Turn to the Mountain

"I lost my whole world on the side of a road…but I keep living for the sake of what I lost."—Nic Jean

There's no reason for me to be here… I know that, but I still keep coming back.

I'm standing on a boulder that juts out from the mountainside.  Strong, lush trees grow thickly wherever they may find purchase.  When I look down, I can see the grassy hills rolling around the mountain for miles and miles and a river that winds past the mount to brush its base.  Above me, more mountain, and an extreme expanse of sky, perfect and full of light.

I'm wearing the black sweater that Nasuti gave me last year.  She stitched my name in red into the inside of the collar, and her own on the inside of the hem.  The sneakers Touma forced me to buy are on my feet.  He said that I needed "reasonable footwear", something that suited the way I ran around on all terrain.  He also said he'd pay me back for them and I could consider them a gift…

He never did pay me back.

I have Shin's favorite ring on my finger.  A simple band of near transparent blue stone, with a capital C carved into it—for the English name he occasionally used.  He never took the ring off, except for the day he asked me to see if it fit my finger.  After I returned it, he said that he wanted me to have it when he was gone.  I laughed and said that wouldn't be any time soon…

Seiji and Shu had a special dagger made for me six months ago.  They spent a near fortune on it.  The hilt is a dark, dark red, almost black, and all five of our kanji's are carved into it.  The weapon is perfectly balanced and beautiful.  I promised to cherish it always… It's sheathed at my belt now.

Little Jun…he gave me his skateboard nine months back.  I can't use it even now, but the boy said he intended to teach me.  I asked him why he was giving it to me.  He explained that it was annoying how I was always giving him gifts and he never had anything to give me.  He laughed and smiled as he handed it to me…

A mere five months ago, White Blaze accidentally gave me a nasty scratch on the back of my right hand.  I made quite a mess with that bloody wound and Blaze was acting almost frantic the entire time Nasuti was cleaning it up.  It didn't really hurt much.  I didn't even need stitches… I told the tiger later that I would consider the scratch a gift from him, something that would remind me of him always… I look now at the white scar on my hand.  It does truly bring up a vivid memory of White Blaze…

And then…just four months before today…they all left me.


Touma was going on about some movie he had to go see, and it didn't take him long to get Shu all riled up and wanting to see it too.  Seiji got so annoyed with all the noise those two were making… It was pretty amusing to watch Seiji try to catch Touma.  Shin said that it would be fun for all of us to go out, see the movie, do some other stuff.  Of course, Jun was all for it and Nasuti was all too happy to have an excuse to do some shopping.

We all piled into Nasuti's trusty old red jeep and we were off.  White Blaze ran after us—he liked to follow us down the road when we went somewhere for about fifteen miles before he'd head back.  We were only ten miles from the house, when Nasuti hit the brakes…

We had come to the spot where the road forked three ways.  One road led to Toyama, another to a camping area, and the third went to a train station some seventy miles away.  There had been some campers down at the camping area for the past week, rowdy people.  Seiji complained once that he could hear them all the way up to the house, that they disturbed his meditation.  He was exaggerating, but the campers were rather noisy.

As we came to the fork in the road, a blue truck came roaring up the camping road.  You're supposed to slow down when you reach the fork, but this truck was continuing on without slowing in the slightest.  It had to be going at least ninety miles an hour…

Nasuti saw them coming.  She realized almost immediately that the campers weren't going to stop and she slammed on the brakes.  There must've been a rock or a slick spot on the road or something, because we weren't going very fast at all, but the jeep fishtailed around and the rear end stuck out in the middle of the crossroad.  The truck didn't have time to stop by then…

When the truck hit us, the jeep just flipped.  Everything happened so fast, but it seemed to go so slowly.  I saw the tree through the windshield.  Seiji was in the passenger seat.  He flung an arm out to shield Nasuti as the glass exploded everywhere.  A lot of it flew into the back of the jeep.  I heard Jun cry out beside me and I tried to cover him.

Shin sat on my left, Shu on my right.  Jun was sitting halfway on my lap, halfway on Shu's.  Touma had been sitting on the floor, because there was nowhere else to sit.  Nasuti had said that she was going to buy a bigger vehicle—she didn't like the fact that someone wouldn't have a seat belt when all of us were in the jeep.  Touma had automatically grabbed the back of Seiji's seat when Nasuti hit the brakes.  Some of the glass slashed his hands and arms and he screamed.

Shin was gone, nowhere to be seen.  Shu was bracing Jun and me, steady as a rock.  I felt a horrendous weight on my legs and I remember thinking that Touma would be crushed.

It seemed to be an eternity before everything stopped.  It was suddenly quiet.  I've never known that kind of silence.  I opened my eyes and found that I was lying on the roof of the jeep.  We were upside down.  Jun was still in my arms, but I couldn't seem to feel him; I was numb all over.  There was a tree branch beside me.  It had come through the windshield and was now snapped against the back seat.  Nasuti's seat was the thing that had crushed my legs, but the back was to me and I couldn't see Nasuti.

There was very little room between the roof and the floor of the jeep.  My first thought was that I had to get out of there, so I started to crawl over the branch, dragging my legs out from under Nasuti's seat, gripping Jun tightly.  I pulled myself out the twisted frame of what had been Shin's window.

I don't remember running away from the jeep, but suddenly I was lying Jun down on the ground on the opposite side of the road from where the jeep now lay.  Jun's eyes were shut tightly, he was gasping for breath.

He died two seconds later.

I nearly collapsed right then, but I heard a sound coming from the car and snapped back into action.  That was Seiji's voice.  I scrambled around to the front of the jeep.  The windshield was completely gone, except for a few shards still jammed in the frame, and the frame itself was crushed to half its original size.  I crawled halfway through the opening and looked around.  There was Nasuti, still in her seat, but her right arm was gone.  I tore my eyes away.  I didn't have to check to know that she was gone.

Seiji had managed to turn around, looking for other survivors.  He had Touma halfway in his arms, and was talking to him.  "Don't you dare shut your eyes.  Stay awake, Touma.  Don't move; just stay awake…"

Touma's breath was coming in harsh pants.  His arms were covered in cuts and his left cheek was sliced deeply.  He was indeed fighting to keep his eyes open, but I doubted that would last.  I grasped Seiji's shoulder and we started to pull Touma out the windshield.  I only met Touma's eyes once, and I had to look away.  They were filled with fear and pain and I felt as if the world had to be ending.

I carried Touma to the same place I'd taken Jun, but didn't set him down close to the little boy.  I didn't want Touma to see Jun lying there, lifeless.  I was extra careful with Touma.  If he was having trouble breathing, I mustn't jar him and complicate the problem.  I ran back to the jeep, where Seiji was sitting on the ground, and helped him across the road.  His legs were broken.  I helped him to sit down beside Touma and hurried back to the jeep again.

I tripped over White Blaze.  The entire back half of the tiger was crushed.  He was dead.

Only four yards away was the camper's truck.  It was on fire, but I saw two people climbing out on the other side.  The third person was lying on the hood of the vehicle.  Flew through the windshield.  Dead.

The two people who'd climbed out were running towards me.  One of them was a girl of about sixteen years age.  The other was a man in his early twenties.  The man was sobbing and kept looking back at the young man lying on the hood.  The girl dragged him over to me and met my eyes just briefly.  She then dragged her companion a little farther away and pushed him to the ground.  He sat there and just cried.

She ran to the jeep; I was right behind her.  I could see from her expression that she'd seen Nasuti.  I was already looking for Shu.  I found him right where he was supposed to be.

He was still in his seat, his safety belt still holding him in place.  He was upside down and his neck was snapped against the roof, which was pressed too close to the floor of the jeep.  Shu was gone.

I hurried to get out of the jeep.  The girl was at the back of the flipped car, and I hurried to see what she was looking at.  A small hand, stretched out from under the jeep.


The hand moved.  I was shocked.  The girl, however, jumped into action.  She started trying to lift the twisted back of the vehicle.  I helped quickly.  Shin wasn't entirely under the jeep.  The back had been crushed in such a way that it was crumpled a half-foot off the ground.  We finally lifted the back enough that the girl was able to dart under and tug Shin out.

Shin was a mess.  I took him from the girl and ran to where Touma and Seiji were.  I thought the girl was right behind me.  I could feel her following in the way people do when their senses have been heightened by adrenaline or fear or whatever it is that does that.  But then there was a searing heat, and a giant hand seemed to shove me into the air and to the ground.

I turned over.  Shin lay three feet away.  He opened his eyes, and looked right at me.  And then he was gone.

I was shaking all over as I forced myself to my knees.  The fire from the truck had spread to the jeep, and the jeep had exploded.  The girl lay about three yards behind me on her side, her back to me.  The legs of her jeans were on fire.  I scrambled forward and slapped the flames out.  The girl was unconscious but breathing and I carried her to the place where my two living friends were.

Seiji was shaking as I was, his legs bleeding where the bone had thrust its way through his skin.  He was still talking to Touma, who was now truly struggling to breathe.  I deposited the girl beside Seiji.

The man she'd dragged away from the truck was still sitting in the road, probably in shock.  I went to get him and found that his trembling hand held a cellular phone.  He'd tried to call for help but had succumbed to his shock before he'd dialed the second digit.

I got the man over to my friends.  Taking the phone, I made the necessary calls myself.  Then we waited.

After a few minutes, I found myself dragging White Blaze into the woods.  I didn't want questions about him.  I didn't know what they'd do with a dead tiger, but I knew what should be done.  I dragged my feline friend until I couldn't see the wreck any more and then I kept dragging him.  I finally stopped.  I had to pause and try to pull myself together, though I couldn't do even that much completely.  After throwing some broken branches over Blaze, I hurried back to the roadside.

The girl was awake and had cleaned the blood from Touma's arms.  I could tell right away that Seiji was in shock.  I could hear sirens nearby…


Seiji died the next day.  He'd lost more blood than we'd thought and the shock hadn't helped.  Some doctor or other mentioned that his kidney was crushed.  He only spoke once and he said he wanted to see Touma.  I was furious that we couldn't let him.  It was only four hours later that a doctor told me Seiji was dead.

The girl from the truck had very mild burns on her legs, but otherwise seemed fine.  The young man who'd died on the hood of the truck had been the other man's twin brother and the one who'd been driving.  The girl, Leila, was their younger sister.  They were on vacation from America.

Their truck's brakes had failed.

Touma had a punctured lung, five broken ribs, and had lost lots of blood.  He remained the stubborn, determined boy he'd always been, and hung on for nearly a week.  He managed to talk to me once for ten minutes.  The last thing he said before a nurse insisted I leave was, "Ryo, you better not die too.  You promise me."

I promised.

Touma died two days later, and a doctor who was there said that Touma grinned in the moment before death came.

I went back for White Blaze the day after Touma died.  I spent almost all day dragging the tiger up to Nasuti's.  I left him in a meadow a mile behind the house—his favorite spot.  I didn't bury him.  No matter how different Blaze had been from other creatures, he was still a thing of the wild and he would be left to Nature.

I went home alone.


Nasuti had left the house to me.  I didn't change a thing in any of my friend's rooms, except that I cleaned all the clothes Shu and Touma had left all over the place, and put them away.

There's a marker down at the fork in the road where the jeep ended up.  I tie a rose to it every week.  Their names are carved into the back of the marker.

The city is going to put up two stop signs and a yield sign on the crossroad.

Leila and I get together every other week.  We both lost something we loved that day and we both fought to save whatever was left.  I like having her around.  She's only cried once and she hugs me a lot.  That feels good.

Shin's sister made sure that I got his ring.  He'd told her that I was to have it.

Jun's parents visit me sometimes.  We loved the kid.  They know I tried to save him…

Seiji's sisters and grandfather had a martial arts school dedicated to him.  Yayoi says that Satsuki uses his old no-datchi.

Touma's mother and father spend more time together now.  They need each other more when they don't have him, but they aren't getting back together.

Shu's mother has a shrine in a room of her restaurant set aside for him.  His father says that she doesn't want to let him go completely.  Shu's siblings are more helpful around the restaurant now.  Rinfi wants to learn to use a tetsubo.

I turn to the mountain.


And I keep coming here.  I just walked here one day and I find myself returning every week, after I've tied the rose to the marker.  I always wear this sweater and the sneakers; I always have the ring on my finger—I never take it off.  I always have the kanji dagger with me and the scar on my right hand.

I made a promise to one of my friends before they had to go.

I'm going to keep that promise.