despite the blood that he had recently seen and the mayhem he had experienced, the boy still found it difficult to pierce himself. Instead of his arm, he decided to try his leg. He sat over the toilet and managed to find a large vessel. On a three count, he managed to get the needle in and push the plunger. He pulled it out carefully, using a wad of sandy toilet paper to absorb the spot of dark blood.

After attending to his other his business, he cleaned up the evidence and descended the stairs to rejoin his fellow inmates. As soon as he entered the room, Umao rose to use the loo. Akane handed him a mug of hot tea and a rice ball. He took both gratefully.

"Why did you lie to him?" Akane mouthed to Kyosuke once he sat down.

Kyosuke had been working from intuition before, but the reasoning caught up readily. "Think about it, what if you were in his shoes? How would you feel if he had tried to escape and left you out?"

"Not very good," Akane sighed.

"You aren't going to tell him are you?"

Akane shook her head. "Not now, after what you've said."

Akane was honest girl. Her face plainly said that she hated to lie. Kyosuke wasn't fond of it either and decided to change the subject. Before he could, Umao had returned, and Akane took her turn upstairs.

Kyosuke dug into his food, while the rangy boy lay with his head in his hands.

"She's a nice girl, isn't she?"

"I guess," Kyosuke answered uncertainly.

"She reminds me of Ushiko. Then again, all girls start to remind me of her. Or rather I start seeing parts of Ushiko in other girls. Or something like that."

"Ushiko, that's the girl that you're trying to look for, right?"

"Yes, you've got a good memory," Umao flashed him a white smile. "I guess that we tempted fate back then."

"What do you mean by that?" Kyosuke asked.

"It's a long story, so you might not want to hear it."

Kyosuke found that we wanted to keep talking, even if it was just babble. The lapses of silence were forbidding and filled of night sounds. Each sound could have been a footfall of an assailant creeping toward the house or even upstairs.

"How about this, if I start snoring, you can stop," though Kyosuke noted to himself that he wasn't going to fall asleep first.

"Sounds fine by me," Umao agreed cheerfully. "This was during my last year in middle school. It was actually around this time of year, miserable weather and all."