His skin had been stretching thin lately and he didn't know why. Flexing and un-flexing his fingers, he watched the skin as it grew taught when he spread his fingers wide, only to scrunch up and wrinkle when he drew them into a fist. He looked at his nails, and they looked the same. Everything was the same, yet still he felt as if he had changed or was changing. Moving from one thing to another like a caterpillar must feel just days before it cocooned itself in preparation for becoming a butterfly.
"Satoshi, is everything all right?"
He turned his gaze to his girlfriend of three years. She looked up at him, her dark eyes large and worried.
"I'm fine, Kagome. I was just thinking...that's all."
He looked at her, confused, as he'd already gone back to staring at his hand again. Her brows furrowed and putting down the magazine she'd been reading, she came to him and put a hand to his forehead.
"Are you all right...really? You've been acting awfully strange lately."
He didn't know how to answer that. Yes, he had been acting strange lately and no, he wasn't all right but there wasn't really an easy way to answer that without causing concern and unwanted questions.
How to tell her that every morning he awoke sore and more tired than he had been when he'd gone to sleep the night before? How could he tell her that hew was afraid to sleep? Because if he slept, he'd dream and those dreams were hardly harmless mental detritus, he wouldn't remember much the next morning but what he did was just enough to cause him to question his sanity...but not enough for him to want to seek professional help. They were disturbing and far too real. Almost more like memories that he'd thoughtlessly forgotten and his mind was taking time at night to try and force him to remember. In these dreams there was violence, death and pain, interrupted by some bits that weren't as bad as others, but overall, they were unpleasant and unsettling...
There was a sword.
There was a jewel.
There was a little girl.
And there was a young woman.
They all traveled through his dreamscape, devoid of names and meaning, but he somehow knew they were all important. All linked somehow and if he could piece together what those things meant together, then maybe he'd understand why...why the world felt so different. Why he felt so different...
It had started with small things.
He'd always had bad night vision. When he was eight, he'd broken his arm when he tripped over a chair in his bedroom at night. As he got older, it only got worse. When he was seventeen, he'd gotten into a nasty car accident because he had trouble seeing the road. So his parents had taken him to an optometrist, and the doctor had prescribed him special glasses for driving at night. It didn't help him much with anything else, but it did allow him to continue to drive. Then just last week, he'd put on his glasses and found that he didn't need them. He'd taken them on and off, and noticed no difference. At first, he'd been overjoyed. His optometrist had told him that sometimes eyes fix themselves and he'd thought he'd just gotten lucky.
He could drive with no restrictions. Wander his home in the dark without worrying about tripping over things. But then...something changed even further from what it had before. Some would say for the better, but he wasn't so sure anymore.
Kagome had asked him to go on a vacation with him to Hokkaido. She'd booked a room at a tiny little hot springs resort in the middle of nowhere because she wanted to see the stars. That's what she told him. She was always stargazing or complaining because she couldn't see them. Something about the night sky drew her and she'd never told him why. He'd often catch her staring at the sky with a wistful look on her face. She'd turned and smiled at him, and the look in her eyes when she did that...it was so haunted.
"I want to see the stars again, Satoshi. Really see them because I think I might have forgotten what they look like..."
How could he say no to that?
They went to Hokkaido, to a rather remote but charmingly untraditional hot spring resort/ryokan near the Iwaobetsu onsen on the Shiretoko peninsula. One night, they had been walking quietly through a meadow near the main house of the resort. She'd been watching the sky. He'd been watching the forest and thinking. When he first agreed to the trip it was with a lot of reluctance, until he'd seen the forest that surrounded the resort. If the night sky drew her, the forest drew him. He'd been scanning it like she scanned the sky and with his new eyes he was amazed at how much he saw. He spotted a fox and pointed it out to her. She turned her face from the sky to look at the fox. She squinted and squinted and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see it and she'd laughed then. It sounded so light, so beautiful that his heart almost broke.
"You can't see anything out here at night but the stars. It's far too dark...Silly man."
But he could see it clear as day and what's more, he knew the fox could see him. They looked at each other for a moment before it trotted back into the woods. If that was the end of it, he wouldn't have blinked twice but it hadn't been the end. The next morning when he got up, the morning light had been almost unbearable. It was so bright it gave him a headache. He put on a pair of sunglasses and said nothing.
They left Hokkaido two days after that and things only got worse.
Weeks passed and everything was still too bright. Too clear. So clear and bright that he was in almost constant mind numbing agony. He had headaches almost every day. The sunglasses didn't work anymore. His optometrist had just told him that for reasons unknown, his eyes had become over-sensitized and that he should see his primary care physician to get a referral so he could see a specialist.
He went to the doctor.
He went to the specialist.
Neither of them could tell him a thing. They would still be doing their tests if he hadn't put a stop to it. They had been too busy trying to prove their theories to pay attention to the human being who was in desperate need of answers. Answers he was now convinced they couldn't have provided in the first place.
So, he suffered the headaches and the pain and after a bit, he adjusted.
As his doctor had told him when he first started wearing glasses at night, it'd take some time for his eyes to get used to seeing properly. It apparently worked in reverse as well. So, he was now used to the incredible clarity, and once used to it, he saw the world anew. Clearer. Brighter. More precise. Sometimes it was a good thing. Sometimes bad.
But the headaches stopped.
And he hadn't told his girlfriend.
He wasn't quite sure why, but mostly it was because he didn't want to worry her. They'd be getting married in the spring. She had planned it all herself, with her mother's help, of course. It had all been very traditional despite the fact that Kagome herself was anything but a traditional girl. They'd lived together for over a year now. A no, no in any religion, yet she wanted a traditional Shinto wedding. They'd even hired a go-between, though they technically didn't need one but what Kagome wanted, Kagome got. There were so many decisions and complications involving the rituals that she'd joked about going bald from the stress. He wouldn't know, marriage ceremonies were really more for the bride and the families than for the groom. Anyway, his health issues...well...she didn't need that added worry, so he kept it from her.
Besides, his eyesight was much better than before. How was that a bad thing?
But recently...his hearing had improved as well. She had said something to him. Three nights ago they'd gotten into a fight. He forgot what it was about. It was probably something stupid. In his opinion, most fights between lovers were always, without a doubt, over something stupid and entirely pointless. Disagreements about little stupid things that get blown out of proportion, until you don't remember what it was that started all of it...you just remember you want to win.
He'd insulted her and she'd stormed out of the living room, towards the bedroom they'd shared for almost seven years. She'd said something just before entering the bedroom and slamming the door shut. He figured she meant to say it under her breath, but she had always had a knack for saying just what she meant to leave unsaid. And so he pointed it out to her.
"If you're going to insult me behind my back, you might try not to shout it so loud..."
"I didn't shout."
And then, there was a long awkward pause, where she stared at him like he was a fish out of water flopping mutely on the ground in front of her.
"You heard that? How could you hear that?"
Alarmed, he told her he didn't know, and he stormed out of the house.
He'd come back some hours later and had apologized. He told her about his visits to the doctor. She'd forgiven him, but now she was worried about his health. Already, she'd harangued him about going back. After all, it wasn't normal to see so well it hurt your eyes. He'd adamantly refused. Not wanting to start another fight because sometimes its seemed like that was all they did anymore, she let it go and so here they were, in their living room...with her giving him worried looks and side glances and with him pondering his own sanity.
Her hand moved from his forehead to his cheek as she gazed into his eyes deeply. Too deeply. And for a moment, time stopped and everything fell apart and he saw with eyes that surely weren't his own. He saw his Kagome standing in front of him like she was right now but instead of the stubbornly worried look on her face, she looked stubbornly determined.
"Y-you...You tried to kill me, didn't you!"
She scowled then, accusatorily pointing a rusty old sword at his dream-self.
"You'll regret that! I'm about to make you pay!"
And then she turned and gave the sword to someone else. Someone he couldn't see. That other person was just a blur of red and white, but he knew without a doubt that he hated that other person with every fiber of his being, though his reasons seemed muddled.
The world came back to him in a garbled rush, and he looked at her, his gaze becoming dark. With a snarl, he slapped her hand away.
"I'm fine! Stop nagging me."
He stood abruptly. He had to get away from her. His skin was still stretching again and he felt a strange lack of emotion as if all the things he saw and felt throughout his life were being sucked out of him, and something else was being put back in. Like his blood was being replaced with lava. He felt irritable and he didn't know why. The waking dream was unsettling him. The changes in his eyesight and hearing unsettled him but the sensation that things were increasingly out of joint that unsettled him more than anything else. He violently pulled the slider door to the balcony open and stepped outside. Looking over the sprawling suburbs that surrounded metropolitan Tokyo, he found himself clutching onto the balcony's railing like a last life line. He had told her about the eyesight but he hadn't told her about anything else.
She padded after him. He could hear her soft steps following him like they were midday thunder, bright, loud and unmistakable.
She stepped closer. He could hear her breathing. Hear her heart beating.
If he really concentrated, could he hear what she was thinking?
He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. Tried to center his thoughts but it didn't work because he could still hear her breathing and beating. It was too loud. She was too loud. He could smell her. Could smell the city around them and it was putrid and disgusting, and even her comfortable scent couldn't block it all out because underneath everything was a layer of sweat and unpleasantness. And it all reminded him of a smell he wasn't sure he really remembered at all.
Y-you...you tried to kill me...and she held the sword tightly in her hands. His Kagome, with the strange, rusty sword clutched tightly in her hands and it was too clear to be just a dream. She gave to him. Just gave it to him...she'd pulled it out when she shouldn't have.
What are you...
D-don't come any closer or I'll cut you...
...Get away from her! She's not a part of this!
And the annoying boy in red had run straight at him as he raised his hand. He'd raised his hand and sprayed something...and she'd disappeared. Almost dissolved, as if hit by acid and his dream-self didn't even blink. He hadn't much enjoyed it, nor did it make him feel guilty. He just felt...empty. Void. He'd killed her and even when he thought of it now...it didn't seem to affect him. But the one thing that did was when she'd given the annoying one in red the sword. It made him angry but parts of him were split apart in their reasoning. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as the rage overwhelmed him. She'd taken what was his and given it away to that bastard. To a Halfling that could hardly appreciate the sword for what it was...the boy didn't deserve it.
It was his.
She was his.
The deliberate recalcitrance she'd shown in the dream and the confusion and fear he smelt on her now molded together until he couldn't tell one feeling from another. Dream and reality collided, and he felt something in him slip. His grip on the railing tightened as this feeling overwhelmed him. Skin tightening even further, something dark within grew and clawed its way through his flesh and it was like fire. He was on fire and the only thing that'd put it out was...
He was trembling, trying to tamp down the feelings and the rage, but it only seemed to make it worse.
"Leave me alone."
But the foolish girl didn't. She came closer, smelling like fear and rosehips and her heart beating like a mad butterfly's wings. Her hand touched his shoulder, in that gentle way that had always calmed him but this time it didn't calm him. It inflamed the sense of outrage...that feeling within that wanted to tear everything apart.
"I said...Leave. Me. Alone."
He was visibly shaking now and when he looked down, he saw that he'd broken the balcony railing with his bare hands. She noticed too and she backed away from him slowly...and then...she ran. Something inside him snapped and the snarling beast inside his heart came out. He destroyed everything his hands could reach, tearing into them as if he had claws. When he finally stopped, his chest heaving, his entire body shaking, he looked down at his hands, which should have been ravaged by all that he'd done.
They were a mess but...something wasn't right.
There were only a few scratches. A few scant scratches, yet he found himself going into the bathroom to cover them up almost on reflex. Still staring at his hands, watching the few scratches heal before his very eyes, he almost forgot to look at his own reflection. Because any human, no matter how selfless, is a little vain and will always take a peek at their own reflection. Eventually he did look and he saw something that was far more alarming than his now completely healed hands. His eyes were red from tip to tip and his pupil was now but a pinprick in that red sea, fairly glowing with preternatural rage.
He could do nothing but stare into the mirror, locking gazes with the stranger that stared back with glowing red eyes. His hand slowly reached out to touch the glass in disbelief. His fingers touched the glass. Nothing changed. He tore through the cabinetry until he found a razor. He cut his finger with it. It hurt for but a moment before it sealed itself, but still...his eyes remained and his heart hammered like a native's beating drum. Constant and never yielding its rhythm. He balled his fist, drew it back and smashed the mirror, causing the glass to spider-vein out around the area where he struck.
His eyes left the ruined mirror and he stared at his still balled fist. Blood dripped from the cuts and for a moment he was relieved. But then, his skin began to expel the glass stuck into it and the bleeding stopped and within seconds his flesh looked like he hadn't just smashed a mirror with his bare hands. His eyes flickered to the shattered mirror and the dozens of red eyes that glared back at him before winking out slowly. The red bled away, and when it was gone his eyes remained but they were still changed from what they were just hours before. No longer were his eyes dark brown, almost black, they were gold. A bright, shining gold like the summer sun. His irises weren't the only thing that changed. His pupils too...they weren't round...they weren't human. They were slit, like a cat or a snake.
Letting go the breath he didn't know he was holding, he ran for the toilet and proceeded to throw up until he passed out.
Ryokan--A traditional Japanese inn.
Onsen--Hot springs baths, natural or otherwise.
Cultural note: Iwaobetsu onsen and the Shiretoko peninsula are real places you can visit in Hokkaido, Japan. Though if you do, beware. Shiretoko peninsula is known for having a large wild bear population. See that you don't get eaten!