Sleet was covering the sidewalk with a thick layer of ice. The day had been dark, with gray clouds concealing the sun even in noon, ominously foretelling the frigid onslaught. People were taking care not to exert too much force in their trembling bodies, for the fear that they might slip. The cars were standing resolutely in the street, the traffic congested enough for the heat from the engines to slightly melt the ice below.
Ouran high school was no exception. The high, towering spires of their roof was enshrouded in gray ice, and the slopping noise from outside came at a constant rate, disturbing the students inside. Class had already ended, and people were rushing outside, some lamenting on the fact that the first snow of the year came in the form of sleet, and some calling their drivers, making sure that they would arrive immediately. The Hitachiin twins did both.
"Haruhi, club activities are canceled for today. Tono called, since it would be too dangerous to go late in the afternoon." Kaoru informed.
"Okay." Haruhi murmured.
She was staring blankly outside the window, her eyes unfocused as she seemed to squint lightly at the gray clouds above. The twins came closer, concerned.
"Are you cold, Haruhi?" They both inquired. "You are weird today. We've never seen you not concentrate during class. What's wrong?"
"Huh?" She started, and then gazed blankly at the twins. Her eyes had shadows beneath them, and her face seemed paler. She laughed awkwardly.
"Nothing. Perhaps a slight cold, that's all."
"Should we drive you home?"
"No—No. I can walk home." She hastily replied. The twins stared incredulously at the girl.
"In this weather?"
"Yes." She paused for a moment, continuing her blank gaze outside, her mouth slightly opened in thought. "There's a place that I need to go today."
"In this weather?" The twins repeated, disbelief etched on their frowns.
"Yes." She smiled. "The weather seems appropriate for the event."
"Sleet? What kind of activity would be considered appropriate in sleet?" Kaoru exclaimed. Hikaru intercepted. "Let us drive you there, then."
"It's okay. Just let me—" She seemed to briefly struggle with her words. "Just let me walk alone, I need to think about something in private."
The twins nodded reluctantly, and retreated to their van. The black vehicle drove away with a screech, and the drumming of sleet colliding with its black covers rang past. Haruhi watched it speeding away. She sighed.
Sleet, she thought, the icy substance gliding past her raincoat. Appropriate indeed. She began trudging uphill, nearly avoiding a motorcycle glancing past menacingly. Her vision was blurred by water, and the red light from the traffic signal seemed blurred, the beam being distorted and stretched into a sea of red. She almost slipped, regaining her balance hastily.
The bus arrived earlier than she expected, and she hurriedly slipped inside. It was stiflingly warm inside. Inside the torrid blaze, she felt a familiar numb sensation. The bleak sense of numbness, more tormenting in the heat, suffocated her. She cooled her head by leaning on the frigid window. She closed her eyes, feeling the thumping of sleet prodding her lightly.
Haruhi rummaged her pockets weakly, drawing out a withered flower. She frowned, noticing how the fresh flower shriveled in the cold.
Memory is troublesome, she thought. Uncomfortable memories inundated her senses. Scenes, dreadfully familiar, scenes of her father rushing inside the emergency room, scenes of seeing her mother in her bed, no longer weakly waving her hand at her daughter, scenes, senses of how her mother's body was frigid and stiff, like frozen sleet, flitted past her mind. There was sleet that day, too.
She was nearing her destination, the place that she visited annually, feeling both wonder and dread how the intensity of her emotions seemed to lessen each time she knelt by the grave. She was forgetting her mother.
The bus gave another shriek as it stopped. She felt her forehead blazing as she staggered outside, feeling sleet splashing on her raincoat.
Her mother's grave was covered with ice.
Unable to kneel on her tombstone as she had done last year, Haruhi numbly fingered her mother's grave, relishing how the ice was stinging her, giving her physical pain, pain enough to distract her from the unbearable mental numbness.
It would be cliché if she cried, and she did not. She was tired. Fatigue dripped inside every nerve of her body, and she found her eyelids dropping inexorably in the cold comfort. She could not breathe.
She was standing on a lane. The sky was endlessly gray, and Haruhi was alone, her breath trailing past in a flurry of white steam. Two towering walls were stretched next to her, and in the distance, stood a person.
It was impossible to determine whether the person was a man or a woman, but its long, black coat flowing in the winter chill draped the person, and a pale clown mask covered the face. It drew nearer.
"Who are you?" Haruhi weakly murmured, noticing that she could speak.
The black clown did not reply. Haruhi noticed how his feet were soaring over the ground. The unearthly gait did not surprise her. She raised her hands to stop the person, and found that her movements were not restricted to her weakness. She gracefully glided closer.
"Who are you?" She asked again. The black clown observed her in a peculiar fashion, and replied.
"Where do you think you are?" The voice was hollow and mechanical. Eerie reverberations of the voice echoed past the distance.
"Okay. Where am I?" Haruhi frowned.
"Better. Always ask relevant questions." The clown sniggered. It seemed that the clown considered this to be a game. "Now, why do you think that I have to answer your question?"
"I want to know." Haruhi glared at the person defiantly. However, she soon shrugged. "If you do not want to tell me, I guess I have no way to make you."
"True. Giving up a bit too early, though, aren't you?" The clown pirouetted forwards, observing Haruhi closely.
"I have become used to unanswered questions."
"No one had answered my questions for me. I look after myself. That's natural."
"Perhaps." The clown stopped moving gracefully. "But aren't you a bit too independent? Your father would want more of your dependence towards him, no?"
"Huh, never thought about it-wait. How do you know my father?"
"Or the fact that you lost your mother, or the fact that you are now in some academy with hundreds of other students from backgrounds that you cannot even fathom?" The clown smiled. "You underestimate me."
"That goes back to the beginning. Who are you that I am underestimating?"
"Who do you think I am?"
"Fine. I'm leaving."
As soon as she said the word, another barrier stopped her steps. The clown sneered.
"Do you want to go back, for sure?"
"It depends on where this place is."
The clown raised his hand, where a circling golden orb floated silently.
"You are dead, Haruhi."
"You died of hypothermia, exactly 2 hours 15 minutes 45 seconds ago. Normally, you would be dead, but," the clown wagged its finger, "it's your choice. Would you choose to be here, or not?"
"Wow." Haruhi quietly whispered. "So this is how it is like to be dead."
"Curious as always, Haruhi. So, would you stay here?"
"What would you want?"
"Well," the clown removed its mask. Underneath the pale surface was a face that Haruhi was certain that she forgot.
"As your mother, Haruhi, I would prefer that you do what you want."
Black hair reaching to the shoulders, tightly tied as a bun, a light smile playing on her lips-it was her mother. At least, her senses told her so.
"Mother? How... Are you sure you're my mother?"
"Hmm? Well, it depends on you, actually. Do you believe so?"
"Yes." Haruhi declared without hesitation.
"Then, it is decided." Her mother hugged her gently, and Haruhi felt warmth, for the first time, melting her frozen skin. She gasped. Her legs seemed to be weaker than before.
"And I think, I dare to think as a mother, that you would be happier when you leave."
"But, why? Why do I have the choice, the dilemma?"
Her mother smiled as a teacher would to a particularly bright student. "Your choice is everything, Haruhi. You would soon realize that."
The world was cracking down, disassembling itself into tiny, golden powder of light. Haruhi squinted in the brilliance, trying to glimpse at her mother, but she once again felt fatigue, incredible warmth melting her-
Her eyelids fluttered open.
"Haruhi!" She was soon bombarded by five voices. She croaked, "Where am I?"
The host club members, unlike the clown, replied willingly. "In Kyouya's hospital. We should call Ranka-san. He and Tamaki was close to fainting outside."
The Hitachiin brothers sneered at each other, but there was relief apparent in their smiles. "It was quite amusing, really, to see the both fighting, and then consoling each other."
Her father rushed inside, with the very flustered Tamaki.
"What were you thinking, my daughter!" The two yelled in unison, and then glared at each other. Ranka grasped his daughter. "What were you thinking, sleeping in the sleet-wouldn't be strange to catch hypothermia. And I thought, I thought-" he paused, "I thought that I would lose you and your mom at the same day..." He stopped, unable to continue.
"You were murmuring words in your sleep, Haruhi," Kyouya remarked. "Was it possible that you were suffering from an uncomfortable dream?"
It was a dream, Haruhi realized. Or was it a dream? She clutched her hands tightly. Mother said that it was up to my choice. Should I believe in my after-death experience?
Haruhi replied dazedly at the hurried questions of the host club members. She sat within the loudness, engulfed in thought.
'It was an experience in Wonderland', she realized, 'where everything depended on my decisions.' Her eyes met Tamaki's.
'And if, if mother indeed met with me today...'
"I don't know, Sempai. Whether it was a dream or not, I could not reply..." She smiled.
'But I chose to be here, in this havoc. Because, because...' she did not continue her silent thoughts. She laughed with the host club, feeling warmth.
Sleet splattered outside the hospital.
She felt warmth, with the seven people laughing with her. She chose to believe that it was a mere dream, yet she also chose to believe that, as her mother supposedly said, that she would be happier, surrounded by the host club, in Ouran.
It was her decision.
Reviews would be welcome.