99 of 100: Fortune
(originally #77) ^_^;;
Graphic violent imagery notice.
The kiosk was not impressive with its tiny stand and cramped writing. Nanao didn't see the benefit of knowing her future. Nor, for that matter, did she believe some shady peddler at an equally shabby stand could tell her the future. She certainly saw the "cons" of the situation, most importantly the impact it would have on her purse. But here she was being dragged out by idiots who called themselves her friends. It was one of those "rescue Nanao from her lonely life" missions the other girls liked to drag her on. Especially if they couldn't get her out on a group date, though they often tried.
Matsumoto was currently leaning over the table that had good luck charms laid out. She was also chatting up the vendor. Hinamori was beside her eyeing the same pedants with interest. Nanao yawned discreetly behind her hand and tried to think if she needed to return her book to the library in the morning on her way to school or if she had an extra day. Another look at the source material of her report could hardly be remiss.
"Nanao-chan! Come on, have your fortune told! It's your night, I'll even pay!" Matsumoto gushed, grabbing her arm and yanking her up to the table. "I've got a good feeling!"
If Matsumoto called her "Nanao-chan" one more time, she was going to hit her. They weren't little kids anymore and she didn't appreciate the affectionate term from someone she had only known a few months.
"I don't want my fortune told and let go of my uniform you're yanking it off my shoulder!" Nanao squirmed in the larger girl's hold and managed to keep her clothes intact.
"Oh, but it'll be fun," Hinamori pleaded.
She liked her, they were library buddies, but even Hinamori could have her annoying moments. Usually when she agreed with Matsumoto about anything.
"Yeah, lighten up a little bit. What if he leads you to the love-of-your life?"
Nanao feared where that conversation would go. Hinamori was a romantic and her notions about soul-mates were cute but terribly unrealistic. Matsumoto, well, as far as Nanao knew, didn't believe in soul mates but certainly believed in "good-old fashion fun". It was enough to give her a headache. The strawberry blonde went through boyfriends like crazy.
In the few minutes that followed she was pecked at, by this one and that one, until they pulled her, one on each side to the vendor table that she had been leaning away from. It was barely a two foot by two foot square, every surface of the little wooden table covered with amulet and pendants. The vendor himself, a middle-aged man with a full head of wavy, long hair and an outrageous pink shirt was leaning back in his chair nonchalantly. He eyed the girls appreciatively. Nanao immediately thought he was sleaze. What was wrong with middle-aged men and their disgusting school girl fantasies? Like he had anything she wanted, she thought skeptically.
"Hello, girls. Can I tell your fortune? Need a good-luck charm?" he offered without so much as twitching a muscle. His pink shirt was buttoned, but probably somewhere at the bottom because it was hanging open over his chest. He was bronzed and hairy and old. He had to be her father's age but with the body of a man ten years younger if the muscle tone across his chest was any indicator. Nanao looked away embarrassed with her friends and their antics but more by the fact that she'd actually been looking.
"Hey mister, what does she need to do? Do you need to see her palm or what?" Matsumoto asked. Each of them then grabbed one of her hand's and turned them palm up facing the fortune-teller, the motion jerked her body forward and she almost tumbled into the table, sputtering indignantly.
He reached out and took her right hand in his. It was big and warm and calloused and she wondered what he did with his hands that they felt that way. The man's touch was gentle. Cradling the back of her hand in one of his, he gently traced his index finger of the other hand over her palm in slow lines, first a curve, then a straight line, then a dash. Nanao was unimpressed but it tickled and she ruthlessly shoved down inappropriate thoughts as she wondered where those hands might've been.
If she shuddered and told herself it was out of disgust, only she would know the difference. She needed a good washing once she got home. A nice scrub with an antibacterial soap and then she would immerse herself into her studies. After that, she would studiously ignore the inevitable post-school day phone call from Matsumoto.
"You have repressed energy, young lady."
"What I have, sir, is self-control," she corrected tartly.
He looked up from her hand and she saw his eyes were brown. And warm. And seeing in a way that Nanao didn't want to be looked at. With a casual shrug he released her hand and leaned back in his chair again crossing hairy forearms across his chest.
"Bit out of sync with your generation, aren't you?" he surmised.
Nanao turned toward Matsumoto. "Do you know this person or was this just a completely random stop?"
"Him?" Matsumoto cocked her thumb at the vendor who was still looking at Nanao. "Sure, see him all the time at the karaoke bar near my house. He's a fun one. Actually, come to think of it, he might be just the thing for you-"
"I'm going home now. Don't talk to me until you grow up. In like ten years or so." Turning on her heel, she marched away in righteous anger.
"Bit of a spitfire, isn't she?" she heard the vendor drawl as she walked away.
Matsumoto's reply was lost in the distance.
The subway car was crowded as she found her way inside. She recognized some of the usual faces and was at ease with the familiar territory. When the car began to move, her mind traveled far ahead to her homework assignment. They had gone over some very interesting mathematical equations in class today and she was looking forward to trying her hand at it once again. Mathematics, she found, was a very exact study and she enjoyed it. There was usually no middle ground. In addition, she still had that paper to write and still needed to choose an appropriate topic for research.
A couple of girls were giggling a few feet away. Nanao took a glance in their direction, recognizing their school uniform, the black pleated skirts and white tops were familiar. The school wasn't far from her own. They were years younger than herself and luckier. At least they got to ride to and fro together. Nanao had been traveling to school alone for years, and for that matter she had never had really good friends either. Matsumoto and Hinamori were relatively new friends. She had chosen a high school some distance from home and the two girls were in her homeroom.
Her thoughts fleetingly returned to the vendor. Repressed energy indeed, she thought.
Deciding to focus her mind on her research subjects once more, she looked back toward the windows. The car beneath her and around her vibrated with the movement as the subway car picked up speed and Nanao held herself steady with the handle her fingers were wrapped around over her head. The hum drum daily commute was usually a blur, so the ear shattering rumble of an explosion was unexpected. Heat and projectile debris exploded outward instantly and passengers flew, Nanao lost her grip. Screams rent up in terror through the chaos as the wicked screech of metal against metal beckoned her into darkness.
Nanao blinked weary eyes and winced, expecting pain as she recalled her frightful last moments before darkness, but there was no pain. Instead, she stared up a blown out ceiling. The train was gaping apart, half the ceiling collapsed and still. She had fallen, haphazardly, in a pile of twisted wreckage, unidentifiable. Turning her head, she looked for the other half of the train and saw it was meters away down the subway tunnel. It was blown apart. As she sat up, a lone moving body in a tuna can of debris, she felt disoriented and strangely light. The air around her was dingy with gray smoke but she, strangely, couldn't smell it. Nor could she feel the heat of the little fire a few feet away, smoldering in a curl of twisted metal. Her subway car was crushed like a soda can, how was she still-? Pushing herself up onto her feet she turned and looked down, unsure of what to expect.
In the litter that the train had become, body parts were scattered. Nanao trembled hard, bringing her hands up to her face, covering her mouth in horror. Her eyes darted around, taking in the scene, too much to take in. There was a hand with rings on the fingers. Paper debris, bags, shoes...
"You took a long time to wake."
A cold flash assaulted Nanao was dread welled up inside her.
Not that voice.
It couldn't be… turning, she saw him.
The man whose voice she suddenly feared. It couldn't be that man from the...that...the fortune teller man. Wide, disbelieving eyes stared, incredulous.
"Can't be," she whispered brokenly.
Nanao staggered toward him, her light feet not tumbling over the uneven debris field but her own clumsiness. She didn't feel anything beneath her. She forced herself not to look at the hunks of bodies and instead focused on the fortune teller who was wearing a lurid pink shirt and casually waiting for her to come to him.
And she did, slowly, stumbling over herself.
"Oh, gods, I'm dead," she exclaimed in disbelief.
His floral print shirt, totally different from his last was hanging open, gaping with one lone button fastened at the waist. He waited for her to stagger to his side, his eyes patient and steady.
"You're not even going to tell me that I'm wrong?" she snapped, her head tilted up to look at him.
His silence devastated her.
Nanao laughed suddenly, bitterly, turning on her heel to assess the destruction once more. How long had it been? How long ago had she been preoccupied with her stupid friends and her stupid homework assignment? And now none of it was important anymore.
Her career plans...
None of it mattered.
The only thing she'd been destined for was early death.
Nanao sat, still and quiet, in the same position she'd occupied for over an hour. Her companion, the same seedy looking fortune teller, was beside her, where he'd been for the same amount of time. The train car piece she'd awakened in had become a hub of activity. Or perhaps more accurately, a portion of the train car. Rescue workers buzzed around the scene, looking fruitlessly for survivors. It was like being in a bee colony. Not a single person looked her way. If they happened to do so, their eyes skimmed over her like she was part of the scenery. In a way, she was.
Disbelief left her numb.
"You're not a fortune teller, are you?" she murmured.
His laughter was gentle. "No."
"Are you a god of death?"
She didn't raise her eyes from the wreckage to see his answering grin. "I have been called worse."
The hand that gently patted her head wasn't as comforting as it should've been.
"Were you following me around? Waiting for me to die?"
"Everyone dies, little Nanao."
"Well I don't want to be dead," she answered petulantly.
The stubborn girl wouldn't admit his presence was welcome when he sat down beside her. The only sentient creature in the subway that could acknowledge her anymore, instead, she leaned into his shoulder, her lone anchor in a world that was no longer her home.
"Am I a ghost now?"
"You have to choose to be a ghost."
"I could be a vengeful ghost," she answered. "Set people spontaneously on fire."
Curling an arm around her narrow frame shoulders, he pulled her closer to his side. "You can't do that."
"I so can," she answered.
"No, sweet Nanao-chan, ghosts can't do that."
"Don't call me 'Nanao-chan', I hate that. So what do I do now?" she could feel him smiling in amusement at her and hated him a little for it. Presently, she hated everything.
"You need to make your decision."
"Ghost or what?" she asked, wanting to fully know her options. It wouldn't do to make premature decisions.
"Ghost or judgment."
How was she supposed to make such a decision? Better question, what remained for her as a ghost? To spend eternity watching other people live their lives? What a waste. At least, at judgment, she could… what?
"Going to God," he murmured.
"What about you?"
The arm over her shoulders was heavy and reassuring. It was real in a world that suddenly wasn't. the disgust she'd felt in his presence earlier evaporated. For now, he was everything.
"What about me?"
"Is this all there is? You go around collecting dead people?"
"It must be done."
"What happens at judgement?"
"You will have to go and see."
"Hey! Survivor over here!"
Nanao watched as the medics and rescue workers carefully dug out the survivor. It was one of those school girls – she recognized the black skirt. Tears stung Nanao's eyes. That girl would never be the same. All her friends were dead.
"I don't want to be here anymore," she whispered softly.
Gently, he helped her to her feet and when she was again standing she realized the vendor beside her wasn't the vendor beside her. He was dressed in black and a sword hung at his waist. Startled, she stumbled back from him collapsing into the brick wall.
Without a word, he withdrew his sword but did not unsheathe the weapon. Instead, he turned it so the hand faced her.
"Don't be afraid, Nanao-chan."
Carefully, he stamped the end of the sword handle to her forehead. Her world exploded in light.
In the murky smoke of the tunnel, a black butterfly fluttered up to heaven.