AN: And the second part is go. Apologies for the delay - first of all, I was taking two classes this summer, so I really had no free time to speak of, and then the jump-drive that all my fics currently live on decided to play hide and seek with me. Needless to say, I was not amused. This was actually a bit of a tricky one to write just because of how I wanted it to come out. So I took my time. There are some references here to the Destination Truth episode that inspired this story in the first place. This is also a bit more…well, I was going for surreal. Not sure how I did.
One more note - I AM INTENDING TO CONTINUE THIS SERIES. This has grown and mutated in my mind, and so I am planning sequel-ish things. Like…I have a list of fics featuring the adventures of Kaito and Shinichi, Secret Agents. Or something. I'll get on them as soon as I can. On with the show! Hope you enjoy it! I don't own…anything. Sadness.
Frightening Shadow, Flickering Light
Shinichi had heard of Aokigahara. The forest at the base of Mount Fuji was known for being a place where people came to end their lives, second only to that big bridge in San Francisco. He had read about it recently in an article - one year, over a hundred people had successfully taken their own lives here. Another year, over two hundred people had attempted suicide in this very forest.
Roughly a fourth of them had been successful.
And the forest was reportedly haunted by the spirits of those who had come here to die.
Kudo Shinichi was a practical young man. He did not believe in ghosts, and he was rational to a fault. But standing in the middle of the suicide forest, where hundreds of people had died and were reported to still walk was enough to send a shiver up his spine. And there were robbers somewhere in this forest (armed robbers, no less) that were determined to use him as a hostage at best, and harm or kill him at worst. Adding that to the fact there was no wind, no sound, no rustles of wildlife moving in the foliage…
Though he did not believe in ghosts or ghoulies or things that went bump in the night, Shinichi was man enough to admit that he was creeped out.
He gave himself a quick shake. Now was not the time to be woolgathering. He needed to find a way out of here immediately. Once safely out of the woods, he would find a place where he could call for help and alert the authorities. Whether or not they caught the robbers was actually a secondary concern to him right now. More than anything, he wanted Ran. Taking a deep breath, he began to walk. Common knowledge and practicality dictated that if he kept walking in one direction for long enough, he would eventually come out of the forest.
Granted, with a place as big as Aokigahara, "long enough" could translate to "a really really long time," and "coming out of the forest" could happen in any disturbingly large number of places that weren't precisely where he wanted to be, but he didn't have any other choice. His first goal was to try and find a trail of some sort.
The trees were thick, and the entire area was all but pitch-black, though his eyes were slowly adapting to the darkness. When he started being able to make out forms of things in front of him, he turned off the flashlight in his watch. No sense in risking an unintentional alert to his pursuers. Now he just had to keep moving, pushing himself onto safety, and…
…and what was that?
Shinichi froze, thankful that he had stopped next to a large tree. The shadow provided cover as he peered out into the darkness. He knew he had heard something, the first real noise he had heard since making his escape into the wide expanse of trees. The forest was unnaturally quiet (and he really needed to stop thinking about this place as being "unnatural," because he was only serving to spook himself further), so any noises, however small, stood out.
He held his breath and waited.
A moment later, there was the distinct crunch of leaves, as though someone were walking over them, and a whisper of sound that could have been a breeze or a voice.
Shinichi bolted. He didn't know if it was the robbers or a camper or someone coming to check the rumors out for themselves or even something else, and he didn't care. He just ran and ran and ran, weaving around shadows that he hoped were trees but could have been people for all he knew.
He had been sprinting for what felt like ages (but was probably only a couple of minutes) when he tripped over something, and went sprawling face-first into the leaves that blanketed the forest floor. He fell too fast to catch himself; the resulting crash knocked the wind right out of him. It took him a moment to regain himself, but finally he rolled over and slowly got to his feet, rubbing at where he presumed a bruise was newly forming on his stomach. Once steady on his feet, he turned his flashlight on and glanced back to see what he had tripped over.
It was a duffle bag.
Practice came to the fore, and he immediately noted everything about the bag. A duffle bag. Bright blue canvas, white strap and fastenings, bearing the logo of a local sports team on the side in white lettering. Torn open, though Shinichi didn't know if it had been like that, or if he had inadvertently done that when he had tripped over the thing. It wasn't completely full, and a few of the contents had spilled out through the tear in the side - they looked like some sort of papers. Curiosity piqued, Shinichi picked up one and brought it in for a closer look.
The paper proved to be a photograph. The subject was a young couple, perhaps in their mid-twenties, both with their arms around each other. They looked happy, standing close to each other, and Shinichi guessed that this was some sort of long-term relationship. But why was this photo in such a place…?
A closer glance revealed more photos of the same couple, sometimes alone, sometimes with other people with them. Finally he found one that gave him an answer - one photo torn in half, separating them. It was cliché, but it told him a story. A couple that had probably been together for some time, if the number of photos and the closeness evident in those photos were any indication. A break-up, probably a bad one. But then why were these…
It hit Shinichi like a brick to the face.
The things in his hands quite possibly belonged to someone who had come to this forest to end their life, quite possibly because of the break-up these pictures were evidence to. He was holding something that belonged to someone who had presumably died by their own hand nearby.
The glossy paper suddenly seemed to be scalding his fingers, and he dropped it and jumped back. He even glanced at his hand, certain that he would see reddened skin, though there was nothing. He stepped back once, twice, and then turned and walked quickly away. For one so familiar with Death in all its myriad forms, this scene was still very unsettling. He had to get out of here.
Shinichi started jogging, ignoring the fact that he was exhausted. He kept the pace up for a few minutes before slowing to a stop and leaning against a tree for support. His mind kept running back to those pictures, to the fact that one of those people had very likely died in this place. It chilled him, and he wanted more than anything to see Ran.
Focusing on her helped. He kept moving, weaving around the tall silhouettes of trees and the stouter, darker shadows of roots and branches on the ground.
It was some time before he found something else, and this was even more chilling than the bag he had tripped over. This time, it was a complete campsite, a small tent nestled into a little sheltered spot between two large trunks. The only reason he even noticed it was because the lighter color of the tent's canvas caught his eye amidst all the varied darknesses around him. He knew he should keep going, try not to think about it, but Shinichi was a curious person by nature, and always had been, no matter how much trouble it seemed to get him into.
He turned the flashlight back on and inched closer. Part of him wondered if something was going to jump out at him from beneath the half-open folds of the tent's doorway, like in those horror movies that he always scoffed at while Ran hid her face in her hands and peeked between her fingers. In more recent times when they watched scary movies, she would instead hide her face in his shoulder while pretending not to peek. Shinichi had decided he could really get to like horror movies, ridiculous as they usually were.
Thinking of Ran, as it had this whole time, gave him strength, and so he knelt down next to the tent and carefully pushed the flap aside to look in. A branch had fallen on one side of the tent's top, causing one side of the roof to sag dangerously inwards. There was a sleeping bag still unrolled on the floor, a messenger bag, and some food. He didn't have to get any closer to know that the food had been there for some time and had rotted; he could smell it from there, the sickly-sweet smell of decay. How appropriate. How disgustingly perfect.
If the food had gone bad, and the tent's half-collapsed state had not been tended to, then it stood to reason that this did not belong to someone who was in the forest now, possibly seeking out the truth of the forest's spirits. He searched his memory for more information on Aokigahara, and found another scrap that gave him a chilling answer.
Sometimes, people would come out to the forest to camp for a day or two before adding themselves to the number of Aokigahara's self-inflicted deaths.
Shinichi flew back from the tent, stumbling and landing hard on his rear in the process. He scrambled back to his feet and got moving again. Maybe it was the exhaustion speaking, but he wasn't sure he could take finding another scene like this, the spot where someone had spent their last moments of life before taking that life away by their own hand.
After a while Shinichi stopped. He slumped against a tree, and this time slid down to side in the dirt and leaves on the ground. His heart was pounding and his whole body wouldn't stop trembling. He just needed to sit for a moment, gather himself, and then he would press on. But for a moment, he just needed to stay in one place.
His eyes slid closed. He wasn't concerned about falling asleep. As tired as he was, he also knew that he was too wired to sleep, his body itself reminding him that he was potentially in danger and so needed to keep going until he was safe. Then he could rest properly. So he let his eyes shut; the darkness behind his eyelids held little difference to the darkness around him. His breathing slowed, and his muscles calmed. He let himself slip into a relaxed state.
This place…was it this place having this effect on him, or was it something else?
What was that sound? Was it a stray breath of wind, or a real breath?
And that - was it some distant bird's cry, or a hint of a word falling from unseen lips?
When he opened his eyes, he saw a shadow. A tree, trembling in a breeze he did not feel, or a person watching him and wondering what he was doing here?
Were those crunches leaves falling, or someone stepping on them?
His mind wandered back to broken glass on a stage, glass that had no visible source and no reason to be there, yet a life had been saved because of it...
For a moment, Shinichi just let it all wrap around him.
This place of beauty and death and nature and memories and wild freedom and shattered lives, where people came to die and maybe left themselves behind in the process. A sacred place. A horrifying place. Ghosts walked here in memory, if not in form, and they were curious about him, about what he was doing looking at their photographs and peeking into their tends and finding the remnants of their final moments. He was both intruder and savior, looking at things he had no right to look at as he also saved those things from the forces of nature and the wrath of obscurity to bring to light the reason why.
Shinichi sat up straight and looked around. The shadows had been there a moment ago; they were gone now. The figures had left, and the whispers had retreated. He was alone, sitting under a tree in a forest at night. He stayed there for a moment, breathing deeply as he tried to puzzle out what had just happened inside his own head.
A few beats passed, and he got to his feet and began walking again. His watch said that it was well into the morning, and he still had some distance to go. Hopefully the sun would rise soon, and the light would offer some sort of protection against the things that walked between the trees. Not that he felt threatened. Oddly enough, he felt almost safer with the idea of the imaginary shadows than he did with the idea of the real, dangerous people he knew were somewhere else in the forest.
After all, the people who came here for that sad purpose wanted to harm no one but themselves.
Later, when the first light of the dawn peeked through the foliage, Shinichi stopped and looked up and let the rays touch his face. It felt good, and it felt right.
It was eleven o'clock the next morning when the call came. The call came from a precinct in one of the other towns on the edge of the massive forest. A young man had been brought to them. He had flagged down a car, identified himself as Kudo Shinichi, and asked for assistance. The middle-aged couple in the car had brought him to the police station, where he had told them his story.
When the call came, Kudo Shinichi had been missing for nearly eighteen hours.
It was a relief in many ways. First of all, the hostage was safe and secure, which was always the first and most important goal in such a situation.
Secondly, it meant that Mouri Ran was going to calm down and stop threatening people to find out what the hell was going on and where the hell her boyfriend was and what the hell they were doing about it. Needless to say, a lot of people were relieved about the situation for a lot of reasons.
Still, it was a good while later when a car pulled up, and Shinichi climbed out, accompanied by a police detective and a uniformed officer. He stretched his arms over his head, climbed the half-dozen stairs to the front door, and went straight into Ran's arms. Kaito and Aoko stood aside and waited their turn, though they had to wait quite a while. Nearby, the police were engaged in discussion - the robbery, the robbers still at large, last seen in the forest...
When asked about the robbers, Shinichi shrugged and said he didn't know where they had gone. Oddly enough for a detective who prided himself on a strong arrest record, he didn't seem to care if they were caught or not. He kept glancing around, his eyes focusing on some distant point.
"Shinichi…?" Ran asked hesitantly after he had been gazing into space for a long moment. "Are you all right?"
He shrugged, waved a hand. "I'm fine."
She didn't look convinced, and she wasn't the only one. "Ran-san is right. You don't seem like yourself," Kaito chimed in. He gave Shinichi a measuring look. "Kudo, what happened in there? I mean, I know that place has a reputation for being haunted…" He trailed off quickly, knowing his audience's opinions on ghosts and things.
But rather than the scoffing rejection of such notions, as was the norm, Kudo just stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. "I'm fine. Really. I'm just tired. And that place…" he gestured vaguely, but there was no mistaking what place he was referring to, "…it's creepy. Even by my standards. Think my mind was playing tricks on me for a while." He offered a smile, but it was weak and told of other thoughts that were not being given voice.
Shinichi said nothing else about it, instead asking questions about what they had been doing while he had been out, and then he slept all the way back to Tokyo.
Later, much later, when they were alone, Ran asked him what had happened in the forest.
He shrugged and said, "It's a very odd place, Ran. Especially when you know what happens there, with the suicides. Add that to the fact that it was dark out and I was tired and there were shadows everywhere…my mind started playing tricks on me. That's all." But he didn't look convinced at his own words.
It was one of the rare moments since his return that Ran asked a question, and Shinichi didn't give her a direct and honest answer, and that told her more than any words ever could have. She let the subject drop, and Shinichi rarely spoke of his night in the forest again. If Ran didn't know better, she would say he was almost afraid to.