A Child of Light and Fire
A Tale from the world of Akira
By Ben Roberts
a flickering, unsteady flame, without pattern or meaning. Life is a random, often cruel series of
trials, which generally makes little or no sense.
That is The Lesson, which I learned at an early
age. I am not sure of how old I
actually was; the drugs blurred the years into an indistinguishable morass of
images and feelings.
Because of the
experiments, I was denied any sort of true childhood. Indeed, I was denied my rightful human existence—it was traded
for a shadow-mockery of immortality. By
the time I had reached my fifth year, it was a stretch to call me "human."
My name is Yusuke
Hono'oguchi. The first character of my
written name means "courage," if you can believe that. Was anything ever less fitting?
I can barely
separate the drug-dreams from reality, but of this I am certain: I was born in
1981 in the southern district of Fujiyoshida, a small city at the base of
majestic Fujiyama itself. I suppose my
family was poor; my earliest memories are of hunger and a ceiling of cracked
plaster. Of course, those aren't even
proper memories—they're more a collection of disconnected image fragments.
But I digress.
When I was four
years old, something happened to my family.
I don't remember the event, but the result was that more than one of
them died, and I was sent to an orphanage.
It was at the
orphanage that They found me.
I have vague
recollections of a man with a dark suit and broad shoulders, who gently
escorted me into a long, sleek car—dark like his suit jacket. The cushions inside were red and very
soft. They looked so expensive that I
was afraid to make myself too comfortable.
After a ride that seemed interminable to my four-year-old mind, I was
let out of the car, and led into a large, square building.
Inside, I was
greeted by Doctor, who would be in charge of me while I stayed. This, he explained, was my new home. I should just think of it as just a big
house, he said.
I learned later that it was the Research Center for
the Advancement of Human Evolution, but to me, it will always be the Terrible
Place. Before Doctor showed me to my
new room, I had a number tattooed on my wrist: 11.
Even, then, I was a coward. I cried when I saw the needle; it was sharp
and frightening, and only the first of many to come. After that, the adults only called me "number 11," instead of
Most of my memories
of that place are comprised of a seeming eternity of, swallowing pills, and
taking tests. When I wasn't doing
either of those, I was either being given shots or hooked to machines.
One memory in
particular is quite vivid; I had taken two blue pills and one pink one ("To
sharpen your mind," Doctor said) and lay down on my bed to sleep. When I awoke, I had been moved to a
different room. The ceiling was made of
something reflective, and polished so well that it was a huge mirror.
In it, I saw myself,
spread-eagle upon the operating table.
Hundreds—maybe thousands—of wires protruded from my body, twisted around
numerous intravenous tubes like metallic, multicolored vines hugging a rubber
tree trunk. My head had been shaved,
and a crown of pins and electrodes surrounded my cranium.
At first, I didn't
realize that it was my reflection; I thought—hoped—that I had finally died, and
now observed my body. But when my
reflection's eyes blinked, I knew that I was still horribly alive.
The next day—or it
might have been the next week—I awoke in my own bed again. My head throbbed, casting flashes of pale
scarlet across my eyes and through my body.
I remember that when I tried to stand, I thought I felt something
crawling inside my skull.
Doctor entered the
room shortly after I awoke, and brought several strange men and women with
him. He held a string in front of me
and told me some things that made me really mad—although I can no longer recall
what they were. The string started to
burn, and all the strangers "oohed" and "aahed," while Doctor bowed like a
magician. Then they all left me with my
Of course, there are
gaps in my memory. I sometimes feel as
if I have cobwebs for a mind; only frail threads of memory remain, connected
haphazardly at random points with giant holes in between. I can't remember much of my time at the
I recall that there
were many other children, each also tattooed with a number on his or her
wrist. We were all allowed to play with
one another each day, though I usually sat by myself. Sometimes, we took tests together, too.
I also remember
He was the only one
who came to visit me—besides Doctor—when the shots made me sick, or the
experiments made me too weak to move.
None of the newer children would play with me; I was somehow different
from them. Too dangerous, Doctor
said. But Akira didn't care.
I don't know how old
he was; in that place it was impossible to tell. We were given drugs that kept our bodies from growing larger, so
he might have been ten or fifteen, or maybe even twenty years old, even though he
When all was said
and done, I didn't care how old he was.
He came to visit me, and that was enough. He made me laugh with funny stories, and once, he brought me ice
Akira was the one
who taught me to control the flame.
When I got mad,
things would inexplicably catch on fire.
I learned later that the researchers at the Center "awoke" the power
within me, but at the time, all I knew was that it was terrifying.
But Akira helped me
to not be afraid, and kept me from crying.
He told me that I had to find peace with myself, or the power would be
too strong. Anger and jealousy gave
power to the Fire demon in my head, so I had to be especially wary of those
feelings, he said. He said that if I
didn't control the Fire, it would control me.
I tried not to be
scared at that, but Akira said that it was okay to be scared, as long as I
understood that I couldn't be weak. He
was always nice to me.
Akira soon became my
only friend. I don't understand why he
liked me; I guess he just made friends easily.
All of the others admired him because he was one of the first
children. Even Doctor called him
"Akira" instead of "Number 3."
On July 16, 1988, I
completed my descent into the waking nightmare that has since become my
life. The memory of that day is still
painfully lucid in my patchwork mind, etched into my heart with shards of anger
I'll probably never
know the truth of what happened to Akira, but what I recall is this. Doctor had told me that day that if I could
light all seven candles on my bedside table, then I could go outside to play
with Akira and the others. For hours
after breakfast, and possibly well into the afternoon, I tried to guide the
beast of Fire that writhed in my head.
I concentrated on
what Akira had taught me: guide the fire, don't try to force it. Just as I had almost got the trick of it,
one of Doctor's assistants burst into my room and grabbed me, face limned in
shades of panic and fear.
He rushed me
outside, babbling that Akira had done something—something terrible. The ground trembled, and leaped once, like
an angry beast. The assistant's grip
tightened painfully on my arm.
I was hurried into a
helicopter with a few of the other children.
Kiyoko, Masaru and Takashi—numbers 26, 27 and 28 respectively—all sat
across from me, looking terrified.
Number 19—I never learned her name—wrung her hands and glared out the
window. The rest were children I
recognized, but I didn't even know their numbers.
"Where's Akira?" I
Outside, a painfully
bright light erupted from the center of the complex, spreading slowly outwards
in a luminous, all-consuming dome of blazing power. As our helicopter took off, I could see that the dome was
accelerating in growth as it spread.
The clouds shrank back from it, as if some giant, invisible hand peeled
"Where's Akira?" I
demanded again. Try as I might, I
couldn't tear my sight away from the spectacle below. As the destructive illumination grew closer to our fleeing
aircraft, I was filled with a great, immersive feeling that still eludes
description to this day. My best
explanation of it is that I suddenly felt a limitless sense of potential,
as if I were breathing the cosmic power of creation. I felt a swell of omnipotent Possibility build within me, coupled
with a crushing sense of irreplaceable Loss.
At that moment, I
knew. Akira was gone; my only friend
had abandoned me for that perfect, divine, terrible light, and I was alone with
my own wretched, lonely existence and a helicopter full of other psionic children
who hated and feared me as much as I hated and feared myself.
In that moment, the
Jealously, rage and
anger . . . the dark emotions that Akira had told me to bury, all flooded to
the top. I find it hard to choose a
single word that does justice to the blaze of hatred, betrayal and bitterness
that consumed my heart and soul like a ravenous beast of prey.
I remember screaming
that it wasn't fair, that Akira had no right to leave us like this. My hands clenched into fists, and before I
knew what was happening, the Fire came, all at once.
The child to my left
died almost instantly. In my mind's
eye, I can still see him vaporizing in a gout of fire that boiled from my hands
and curled from my arms, infernal serpents of pain and vengeance.
All rational thought
was purged from my brain by the flames.
The only thing I could feel was the need to strike out, for anything
that flickered to the surface of my boiling consciousness.
I struck for the
death of my family, and the pilot cried out as the dashboard exploded. I struck for the pain of having my name
replaced with a number, and Kiyoko flinched behind a shield of psionic energy,
protected from my rage. I struck for
the terrible things done to me, and Takashi screamed as the smoke threatened to
choke him. I struck for the fear of the
other children who ostracized me when I most needed companionship, and Masaru's
jaw tightened grimly.
I struck and struck
and struck, until the hell flowed through my body and blazed across the walls,
melting steel to the texture of hot wax.
As the helicopter
plummeted, I heard horrible, shrieking laughter, and realized that it was my
own voice, possessed by the spirit of the Flame, glutting itself on
destruction, devouring all in its path.
I had never been
attacked before. Perhaps that is why I
was so easily defeated back then; it never occurred to me, even in my madness,
that somebody would try to hurt me.
And so, when I felt spectral hands closing around my throat and choking
me, I was too surprised to fend off Takashi's attack. When Masaru's powerful blast of wind seemed to warp the very air
around me and turn my fire back into myself, I did nothing but scream in
I fell then, through
the blasted remains of what had been the helicopter's wall. How the helicopter managed to limp the rest
of the way to wherever it was headed, I'll never know. Perhaps Masaru persuaded the wind to carry
it there. I do know for a certainty,
however, that Takashi, Masaru and Kiyoko still live, even to this day.
For days I lay on
the broken street below, both appalled and terrified of myself. I had killed. The guttering flame of life had been so easy to extinguish in the
other children, and indeed, had almost gone out in me.
I lay still, letting
the wind and rain have their way with me.
I wished to die, to un-become the monster that was now me. In the chaos that reigned throughout
Tokyo—or what was left of it after Akira's disappearance—nobody tried to help
me as I lay, waiting to rot. The very
few who passed by never gave me a second glance; they likely counted me as
among the many who had died in Akira's metamorphosis.
After the first day,
I was assaulted by wracking pain. I had
never gone a day without controlling drugs since I had been changed at the
Terrible Place, and now my young, frail body screamed for them. Unable to control my power, I lay
helplessly, weeping and wailing and blazing fire from my eyes and fingertips
until I was nearly blind and I could feel my hands covered with sticky hot
It may have been a
week before I finally rose, driven by nothing more than bare animal instinct
and a hunger that gnawed at my insides worse than the Flame demon in my head.
Primeval urges for
survival were all that sustained me as I half-limped, half-crawled across the
broken concrete and rubble left by rioters.
More animal than human, I was dimly aware of baring my teeth when a
threatening noise made me jump.
I don't know what
drugs I was given at the Terrible Place in order to keep the Fire under
control. However, I learned after
experimentation that if I swallowed a certain combination of pills—looted from
a ruined drugstore—every two days, that I could control the power, rather than
the other way around. I had no way of
knowing, back then, that I was developing a dependency.
The Fire was as
dangerous an addiction; I soon found that, even using the drugs as a crutch, I
felt a terrible, insatiable drive to use my power nearly every day. Coward that I was—am—I gave in to the
I was attacked twice
by drifting homeless souls almost as feral as I, attracted by the meager,
pitiful scraps of food I had managed to procure for myself.
When the first leaped at me from the shadows, I am
not sure what happened. I screamed, and
felt the Fire take hold of me, crawling along my spine and flowing lambent down
The spirit of the Fire seemed to take root in my
scream, making it echo across the buildings, increasing in volume with each
repetition instead of fading. The glass
bottle of liquor that the derelict held exploded, and he fled, whimpering and
pressing hands to his bleeding ears.
The second came upon
me four days later, while I was eating a feral dog I had killed. I must have looked like easy prey: a ragged,
filthy child with tear streaks tracking my grimy face. In the seconds before my attacker died, I
saw myself as he saw me, reflected in his eyes: a shaggy, diminutive demon,
fire blazing across my body like a bright, infernal mane of light.
I wept for hours
after I killed him.
For several months,
I lived like that—roaming the ruins of Tokyo, behaving like an animal,
swallowing my pills, using my talent, solidifying my slavery to all three
habits. At times, I would merely sit
and stare as I wove fire into sundry shapes, hypnotized by my own cursed
In the outside
world, the third World War raged, changing the face of the planet and leaving a
scar on the heart of society, but I was oblivious. Though no longer possessed of the madness that had gripped me on
the day of Akira's disappearance, I kept to myself, and rarely looked beyond my
own immediate troubles.
Eventually, when the
people partially regained their sanity and the crews came to Tokyo to begin the
process of rebuilding, I left. Nobody
asked questions of a derelict child who kept to himself, so I was left alone by
the influx of people, most of whom tried to forget that this city had been the
epicenter of the world's greatest disaster.
I ran. Of course, I ran, like a coward. I was terrified that the people from the
Terrible Place would come find me and put me back in their machines, give me
shots with sharp, frightening needles, and keep my wits dull with drugs. It was not until I was faced with society
once again that I realized how terrified I was of being caught and returned to
I made my way out into the surrounding countryside,
barren as it now was, and lived as I could.
Once in a while, I would find a town and steal from its pharmacy. The rest of the time, I avoided all human
contact, and stayed isolated with my fire demon, my addictions, and my guilt.
All the while, Life's flickering, random flame
continued to burn. As usually, it made
no sense to me, and repeated its cruelties time and time again.
Little by little, I
reclaimed bits of my humanity. I made
an effort to speak each day—human words, rather than the grunts and growls that
I had become accustomed to. I washed
when I could. Once, I even managed to
cut my matted, tangled mane of filthy hair.
Mostly, I tried to
understand my life. It doesn't make
much sense to me now, and it made much less sense when I was seven years old
and uneducated. I contemplated what
Akira had told me about being at peace with oneself, and tried to reconcile
that was his actions.
Why had Akira left
us all, we who depended on him? He had
so many friends who looked up to him for inspiration or for support. Why had he abandoned us—me? Akira had told me to be strong, but the more
I thought about it, the more it seemed that he himself had been weak, given in
to the urge to use his power without restraint at the last.
Of course, when I
caught myself thinking such things, I was ashamed. Who was I, the greatest coward of all, and weakest amongst
any that had been at the Center, to judge Akira, who had been my only friend?
For two further
cycles of the seasons, I continued with my meditation in hopes of freeing my
soul, and the contradictory enslavement to the drugs that kept me sane and the
Fire that ruled my being.
During that time, I
realized that I had begun to age again.
Slowly—much slower than I should have been—but I was aging nonetheless,
which was a heartening sign to me that the Terrible Place had lost some of its
grip on me.
In the middle of the
third winter since I had fled Tokyo, I met Jiisan. I had wrapped myself against the snow and cold in the furs of
animals I had killed for food, and was sleeping in a grove of stunted trees a
few kilometers outside of a village when I heard the sound.
Two young men—no
older than twenty—dragged an old man through the snow. They said lots of things that I didn't
understand, and used words that I had never heard before. Warlock.
However, if the
strange words confused me, I understood perfectly when they hit him. The sight of it made me flinch, as two
healthy, young men punched him in the stomach, and then kicked him when he fell
to his knees.
Inside of me,
something dangerous awoke, and danced with the Fire demon in my soul. It was wrong to attack somebody who
could not defend himself. When the old
man's assailants hit him, I felt in myself the helplessness of being strapped
to a table and given countless shots.
When the old man begged them to stop, I heard my own weeping as I lay
awake at night in the Terrible Place.
A familiar dark feeling
spread over me, and I knew that I was about to kill again. A wordless howl of fury rose in my
throat. I forced words into the yell,
though it felt like trying hammer round pegs into square holes; I had been
feral too long.
"Leave him alone!" I
screamed. Again, I heard the eerie echo
that told me the Fire spirit had embodied itself within the sound. The two men staggered backwards, holding
Flame blazed out of
my hands, my eyes, my mouth. I wove it
into shapes that I imagined to be avenging angels and flesh-rending oni. I channeled all my pent-up frustration and
rage against the two fleeing men.
In my head, a small
voice cried that I had done enough; it was equally as cowardly to further
pursue the men now that they ran as it had been for them to hurt the old man.
But I have ever been
When the two men
were dead, I walked to the old man. I
was not sure what to do now—I had just spent years avoiding human contact, and
now I had saved an old man from death, or so I believed.
He stirred and
looked at me with sad eyes. I expected
him to run, to shout, to be terrified of me, demon that I was. Instead, a tear coursed down his cheek, and
"You poor boy."
It was then that I
noticed he was looking at the tattoo on my wrist. It seemed nearly an instinct to cover it, although it had been
years since another human being had looked upon me, and much less one that
would care whether my wrists were disfigured or not.
"Poor boy," he said
again, and reached for me, as if to embrace me. "What have they done to you?"
The question took me off guard.
My accumulated fatigue at having called so much fire to my command chose
that moment to flood upon me, all in an instant.
When I awoke, I was
in a small building; it was little more than a hut. Still, it was warm, and it smelled of nature and herbs, which
soothed my feral instincts. In a
corner, the old man sat on rough floorboards and read a book.
Later, I learned
that it was an old house that the old man had stumbled upon by chance, out in
the woods. He supposed that it had been
abandoned during the World War, and saw no reason not to take shelter in it for
the time being.
He never told me his
name, but he let me call him "Jiisan," even though he wasn't my real grandfather. The years I spent with him were the best of
my life. He never reviled me for my
cursed talent, never shrank away when nightmares seized me and made me shake
with the urge to channel Fire.
It was Jiisan who
taught me how to write. For hours I
would sit beside him in heavy, contemplative silence while I traced the
curving, graceful shapes of the hiragana script, and the starker,
blockier katakana. Jiisan even
taught me grade-school kanji—the symbols used by adults and the Chinese
when they write.
I learned history,
and such current events as Jiisan was aware of. On clear nights, Jiisan would take me outside and show me the
stars in the sky, naming each one, and pointing out the shapes that they made
when linked together—"constellations," he called them.
He never asked where
I had been kept, or what specifically had been done to me. When I offered to explain, he would merely
smile and say that it was enough for him to know that I was a troubled boy with
a need to overcome an unpleasant past.
That was usually followed by a rice ball placed in my hand.
Though Jiisan didn't
speak much, I discovered through shreds of conversation over the years that he
had been held prisoner when he was a young man, and subjected to many tests, as
I had been. Although he had never
developed any talent, the people of his village had long memories; after the
disaster in Tokyo and the World War that resulted, anybody suspected of
possessing special powers had been driven out of the area.
A few times, people
came to visit Jiisan out in our remote house in the woods. None of them were from the village from
which he had been driven, but they remained wary, just the same. Perhaps it was I who frightened them; I
remember one young lady staring at me as if I were an oni from a story
book, before turning away and whispering something to her hiking companion.
One couple spoke
excitedly of the rebirth of Tokyo: Neo Tokyo, they called it. I felt my stomach twist into knots as they
described the city of my former captivity. When Jiisan noticed my discomfort,
he smoothly turned the conversation to other topics.
It was small but
meaningful kindnesses like that which had such an effect on me. In my whole life, nobody had ever gone out
of their way to treat me kindly, and yet this old man did it effortlessly.
was responsible for restoring some semblance of humanity to my soul. By treating me as both a foster son and as a
comrade amongst the abused, he won my trust and love. One moonlit night, I came to a revelation: Jiisan had, through
gentle support and quiet encouragement, made me believe in some strength of
character in myself. Akira, though me
only friend at the time, had told me to be strong, but never helped me to do
so. Though he made me smile and cheered
me up, Akira had ever been my crutch.
By that comparison, Jiisan was merely a guide, who taught me to rely on
my own strength—meager though it was—without being afraid to ask for help,
should I need it.
Once, I spoke to
Jiisan of Akira.
I told him of
Akira's commands to be strong, and his advice to be at peace with myself. At that, Jiisan remained quiet for quite
some time, before calmly remarking that Akira had seemed a boy far ahead of his
years in wisdom. That was the end of
I still miss him.
He died on a
pleasant summer morning when I was 14 years of age. I felt the unsteady, flickering flame of life wink out in him as
he lay at my knees and smiled. That
whole morning, I sat and wept silently—not for Jiisan, but for myself. The Lesson had been proved once again; if
Life made sense, my Jiisan would have lived, and I, the tainted, cowardly one,
would have died as deserved.
But Life is a
flickering flame: chaotic, passionless.
I sent Jiisan to the
heavens with fire. I felt it only
fitting that my cursed talent, which had brought so much pain and suffering to
myself and others, should serve at least one noble purpose. I could think of
none nobler than sending the closest thing I had to a father to his eternal
rest with some semblance of dignity.
For a few months
after Jiisan's cremation, I stayed in the house we had shared. I continued to take my drugs and burn shapes
in the air in my loneliness.
memories of what had been tormented me with the comparison of my now-lonely existence,
and I left. I dreamed often of burning
down the house, but I honestly can't say for sure now whether I actually did so
I began to slip back into my nomadic lifestyle
again, but fought it. I found myself
drifting northeast in my travels. After
a few weeks of walking aimlessly through small, suspicious villages or blasted
skeleton towns, I realized that Fate's strings drew me inexorably towards Neo
As I drew closer,
the Fire demon in my head grew more persistent. The drugs were no longer enough to quell the nightmares, or to
satisfy my terrible craving for channeling the Fire. By the time I could see the city skyline, I was compelled to
indulge in my terrible gift within a handful of minutes since the previous time.
Every time I did so,
the Fire demon grew stronger, and I felt the humanity I had labored to regain
with Jiisan threaten to vanish—a psychological mirage, henceforth forever out
of reach. Despair welled within me, and
I wondered why Fate hated me so.
Tokyo had changed more
than just its name.
In the time during
which I had been gone, it had not only re-christened itself "Neo Tokyo," but it
had undergone a startling metamorphosis.
A veritable jungle of colossal towers and space-scrapers crowded
together, each vying for supremacy amongst its steel and concrete
brothers. The lights at night had
always been impressive, but now, the radiance that blazed from the random
conglomeration of houses, cars, helicopters, and billboards was nearly a
second, multihued sun.
When I reached the outskirts, I made a
resolution to myself: no matter what happened, I would not use the Fire. I half feared that I had been drawn here
somehow by the Center once again, and I refused to dance like a puppet on
strings for their entertainment.
At that thought, I
remembered Doctor on the day that I had first channeled the Flame, bowing like
a ringmaster, proud that he had made his pet psion perform. Well, if I was under another test,
then I would refuse to use the Fire, even should it cost me my life!
In contrast to my
departure form the city years ago, it now seemed that everybody I passed
watched me, waiting for my newfound resolve to snap. I gritted my teeth at their stares and continued forward. It did not occur to me until the exertion of
holding back the urges made me stop and sink to my knees that everybody was
probably staring at what they thought was an unaccompanied 9-year-old boy.
Sweat popped out in
clammy beads on my forehead as the Fire demon pressed against the back of my
eyes and demanded release. I shook my
head and growled at it.
For several hours, I
continued to move forward, towards the center of the city. A sense of urgency lashed me on, though
fatigue slowed my progress. The very
air pressed down on my shoulders with heavy, pregnant expectation.
Something important was about to happen, and if I
didn't hurry, I would miss it. I found
myself leaping ahead towards—what? The
idea that I was being manipulated again, whether by the Fire demon, or by
Doctor and his team of sycophants, drove me back in my steps to an immediate
Release me! screamed the Fire demon in my head, and my
temples pounded with a terrible aching.
Needles of pain lanced through my eye sockets, sending electric threads
of agony spreading throughout the rest of my shaking body. My hands twitched with the instinctive need
to release Flame.
I doubled over,
heedless of where I fell. A part of me,
disconnected, watched as I rolled and twitched on the ground, driven to animal
whining and the vague mouthing of silent words. I was disgusted with my weakness, and prayed, even as I longed to
give in to the Fire, that I would at least die without succumbing this last
time to my addictions.
That was when I
heard the voice.
It does not surprise
me that the sound of a child in distress cut through my pain and forced me to
my feet. Before I even knew the
particulars of the child's plight, I already sympathized with him, if for no
other reason than I had once sounded as this young wailing boy now did.
It took me a moment
to realize that I had somehow managed to wander into a residential block in the
Old Quarter of the city. Nevertheless,
there I was, and before me, a house in flames.
I will probably never know whether the fire merely started through
accidental causes within, or whether, in my fit, I had unconsciously loosed
Fire upon the closest target.
Whatever the cause,
the house in front of me was engulfed in flames, painted with the hues of
hell. It must have been going for some
time, but nobody appeared to be helping.
Indeed, nobody seemed to be anywhere.
I discovered later
that this was an abandoned area of the Old Quarter, which had not yet been
renovated. The child's family must have
been living there in order to avoid something; perhaps they were drug dealers
That would forever
remain a mystery, as I saw immediately that two adult-sized shapes had been
crushed by falling, flaming roof beams.
Their child had been
left upstairs to die.
Fueled by righteous
anger, I strode into the house. Fire
was a familiar enemy, and so I did not cringe when the flames leaped out to
tear at my face and clothing from every side.
It seemed almost as if the Fire demon had begged its brethren on the
outside to punish me for not releasing it, because every step I took brought
new agony and searing heat from the voracious flames.
The child's cries
led me to the ruin of a staircase. What
time and mold had begun in destroying the steps to the second level, the fire
had very nearly completed. I had to
close my eyes against the infernal conflagration as I gingerly picked my way up
Summon me, the Fire demon urged, and we can push
the flames away. You can rescue the boy
and be a hero! I curled my lip and
continued; what I accomplished here, I would do without the use of my damned
After what seemed an
eternity, I reached the wailing, soot stained child. He had begun to cough from the smoke now, and had very nearly
Trying to keep from
brusqueness, I quickly hoisted him on my back and fled back the way I had
come. When I reached the middle of the
stairs, they gave way with a roar of sparks and the painfully clear splinter of
old, dry wood.
The extra weight of
a two-year old child made me land wrong, and I felt something pop in my left
ankle. Biting back a gasp and the urge
to sear flames across the sky with my pain, I staggered forward.
Call me! raged the Fire demon. I will help you, but you must bow to me
first! I glared ahead and hobbled
towards the too-far-away door.
Fire blazed in my
vision, then, and I threw myself across the young child to protect him. In my mind's eye, I could see the Fire demon
hurling himself at me, willing me to break.
I could see the Doctor, pushing me to become a living weapon of Fire and
Death. I could see the other psionic
children, hating me for my power and my failure to fit in.
"Be what we tell you
to be," they seemed to say. "You are
weak, and flawed, and a cursed demon!
Do as we say, and you will be saved!"
At that moment,
something I never knew existed awoke inside of me. Perhaps it had always been there, and I just refused to
acknowledge it. Perhaps it was
something that Akira and Jiisan had planted in my heart. But at that moment, the Fire demon shrank
back in fear.
sense of potential, of what might be accomplished—washed over me,
filling me with golden light and strength.
I realized in that moment that I could be anything that I chose to be,
and the only thing that would stop me was myself—not the Fire demon, not he
Doctor, not Akira, not even the physical law of Nature. I envisioned myself for the first time as a
great, golden god of light and fire, filled with majesty.
"I'm not your
slave!" I shouted. I could feel the
power flowing through my voice, as it had before when the spirit of the Fire
took me. This time, however, it was a
grand, terrible sound that shook with might.
"I am not a vessel for Fire! I
am not Number 11! I am my own! I'm Yusuke Hono'oguchi!"
And in that moment,
I was free.
* * * * *
I'm not entirely
sure of what happened after that.
The young child and
I lay side by side, gasping for breath as the rest of the house burned itself
out. We stared at the stars of the
night sky, and I pondered my own existence—not for the first, or the last time.
Eventually, I took
the boy to the only place I knew that would take care of him as I could not—the
orphanage. I left the boy on the front
step—I was too much a coward to take responsibility for him—and I hid in the
trees as the attendants found him and took him in.
They named him
Kaneda, which means "Gold Fields." I
suppose that it is as appropriate a name as any. I wished him well and continued on my way.
That was nearly
three years ago. I have not returned to
see him since. Nor have I even returned
to Neo Tokyo. I will wander until I am
old enough to pass for adult, and perhaps find a true place to live.
I still consider
myself a coward, and a weakling.
However, the memory of that night when I defeated the Fire demon will
forever shine as a star of hope in my memory.
I understand many of the things that Akira and Jiisan taught me now;
weakling and coward I may well be, but I have the power to change that.
There are still many
things which I don't—and probably never will—understand. However, the important thing is for me to
keep striving to be the best that I can.
Life doesn't I have to be a chaotic, violent flame—it can be as
peaceful as fields of gold.
With that in mind,
I, too may eventually attain the peace that Akira did.
April 24th, 1999