AN: Translation by the talented cokesakto. I claim no credit in translating this, and am just helping to spread it.
That was the day when, led on by nothing except an impulse of curiosity, I took the main avenue on the way home. It wasn't a shortcut, and I didn't plan on passing by any particular place there. It was just something I decided to do on a whim.
This part of the avenue was full of skyscrapers and tall condos, some old, more of them new, while others were abandoned husks, all commingled into one crowded skyline. I'd wager everybody in the city, including me, was tired of looking at them day in and day out. While walking beside the buildings, I suddenly saw something fall from a roof to the concrete sidewalk some distance ahead of me.
It was a person.
In the moment that that person fell, I heard a sickening sound. The wet, raw sound you associate with the kind of things you don't want happening anywhere near you. The kind of sound you never really get to hear often. Judging from the height that the person fell from, it was clear that whoever he or she was died the instant it hit the pavement.
As I drew closer to the point of impact, I was able to scrutinize what happened more clearly. All that was left, all that my mind could take in, was the scarlet trail seeping slowly across the asphalt; the frail, bone-like limbs, and the long, black hair, which still retained some of its living beauty.
And that dead face.
The scene struck my mind with the image of a flower pressed between the pages of an old, musty tome.
Perhaps because the corpse, with its neck twisted, looked like a broken lily to me.
It is a night somewhere in the beginning of August, and Mikiya comes by to visit without any prior notice, as per his MO. Popping open the door, I see him standing idly in the hallway, facing the entrance like some sort of servant-in-waiting.
"Evening, Shiki. You look as lazy as ever," he says, with a smile on his face. A strange greeting is just the kind of thing I expected him to do.
"Have you heard?" he continues. "There was another jumper today, actually. This time I was actually at the scene. There've been a lot of these incidents lately, but I never thought I would actually come across one."
He hands me a plastic convenience store bag. "Here, in the fridge." He holds the bag, arm outstretched, while untying his shoes and talking to me. Mikiya is nothing if not a multi-tasker. Inside the bag were two cups of Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream. I guess he wants me to put them inside my fridge before they melt. While checking out the contents of the bag, Mikiya had already undone his laces and stepped inside.
My home is just a small apartment in a low-rise. The first thing you see on opening the front door is the small entryway, not even one meter long, where you take off your shoes. After going through that mess, you arrive at my one-stop bedroom-slash-living room, where Mikiya had already started making himself comfortable. I follow him in, glaring at his back while doing so.
"Shiki, you've been skipping class again, haven't you? Your grades don't really matter, but come on; you should at least attend your classes. Don't tell me you already forgot our promise to go to college together."
"Wiser words were never before spoken," I reply, feeling particularly caustic, "especially coming from someone who dropped college way before I did. And sadly, this promise we supposedly made ain't ringing any bells."
"Don't start being difficult again, Shiki."
Mikiya tends to be a bit more blunt when you've got him cornered in a conversation; a helpful tidbit that has only recently come back to me. I climb on top of the bed and lie flat, Mikiya choosing to sit on the floor while leaning on the bed, his back facing me.
This young man named Mikiya Kokuto has been a friend to me since high school. At least that's what my head tells me. My recollections have been a bit fuzzy lately.
We live in an age where fashion trends and the accompanying models that people want to look like are as apt to change as often as you blink in a day. A rarity, then, to still find someone like Mikiya, who steadfastly refuses to budge from his student-like appearance. He doesn't dye his hair or have it grow into an unmanageable mess, he doesn't tan his skin or wear accessories, he doesn't carry a cellphone, and he doesn't even allow himself the simple pleasures of flirting around with women. His demeanor struck me as the kind of person you'd probably see more ordinarily at lazy English train stations. His 170cm height, considerate disposition, and large, black rimmed glasses certainly complete the image. Not exactly someone you do a double-take on when you pass him by on the street, though it mostly due to his own fault: if he actually took the time to dress nicely instead of wearing somber black clothes every day, he might even be noticed.
"Shiki, are you listening? I met your mom today, too. She said you haven't really contacted your family since you got out of the hospital two months ago. You should at least show your face at the Ryogi estate, don't you think?"
"Mmm?" I reply, as listlessly as Kokuto said I was. "I don't really have any business being there, though."
"Oh, come on, isn't it about time you patched things up with your folks? It's been two years after all, and you haven't talked or met with them since."
"There's no use in making a pointless house call or a pointless conversation with them when it'll only make us grow farther apart. It still isn't real to me. Not so soon after getting out of the hospital. I mean, talking to you is still weird; what'll happen if I talk to those strangers?" My patience with the subject grew thinner every second. I wish he would just stop pushing it.
"Things aren't going to get any better if it keeps up like this, you know. It isn't right for you and your parents to be living so close to each other and not even talk."
The sudden criticism makes me frown. What exactly is wrong with it? There's nothing illegal going on between me and my parents. It's just that I lost some of my memories in a traffic accident. We're recognized as a family by the law and by our blood, so there really shouldn't be anything to talk about here.
Mikiya always has his head in a worry about any damn person and their life issues, even though to me it seems like a wasteful exercise.
Shiki Ryogi is my friend from high school. We studied together in a private school famous for putting a lot of its students on the fast track to a college education. On the day that I was looking for my name on the lists of people who had passed the entrance exam, I saw a name that caught my eye: "Shiki Ryogi." As names go, it was a pretty peculiar one, and our being classmates ensured that it would get stuck in my head. Ever since then, I've become possibly the only friend Shiki's ever had.
Due to our school having no uniforms, and a casual clothing policy, a lot of people dressed in a multitude of ways to express themselves. Even in that sort of environment, Shiki stood out from the crowd.
Largely because of the kimono.
At first, that particular wardrobe choice made it seem as if the prime minister himself walked in on the classroom, forcing everyone to silence. But once it became clear that Shiki wasn't sparing any words for anyone except the queries of the teachers, which were uncommon, people started to stop caring. Not that Shiki minded.
The cultivated air of inapproachability, intentional or not, certainly widened the distance more than the clothes already did, but Shiki's features undoubtedly helped out in that regard as well.
Black hair framed Shiki's face, as it does now; cut long enough to hide the ears. However, it was clear that the maintenance of it seemed to Shiki like it was time wasted, evidenced by how it looked like it was cut with reckless abandon. Yet the cut was just at that height where people start to second guess Shiki's gender on first contact. More than anything though, it would be Shiki's eyes that lend your feet to stop. Those eyes carried a piercing gaze, seeming to bear witness to something invisible, something "other". To me, those eyes were a definition, synecdochic to character.
But then, the accident happened…
"Wha—oh, sorry, I wasn't listening." Mikiya cocks his head towards me a bit to listen.
"I said 'the jumpers.' As in the people who took a header on the sidewalk off a building. Would you say that what happened was accidental, Mikiya?"
He shuts up for a moment and actually tries to think on the casual question seriously. He puts a hand on his chin, evoking the puzzled intensity of stumped detectives the world over.
"Well, it's on the person who jumps if he really wanted to do that or not. As for how society will look at it, they do classify 'falling from a high place' as an accident so—"
"Not a murder, not exactly a suicide, and not exactly an accident either. That's vague," I muse. "I don't know if it occurred to them that killing themselves would just inconvenience a lot more people than they thought it would. Maybe they should have grabbed a handbook on the subject and died a bit better." As soon as I say that, I see Mikiya shake his head in disapproval.
"I guess I have to add 'speaks ill of the departed' to your already illustrious résumé of insensitivity." He replies in monotone disappointment, almost without a note of chastisement. Typical.
"Ah, Kokuto. Ever the killjoy." Despite my objection, he doesn't even seem to care.
"Hah, that's rare. It's been a while since you called me by that name."
He nods like a squirrel. I tend to pronounce his surname a bit differently than you would normally, with a sort of French flavor; a small joke that originates way back in high school. I don't really like the ring of the nickname though, so I stick with "Mikiya" for the most part, but sometimes I just blurt it out, like an involuntary emission of boredom or frustration. In the silence of my reverie, he suddenly claps his hands as if remembering something.
"Oh yeah, while we're on the topic of rare things, I just remembered that my sister Azaka said she saw it too."
"Saw what now?"
"The girl you said you saw floating around the Fujo Tower."
Ah, yes, the Fujo Tower, former high-rise condominium situated in the commercial office district of town that used to serve as residence to the more privileged tax brackets, now abandoned and leaving people with little else save its husk and its memory. And a haunting, if what Kokuto says is true. Passing by it some days ago, I happened to see a spectral figure in that looked quite human. If Azaka saw it too, then it must mean it's real.
My second sight, the ability to see these types of events, has its roots (as much as one can point out a definitive origin to this weirdness, at least) in one event, a point in time that feels simultaneously distant and recent. I was in a traffic accident two years ago, and because of that I spent those last two years in a coma. After waking from that coma, I began to…see things that weren't there before. Toko would say that what I'm doing isn't so much "sight" as it is "perception." In other words, it seems my senses have "awakened" to a higher level of perception, but it's all technical magical gobbledygook that I couldn't care less to understand.
"I did see it more than a few times, but I haven't been there lately so I wouldn't know if it's still there," I say, as I stretch out my arms.
"I don't know why," says Kokuto, perplexed, "but I pass by there all the time and I don't see anything."
"I'd say it's because you have one pair of eyes too many," I throw back at him.
"Erm, I don't think glasses have anything to do with it." Mikiya is always like this. He's on a no-nonsense path and he's going to stick to it come hell or high water. Honestly, I think it's his naiveté that makes him not see these…"other" things. Nevertheless, these trifling incidents of people flying and falling seem to be set to continue. I can't puzzle out the meaning behind it all, so I ask Mikiya a question.
"Mikiya, do you know the reason people fly?"
He gives a shrug. "Wouldn't know. I mean, I've never tried flying before anyway," he says with a yawn.
It is a night approaching the end of August, and I decide to take a stroll. Despite summer quickly coming to a close, the air usually remained warm, which makes the chill running through the air tonight a rare and unusual event. The last train has come and gone, and a deathly silence has blanketed the city. This dead part of town is largely bereft of people, and looked like something foreign. Even the few pedestrians present seem fake, unnatural, like they were from some old daguerreotype. The whole thing reminds me of he scent of corpses, of grave pallor that stretched its damning influence across the city, as unstoppable and incurable as a terminal disease.
Everything—from the foreboding houses with no signs of life or light, to the dimly lit convenience store that offers little respite from the darkness—everything feels like all it takes is one bad moment to make them all fall down in violent upheaval.
The moon seems like the last refuge of life, even as my Eyes take in the richness of death in all things. This place is no exception, and my eyes hurt because of it. It's sickening.
I took a black leather jacket with me when I left the house, and now I wear it atop my light blue kimono. The kimono's sleeves get bunched up inside the jacket, and the heat warms my body. Even then, it still isn't hot.
Well, not exactly. For me, it's more like it wasn't cold to begin with.
Even in such a deep night like this one, you can still encounter a few people making their way on the streets.
A man with the complete suit-tie-briefcase ensemble hurriedly making his way down the lane, his face cast downwards, features hidden by the shadows. A loiterer sitting by the light of the vending machine, his head swimming in the potent cocktail of alcohol and narcotics. Vagrants hanging around the vicinity of the 24-hour convenience store, maybe pondering how exactly they're going to bust it, or just trying to find safety in numbers.
Who knows what reason these people may find themselves out here in the middle of the night, walking dangerous streets? I don't even know my own reasons. I'm just doing what I used to do before.
…Two years ago.
In a different time, I was on the cusp of going into my second year of high school. But in that rain-soaked night, I was involved in an unfortunate traffic accident. I was brought to the hospital straightaway. Apparently, I didn't receive much in the way of bodily harm; few wounds, nothing serious, but nothing much beyond that. If it was really an accident, it was a pretty damn clean one, I'd say. On the other hand, peculiarly, I did receive serious damage to my brain, through which I lapsed into a deep coma. That's what they told me at least. That night is the only time I have trouble even recalling.
Because I had little serious physical injury, it wasn't a big stretch for the hospital to keep me alive, and my unconscious self grasped and groped for that last sliver of life. Statistically speaking, after 6 months, the chances of a coma patient coming back are pretty slim, but there are the aberrant cases, like myself. The doctors were so surprised at my recovery two months ago; it's as if they saw a corpse rising from the grave. Guess they never expected me to pull a Lazarus on them, which I guess clues me in to their close to zilch hopes on my case. Though perhaps not equaling their exaggerated reactions, I too had a surprise waiting for me.
My memories became…alien, foreign, like they were coming from the head of a different person. Put simply, I'm dissociated from the memories, unable to put stock in their validity. It was different than mere amnesia, or a lapse in memory.
As Toko would say, there are apparently four systems or steps the brain uses with regards to handling memory: encoding, storage, retrieval, and recognition.
"Encoding" is writing your impressions of an experience as information in your brain.
"Storage" is actually keeping that impression or memory.
"Retrieval" is calling back that stored information, or in other words, remembering.
"Recognition" is confirming whether or not that information was the same as what actually happened.
If, in any one of these steps, there is some sort of failure, then you get memory disorder. Depending on which of these steps fail, you get very different cases of memory disorder. In my case, however, there isn't a problem with any of these steps. Though I can't place my memories as my own, "recognition" is working because I can identify my memories as my previous experiences.
Even then, I still couldn't trust these memories. I had no real feeling that I am the Shiki Ryogi that was. Perhaps it was some other Shiki Ryogi, some other high school student, some other person who had an accident. But I've seen the documents; I am Shiki Ryogi. At least that's what my brain tells me.
Two years of oblivion have reduced me, if not to emptiness, than to something that sits closely beside it. It laid waste all that I was inside, and severed what connection existed between my memory and personality through two years of "living" like a shell, on the boundary of emptiness. And though there was precious little drama here compared to actual societal rejection, it drives me to worry all the same. All my memories are just reflections on the water, and I don't know whether I'm the reflection or the real thing. With these memories, I know how to act like the Shiki Ryogi that my parents and friends knew, but I know it best; it's all just an act, just mimesis. It's like being a newborn baby: not knowing anything and lacking any sort of world experience. Or possibly it's more like not living at all.
Still, the memories do help. I mean, they make me into a functional human being, after all. I already have the emotions people have from experiencing something. It's not real, hands-on experience or anything, but at least it's there. It results in this weird feeling where if I do something, I feel like it's my first time doing it and also feel like I've done it a hundred times before. There's no amazement, like a magic trick where you can see the strings in the sleeve.
And so I continue to play out this strange role. The reason is quite simple.
Because by doing so, maybe I can return to some semblance of the past.
Because by doing so, maybe I can figure out why I like walking so late at night.
I guess, in a way, you could say I've fallen in love with my previous self.
I try to get my bearings in the neighborhood, and I realize I've walked pretty far, enough to reach the office district of the city. Buildings that stood at heights almost similar to each other lined the street, looking like soldiers arranged in neat little firing ranks. The surface of these buildings are riddled with little glass windows, themselves in their own arrangement. The reflection of moonlight as well as of the other buildings borne atop their shining surfaces creates a sort of shadow world, where monsters and their kind lurked.
One shadow stands taller than the rest, however. Like a perverse monument, it stands long and narrow, with a height that looked like it could reach the moon.
The Fujo Tower.
No lights or signs of life are present in that building. Seeing as how it's two o' clock in the morning, I really shouldn't be surprised. The coldness of the still night is irregular at this time of summer. The bone in my nape creaks from the cold, despite the lack of any tangible feeling of a breeze. I decide that it's just my imagination. As I looked up at the towering structure, a black shape flits past my sight, almost unnoticeable because of the lack of light. Looking closer, I realize it's a shadow of a human figure, and then I realize it's not a shadow at all. The silhouette of a woman comes floating into view atop the building. I didn't mean that as a turn of phrase though. She literally is floating.
"Hmph, so you've shown yourself today as well, I see." I say.
I don't like her up there, silhouetted against the moonlight. But I can hardly do anything about what I can see. And as quickly as I saw her, she vanishes, flying as if the moon was her cradle.
I see a dragonfly, beating its wings.
A butterfly follows it, but its pace doesn't slacken. The butterfly tries to keep up with the dragonfly, but it is a futile effort. As it flies further, I see a glimpse of the butterfly as its strength failed and gravity took hold. It makes an arc as it falls, and then trails its way to the ground like a snake, or a broken lily. A sad and cruel scene.
Perhaps, even if they could not travel together, they could have kept each other company for a while longer. But I knew that was impossible. To something like the dragonfly, whose feet don't touch the earth, even such freedom was denied.
I hear the distinct buzz of conversation, and I wake up.
My eyelids were screaming for two more hours of sleep, even as my mind warred between sleeping and waking. In the end, the battle was won by the latter, and I set to work on the laborious task of opening my eyelids. Sometimes, I wonder if I worry about these things too much. I was up all night working on the blueprints and diagrams, and I must have fallen asleep in Miss Toko's room. I raise myself up from the sofa with a hint of enthusiasm, pushing up my glasses so I could see better, and I realize that this was indeed the office.
The office was a cluttered place full of occult oddities and research that Miss Toko had accumulated throughout the years. The midday sunlight illuminated this mess, as well as the two people conversing; Shiki, wearing a smooth kimono as always, was leaning with back to the wall, and Miss Toko was sitting cross-legged on a chair.
Miss Toko always dressed smart, with thin black pants and a collared white blouse that seemed to look new every time you meet her. Combined with her short hair and the way it made her neck show, it gave her the image of a company secretary, though I thought that with her scary, piercing look, especially if she didn't have her glasses on, it would probably be impossible that she would ever get such a job.
"'Morning, Kokuto." Miss Toko gave a glance in my direction, like she always does, to acknowledge my presence. No glasses were worn over her hawk eyed glare today, a sign that she and Shiki were probably talking business.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I guess I fell asleep."
"Don't start with excuses. I can see well enough. If you're fully with us on planet Earth now, then go make something to drink. A cup of coffee would be good. It should warm your bones a bit after that long rest."
Long rest? Well, I did feel exceptionally tired, so it wasn't a completely strange thing to say. I don't know why Miss Toko would say it, but she's always talking cryptically at the best of times anyway, so not asking her has become the standard operating procedure.
"How about you, Shiki? Need a drink?" I managed to ask in my groggy state, only half aware of my surroundings.
"Nah, I'm good. I'm about to hit the sack soon, anyway."
Lazy eyes and sagging shoulders tell the story of Shiki's sleeplessness well enough. Probably went and did another one of those nightly strolls again last night.
Next to Miss Toko's office room was another one that served the purposes of a kitchen, at least to her. To me, it looked more like a laboratory, or at the very least it used to look like one. The sink had three faucets in a row, just like you'd see in a lab. Two of those had wires strapped around them, either disabled or possessing some unearthly, forbidden function, the operation of which I suspect only passed between God and Miss Toko. God sure wasn't revealing anything, and Miss Toko is of the same mindset, and I was in no particular rush to find out. Either way, it gave the entire room a disturbing air.
I turn on the coffee maker, and it emits a low hum as it processes the drink. The first thing I do upon arriving here every day is make coffee for Miss Toko, so it's come to the point where I could do it with my eyes closed. It's been almost half a year since I've started working for her. "Work" in this case being a very loose term. This place could hardly be called your typical office environment. Despite that, I stay on, probably because I saw something in what she worked on.
Just after Shiki lapsed into a coma, I graduated high school and entered college with no motivation or any particular purpose. At some point back in our high school days, me and Shiki made a deal to go to college together. Even if Shiki had no hope of waking up, I still wanted to keep that promise. But my life after Shiki's coma was one of aimless drifting, just watching the calendar as the days swept past.
One day I was invited by an acquaintance to a doll and puppet exhibit, and it was there that I found it: A doll in the shape and size of a human, so finely made that it must have taken its craftsman years of hard work; some measure of his soul went into that doll. Though I knew it was just a doll like anything else there, it looked more like a human being, frozen in place, and one I was sure would move any second now, if someone breathed into it. A thing on the brink of existence, but didn't live, preserved on the boundary that no one else walked.
I was attracted to that contradiction, maybe because it reminded me so much of the person that Shiki was before. Apparently, the maker of the doll was unknown. Even the pamphlet of the exhibit didn't mention any names. I dove into investigation, desperately seeking the person who could craft such a beautiful doll. It turned out to be someone not entirely connected to the business of doll making, and did it with no real intent for fame. A mysterious recluse named Toko Aozaki.
Apparently she makes dolls as her main occupation, but was also an architect on the side. She seemed to be involved in just generally "making" things, whatever those thing may be, but she never accepts requests. Mysteriously, she just knows who needs things made, goes to them, announces her intent, and proceeds to make whatever it is they want after receiving a generous advance payment.
She must be the world's greatest freelance craftsman, or the world's biggest weirdo.
I got even more interested in finding her after that, even though I got a sense that I really should have quit at that point. Something seemed to pull at my effort, almost as if she didn't want to be found out. Eventually, through much time and record searching, I found out she lived in some place away from the city, not in the suburbs, or the industrial district.
It wasn't even a house.
It's an abandoned building.
Well, to be more specific, it's a building where construction was stopped when it was halfway done, probably because whoever funded it ran out of money. It has the shape of a building, seen from afar, but inside the floor and walls are bare. It was left as it was, neglected and surrendered to time and the weather. Had it been completed, it would have had six floors, but there's nothing above the fourth floor. Nowadays it would be more efficient to start the bulk of the construction from the top, but I guess they were still using the old methods back then. Now the fifth floor has been dragooned into the service of a roof. Though surrounded by a high concrete wall, anyone who wanted to go in would have an easy time of it, since the gate was always open. It's a miracle the local kids don't mess around in it. They probably just see it as some suspicious, dangerous building they should stay out of. Pretty convenient.
I don't know if Miss Toko really bought the building, but it seems that way, so for now, she stays here. The laboratory-slash-coffee room I'm in right now is situated on the fourth floor, and the second and third are Miss Toko's various offices, storage rooms, and workshops, so we usually talk shop on the fourth floor.
After finding Miss Toko, I got to know her and asked for employment of some sort, just to sate my interest in this master craftswoman. I quit college, and started working for her. And amazingly enough, I actually get paid. She once said to me that humans can be divided into two types with two attributes: those who craft and search, and those who use and destroy. She made it clear to me that I wasn't someone who "crafted" but one who "searched" or some such, and that's why she hired me.
"Running a little late there, Kokuto," said an accusatory voice from the other room. It was Miss Toko, her patience obviously running thin. Well, the coffee maker's just about done, and the black liquid sits there, waiting to be drunk.
"Yesterday makes the eighth," Miss Toko says abruptly, while stubbing out her cigarette. "Soon people are going to take notice of their connection."
She is, of course, talking about the recent case of high school girls falling to their deaths. There's nothing else to talk about anyway, so I guess this was as good a topic as any. But wait…eight?
"Huh? Weren't there only six people?"
"A few more popped up while you still had sand in your eyes. All this started in June, and it's been going at about three per month. Maybe another one'll happen before the next three days are out, eh?" Miss Toko is in the habit of saying really ominous things, so I'm kind of used to it. I take a quick glance at the calendar, noticing that there's only three days left in August. For a moment, a flash of worry enters my mind for some reason, but I quickly dismiss it.
"They're saying the suicides have no relation, though," I remark. "Different schools, no friends of the third degree or anything like that. It could still turn out that the police are withholding information from the media to better their chances when they interview the perp…if this case even has one."
"What, Kokuto, you don't trust the police on this one? That sleep must have really done a number on you to suddenly be skeptical of people like that." She grins. As usual, her spite knows no bounds when her glasses are off.
"Because they didn't leave behind a suicide note, right?" I explain. "Suicidals usually leave behind a note or some sort of last message to the living. I mean, what is it six…erm, eight people now? At least one of them should have done it. That only means one of two things: that the police aren't publicizing the note so that it serves as leverage against a suspect, or it could mean a statistical improbability."
"Which by itself becomes the only thing connecting these incidents," says Miss Toko. "The girls weren't taking drugs, nor were they members of some weird cult. By all accounts their lives were perfectly mundane. Neither their family nor their friends know any reason why they would throw themselves off a building. So it follows that they probably killed themselves over some emotional or psychological distress, or perhaps to prove something. That's why they don't leave behind any last words."
"So you're saying that it's not that the police are hiding anything, it's that they truly didn't have any suicide note?" I ask.
"Well, statistically speaking, most people don't leave behind any note when they commit suicide…but yeah." Miss Toko leans back on her chair, sipping her coffee while looking at me funny. I put a mug to my own lip and tip it, tasting the bitter coffee inside. I think back on what she said, something nagging me in the reasoning.
How could there be no suicide note? It didn't fit. The girls were, as far as we knew, all happy and content, very much attached to the world of the living. In a situation where one is forced to die, final words are what you leave behind to cement that connection. Not doing so means you have nothing to leave to this world, and you can decide to bravely face that great unknown of death. A suicide without a note, or parting words, or even the remote chance of discovery of the incident: that would be the perfect suicide.
Jumping off a building, then, is far from the perfect suicide.
Such an exhibitionist act makes the suicide clear and attention-grabbing. In a way, the suicide and the resulting publicity itself results in having the air of a "suicide note", so to speak. If the suicidals picked as obvious and public a method as jumping off a building, then they did so knowing they would be seen by many. Publicity formed at least a part of their choice of death. In that case, why the lack of parting words at all?
I can think of only one reason. Perhaps, like Shiki said once, they were just accidents, or at the very least, they did not intend to die. Then they wouldn't have any reason to write a suicide note, just like running into a traffic accident while going home from school. Unfortunately, I can't fathom why you'd jump off from a building while taking your daily commute from school, though.
"There won't be any more girls hitting the pavement for a while after the eighth, 'least not ones related to these incidents." Shiki, now standing beside the window, joins the conversation.
"How could you possibly know that?" I say.
"How else? I checked. There were eight of them floating around that building. I took care of 'em, but they'll be there for a little while longer, even if it does make me sick." Shiki faces away from the window, posing with arms crossed. "Say, Toko, do all people end up flying that way when they bite the bullet?"
"No one really knows for sure. Everyone's different. All I can offer you is an observation." Miss Toko puts down her cup, her smile morphing into a more scholarly demeanor, as if she was about to teach the most important thing in the world. "The words 'flying' and 'falling' are inextricably tied to each other, because we humans can't fly by ourselves. And yet, as expected of men, the more we reach for the sky, the more we forget this. Even those who live after death can try and reach for this goal, to fall towards the sky, forgetting that it is the hubris of Icarus that led to his doom."
Shiki seemed perturbed by Miss Toko's cryptic response, more so than usual. I can only guess as to what offensive statement Miss Toko said that has Shiki in such a defensive attitude. I decide to break the mood.
"Er, I'm sorry ma'am, but I can't seem to understand the topic."
"Apologies, Kokuto. We're talking about the ghost at the Fujo Tower. I don't really know if it's the real thing or just some mage's illusion. I wanted to check, but if Shiki really killed it, then there's no way to know for sure now."
So it was about that. The conversations between Shiki and glasses-off-Miss Toko are always about the occult and the magical, so it wasn't that hard to guess anyway.
"You know that Shiki saw those girls floating around in the Fujo Tower, correct? Turns out there was another human figure flying around among those floating girls. Since they couldn't be removed, we figured perhaps that place was something akin to a net to them, or something along those lines."
In my mind, I am frowning at this story's sudden turn for the complex, and then, as if sensing my confusion, she offers her layman's summary of it.
"Well, to put it a bit more simply, there is one girl floating around that building, and tagging along with her are what looks like our famous suicide girls. I suspect that they're something like ghosts or some other supernatural occurrence. The end."
I nod my understanding, but the way Shiki put it, I gather that the deed was already done and taken care of. Once again, the story seems far past me. It's only been three months since I let these two get to know each other, but already I'm the one lagging behind on their peculiar conversations. Not that I had any particular interest in being involved in them either way. However, since being ignored was also an unacceptable outcome, I listen anyway. The way I'm stuck between their stranger world and my own willing or unwilling ignorance of it sort of fits me, in a way. It's one of those small blessings I can be thankful for.
"That sounds like a story out of a dime novel," I blurt out. Miss Toko nods her agreement, smiling. Shiki, on the other hand, is somehow growing more wound up, casting accusatory sidelong glances at me. Because provoking a reaction out of Shiki works about as often as Mercury in retrograde, I have to wonder if I did something colossally idiotic without my knowing again.
"But then, Shiki saw the ghosts only at the beginning of July, right?" I sound dumb for asking the obvious, but I do it just to confirm. "So there were only four ghosts back then, Shiki?"
A negative shaking of the head from Shiki. "No, no, there were eight, right from the start. I told you right? There wouldn't be any more suicides after the eighth. In their case, the order is reversed."
"Uh huh. You gotta clarify with me whether or not you've gained any future predicting powers like that one girl we talked to some time ago."
"It's not like that, Mikiya. It's more like that place…the air there isn't normal. How do I put this?" Shiki's voice uncharacteristically wavers a bit as a proper description fails to materialize. "It's sort of like a strange sensation of being in the middle of boiling water and freezing water."
As Shiki struggles with vocabulary, Miss Toko steps in to help.
"It means that time there flows differently. Understand that there is more than one way for time to progress. The speed upon which entropy acts on something differs for each object. The same holds true for our memories. When a person dies, the record of him existing doesn't disappear instantly. There are people who remember, people who have observed and watched over his life and death. As long as these exist, the memories…, or rather, their record of existence, doesn't suddenly disappear, but only fades into nothingness. If the observer of death was not a person, but instead a place that resonates to people such as those girls, then they will remain even after death as a sort of image, of wandering 'ghosts', or what have you. The only ones receptive to this image are the ones that share and keep the memory of these ghosts, such as close friends and family. And people like Shiki and me, of course."
Miss Toko lights another cigarette before continuing. "Entropy acts on memory too. People forget, and eventually the memories disappear. But on the roof of the Fujo Tower, the entropy of those memories are slower, as if the building itself doesn't want to forsake them. The record of their time alive hasn't caught up to their current state, and as a result, the memories, and the images of those girls remain, in that place where time is crooked and broken."
Miss Toko seems to finish her explanation, which I suspect managed to be even more puzzling than what Shiki would have eventually gotten to. So what she's saying is that, when something dies or is lost, that thing doesn't truly disappear, as long as someone remembers it. And that remembering it is to acknowledge its existence, and because of that, it can sometimes be seen again. That just sounds like deluding yourself.
Well, Miss Toko probably kept using the word "image" because it is something of a delusion, a thing that can't be real.
In a surprisingly frank display of annoyance, Shiki is led to that timeless impulse of headscratching. "Enough of these explanations, already. What I'm really worried about is her. My knife did a pretty good job of proving my point, but if there's actually some mage using projection, then this'll never end." Another solid glance comes my way. "I'm tired of being Mikiya's guardian, thank you very much."
"I agree completely, Shiki. I'll settle things with Kirie Fujo, so just go on and take Kokuto home…wait, he still has five hours to clock in, so you might want to sleep. You can use that place."
Miss Toko pointed to a spot on the floor that looks like it hasn't been cleaned for at least half a year, littered with paper like a dirty furnace. Shiki, naturally, ignores her.
"So what was she, anyway?" Shiki asks Miss Toko. The mage walks over to the window and stares outside, her footsteps inaudible, and with a cigarette still in her mouth. We don't really have any light in this room, not electric light anyway. All the light comes from outside, and in certain areas of the building where the sun doesn't reach, it can be surprisingly difficult to tell the time. In contrast, the view outside is clearly morning, perhaps somewhere closer to noon. For a few moments, Miss Toko stares silently at the sun-bathed panorama.
"Before, you could have said that she flew." She puffs out a cloud of smoke, indistinguishable now from the white sunlight. From my position, framed by the sunlight and smoke, she looked like some sort of mirage. "Kokuto, what would you associate with a high place? What imagery comes to mind?" The sudden question snaps me back into focus. The only thing I could think about was the time I went atop Tokyo Tower. I remember trying real hard to spot my house, but in the end I couldn't make it out among the many tall buildings I saw.
"Trying a bit too hard there, Kokuto."
Well, fine, I didn't think that answer through too much anyway. I try to think of something else.
"Well, I can't really think of anything in particular, but I do think that a panoramic view is beautiful. Just the sight of the scenery is overwhelming." This was a more spontaneous response, which she somehow seems to note, acknowledging it with a little nod while still staring at the window. And like that, she continued to talk.
"Scenery seen from select vantage points is always wonderful. Even an otherwise mundane landscape becomes something special. Looking down at the world you live in, though, stimulates a different urge. In such a commanding view, there is but one impulse."
As the word "impulse" leaves her mouth, she cuts off her sentence.
An impulse isn't something that comes from reason or intelligence, not something that comes from within, but something that is triggered by an external force, even if one rejects it. Like a murderous, destructive urge. Then what is the destructive impulse that a view from on high brings?
"It's how far everything is. A view too wide makes clear the boundary between you and the world. People can only rest easy with things they are familiar with. Even with an accurate map telling you your exact location, you know that's only information. To us, the world only amounts to something we understand and feel from experience. The boundaries and connections of the world, and of countries, and of cities, are only constructs of the mind, not something we feel ourselves. But with a view too wide, there appear gaps in our understanding. You have a ten meter radius that you feel, and the ten kilometer space that you're looking down on. They're both one and the same, the same world that you've been living in, and yet the first one feels more real.
You see, now we have come upon a paradox. Rather than recognize the small world you can feel as the world you live in, you ascribe it to the wide world you can only see. But within this wide world, you cannot feel that you truly exist. Because the closer objects are to your person, the more sure you can be of their existence, of their reality. In this way, reason, represented by your knowledge, and experience, represented by instinct, will start to conflict. Eventually, one will lose, and confusion sets in.
'Viewing the city from up here sure puts it into perspective. I can't believe my house was down there. Did the park always look that way? I didn't even know that street or that alley or that building ever existed! This is a city I've never seen before, like I've gone far, far away.' Those are the sort of thoughts that run through your head in a panoramic view."
In a lull in her speech, I manage to sneak in a question which has been nagging me since the start.
"So, what, looking out from a vantage point is somehow bad now?"
"Only if you gaze for too long. Remember that in the old myths, traveling the sky was akin to traveling another world. To fly was to ascend to a higher world, or perhaps to meet one's final reward in the afterlife. Mortals who ascended the skies became mad, unless they armed themselves with charms or the power of reason. And always, lunacy was cured by returning to solid ground."
Now that she mentions it, I did have this indescribable urge to jump from the school roof once, just to see what would happen if I did. It must run through everybody's minds at some point, when looking at that view. Of course, I didn't really want to do it, but why did I think that way when it clearly leads to my own death? Why do other people think that way?
"Does that mean that, if only for a moment, you go mad?' After I mention the question, Miss Toko bursts into laughter.
"Kokuto, you have to understand that thinking that is normal. Dig into people's dreams and you find them dreaming the taboo, eventually. We possess the extraordinary ability of indulging our own fantasies with our own imagination. Though you are right in a way. What's important is that we know that the fantasy has its place. Well, I guess that's obvious. But in your example, it's less 'crazy' and more like a 'numbing of thought.'"
"Toko, this has gone on long enough." Shiki interrupts, sick of the one-sided conversation. Well, we have drifted quite far from the main topic so it wouldn't be uncalled for in this case.
"There's nothing long about it. In fact, were this an actual thought experiment, we'd only be ankle deep into it."
"Well, cut it down to a phrase, will you? When you and Mikiya talk, it's like a goddamn thesis committee."
Strong words, but words which I can accept have an all too valid point.
"Shiki…" Miss Toko starts, rubbing her temple in frustration, but Shiki continues to complain, ignoring the both of us.
"And then there's this business of views from high places. I hope you remember that just by walking around, we're already 'viewing from a high place' already." Air quotations by Shiki. "There's no 'normal view' by your logic."
Well, someone's wound up. As expected, Shiki's already trying to punch holes in Miss Toko's argument. Certainly, a person's eyes are higher than the ground, which would qualify them for a "high place", I guess. Miss Toko nods in approval at Shiki, and continues her speech, probably condensed now for the sake of Shiki's temper.
"Even if we count the fact that the ground isn't actually flat but at an angle, we also don't usually call our normal vision to be a 'commanding' or 'overlooking' view. There's a reason for that. Your vision isn't exactly as your eyes see it, but something more of a signal the mind interprets and comprehends. Protected as we are by our 'common sense', we don't perceive such sight as 'high', and we don't call it such. It's 'normal'…whatever nebulous value anyone might ascribe to that word.
Our mental perceptions, on the other hand, also stand perched on its own vantage point. Different minds perceive different things, but all are imprisoned, asleep in a paradigm of material reality. Awakened minds bearing a more malleable paradigm, such as those of mages, can bend its rules, but never truly break them. To cross that boundary is to become something more and less human. A god, but absent the restraint. And so Hypnos becomes Thanatos."
As she says this, Miss Toko continues to look out at the window, in a commanding view of the street, the town—perhaps the world. She's looking at the world with her feet firmly in the ground, which I thought was important for some reason. I suddenly remember my dream.
Before it ended, I remember the butterfly fell towards the ground. Were the butterfly not so intent to follow me, she could have flown more gracefully. If she had just floated and not flapped her wings so hard, she could have flown longer. But perhaps, seeing the dragonfly and how it flew, it could no longer bear to just float. That's why it flew.
Miss Toko threw her expended cigarette out the window. "The fluctuation at the Fujo Tower might have been her perception of the world. The uneasiness in the air that Shiki felt were the bars of the prison. A place steeped in numina."
A few seconds pass without Miss Toko saying a word, which Shiki and I take as a sign that she's finally finished talking. The long sigh and wandering eyes tell me that Shiki's melancholic demeanor calms down at last. "Bars of the prison, huh? I wonder if that girl was inside or outside." Saying this dismissively, Shiki's head is tilted to one side, tired of talking.
"Well, I'd say wherever you are, she's on the opposite side," counters Miss Toko.
It's 2:00 in the morning, and the bone in my nape creaks from the cold. I shiver in spite of myself, and I wonder if it's the chill that's doing it, or my own mind. For the moment, I cast aside my reservations and enter the Fujo Tower, no sight or sound of life indicating any sort of welcome for me. Only the electric light illuminating the cream-colored walls of the entrance hallway, a light that looked too artificial and lacking in human warmth that it ended up being more eerie than the darkness it was supposed to sweep away. At the entrance lies a card checker for the former tennants, now unused and broken. Without stopping, I pass by it, going through the hallway and into an elevator. The situation is the same as it looked outside: no people except for me. The elevator has one of those mirrors that people can use to ogle themselves while they wait. It reflects a person wearing a light blue kimono with a black leather jacket, with the lazy eyes of someone tired of doing this job.
I press the button that leads to the rooftop while looking at my reflection in the mirror. With nothing but the low hum of the elevator accompanying me, I wait as the world begins to rise.
For now until this mechanical box reaches the rooftop, this elevator is a prison. The events of the outside are from an entirely different world, an entirely different existence. For now, this is all that is real. I allow this thought to slip into my mind unbidden, though I should be focusing on the task at hand.
The sliding door opens with only the slightest hint of a sound, leading into a small storage room whose only feature is the door leading outside to the rooftop. The room has this oppressive lack of light that makes me think that the door to the roof opens to that different world I fleetingly felt, the world that I saw in the reflective circus of the buildings' windows. It's a boundary of emptiness. Crossing the room with my footsteps resounding against the narrow space, I open the door.
The room is black as pitch, but it melds into the now visible void of the endless night sky. My eyes take in the view of the city from on high. There was nothing special about the Fujo Tower. It had a perfectly constructed and level floor made of concrete, and a chain-link fence surrounding the roof. Aside from the water tank that stood atop the room I just exited out of, there isn't anything else here. Except for the view.
The height is at least ten stories higher than any building in the vicinity, giving it a lonely feeling. It's like being on top of a tall ladder, staring down into the depths of the world below you. If the world below were the ocean, then the scattered lights of buildings would be the anglerfish, the only lights in an otherwise black world where neither sunlight nor moonlight reach. A beautiful sight.
The world is sleeping, perhaps for eternity, but unfortunately only for the moment. The stillness grips my heart tighter than any cold wind, and it feels painful. Stars glitter in the sky like jewels, and the moon is out, brighter than anything. In my education at the family manor, I was taught that the moon was not the sun's mirror, but a window to a different reality. A polar opposite to stand as a gate to twilight.
The moon has long been associated with the arcane, femininity, and death. And as that moon shines brightly over our world, the figure of a woman floats eerily in the sky above, silhouetted harshly against the moonlight, accompanied by eight girls flying around her.
The floating woman specter is wearing a white cloth that looked like it could pass for a dress, and she has black hair that reaches down all the way to her waist. What little you can see of her arms and legs through the cloth reveal how slender she is. Her eyebrows, too, follow this mold, and her eyes hold inside them piercing cold, making her countenance one of the most beautiful I've seen. From her looks, I'd say she's in her early twenties, though it's probably foolish to attach anything like "age" to something like a ghost. And yet she doesn't possess the distorted air of a ghost that marks them so well. She looks as if she could pass muster for being alive. The girls swimming in the air around her, who fade in and out of sight, look more the part. Above me, this lonely procession continued; the womanly figure, and the girls floating in a protective formation. I found it unsettling, not so much repulsive, but more like…
"I see. This is all a spell of yours, isn't it?" I sneer.
I didn't notice it before now, but I note the woman's face again, seeing some inhuman quality to its beauty. Were the wind blowing strongly tonight, her smooth black hair, each strand finely combed, would strike an otherworldly chord in anyone's heart. Otherworldly, and inhuman.
"Then I'm gonna have to kill you."
As if noticing me for the first time, the woman's eyes finally cast downward, and I return the favor, our eyes taking in each other's measure. No more words are spoken. None are needed.
From inside my jacket, I draw a blade, a fine weapon seven inches in length.
The woman's gaze from above fills me with the urge to kill. The beautiful white dress sways in the air. The slender arm moves like water, and points an accusatory finger at me. Those slender limbs no longer seem beautiful, and look more fragile now.
"Like a bone, or a lily."
Tonight, there was no wind, and my voice reverberated in the night sky.
You can fly. When the woman points her finger at me, I hear a voice intruding in my consciousness; perhaps hers, were she able to speak. It buries itself inside, digging in, and telling me I can fly. The mental assault makes me lose balance for a moment, but with only one step I regain composure. Overhead, the woman hesitates. Now I see.
You must fly. She tries again, this time stronger, more assertive. It is met with similar resistance. And then, finally, finally, my Eyes look at her.
And there they are. One on each leg, one on her back, a little one in her left chest. I can see the lines, separating her body into little sections. The one in her chest is likely the best target. Hitting that'd mean instant death. This woman could be some sort of image, some delusion, or a ghost. But in the end it doesn't matter. Because with my Eyes, even gods can die.
Holding my knife in a reverse grip, edge-out, I raise my right hand, narrowing my gaze at my enemy while doing so. But she attacks me again.
I can fly. I can fly. I loved the sky since I was a child. I flew yesterday too. I can fly higher today. Freely. Peacefully. Smiling. I have to go quickly. To where? To the sky? To freedom? Let's escape from reality! Yearn for the sky! Fight gravity. Be restless enough not to stay in one place. Fly unconsciously.
Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go.
"You gotta be fucking kidding, right?"
I raise my free left hand. The mental suggestion doesn't work. I don't even lose my balance anymore.
"Can't seem to take a liking to flying. Don't know how to feel alive—been that way for a while—so I don't know the pain of living. To be honest, I don't really give a damn about you," I murmur, almost singing it. It's true though. Joy and sorrow, freedom and restraint; I can't feel any of them. That's why I can't see this fuss about being liberated from pain.
"But taking him was a big mistake. Finders keepers, and I found him first. You're going to give him back."
My left hand grabs the air like a rope, and I pull back. The woman and the other girls are pulled towards me, like a fisherman plucking a good catch.
The woman's expression changes. She tries her last, vain hope of controlling me, trying her best to put as much power into her suggestion.
And again, I disregard it completely. With all the firmness in my voice I can muster, I answer her back.
As she comes toward me, I plunge the knife deep into her chest, as naturally as I do stabbing a fruit, and so exquisitely performed that it gives even the victim pause for admiration. The knife runs from front to back, clean through her.
She doesn't bleed. Unable to move from the shock of being stabbed straight through, she convulses just once. With only a nudge and a slight movement of my right arm, I fling away the useless "corpse", and the incorporeal body slips through the fence without a sound into the shining city below. Her hair still lies motionless, and her dress embraces the darkness, a white flower sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
And with that, I depart from the roof, the ghosts still floating in the air behind me.
With the impact of steel lightning on my chest, I awaken.
It was a staggering attack, one that proved how strong my opponent was, if one can drive through a person's chest that easily. But it wasn't a strike born out of anger, or desperation. A singular thrust delivered with no wasted energy, one that would slide easily in between bone and sinew.
It wasn't the pain that hurt me. Rather, it was the feeling of me being ripped apart, and the sound of the knife plunging deep, deep into my heart. That incomparably bittersweet fear. My body shook and trembled at the thought of it. My silent weeping contained my uneasiness, my loneliness, my will to live. My tears aren't from the pain either, or from the fear of the encounter. It was for the brush of death that I had never before experienced, but had now fallen in love with, even though I pray every night for the strength to live.
I hear the distinct sound of the door opening, a sound that Ihave grown very familiar with. Even though I know it's nighttime, the far off glow of the buildings in the city induces the same sensation as sunlight. It's not yet time for my regular examination, so the person who came must be a visitor. I have a private room, so I'm almost always alone. My sole company here is the bed, the cream colored curtain which never flutters in the wind, and the lights from the outside world, ghostly yet radiant.
"Excuse me. You would be Kirie Fujo, correct?" Even her deep voice can't mask that the visitor is a woman. After greeting me, she goes to my bedside, ignoring the chair and choosing instead to stare down at me coldly. A frightening person, one who I feel can destroy me with a snap of her fingers if she so wished. Yet, in my heart, I still feel happy. It's been many years since I had any sort of visitor. I couldn't turn her away, even if she is Death herself come to take me.
"And you are the enemy, correct?" I reply. The woman nods. Perhaps it may just be the light from the faint shining beacons of the city, but when I try to focus my vision on the visitor, I can barely see her. Her clothes are without blemish, reminding me of the neatness of a school teacher. It makes me rest more easily, somehow. The gaudy orange necktie she wears contrasts sharply with her white blouse, however, making her look vaguely amusing.
"Do you know that child who stabbed me?" I say apprehensively, "or perhaps it is you?"
"No, fortunately. I'm an acquaintance of your attacker and your victim. One of them anyway. We meet the strangest people, you and I."
She takes out something from her breast pocket, but puts it away just as quickly. "Apologies. Smoking isn't allowed here I suppose? For someone with lung damage like you, it would be like poison." I guess what she took out was a cigarette carton. The image of her smoking fits her look, I think, like a mannequin with lizard pumps and a bag.
"But it isn't just the lung, is it?" Her voice is one of curiosity as she looks me over. "Certainly, that's where it all started, but there are tumors all over your body. Sarcoma is only the beginning, but it's worse inside. Your hair is the only thing that's left. You have much strength. A normal person would have died long before as this sickness ate them alive." She pauses a moment to look at me straight, then offers a smile.
"How long has this gone on, Kirie Fujo?"
I can't answer. "I have no idea. I stopped keeping count." Because there's no meaning to it. Because dying was the only way out of here.
She murmurs a soft-breathed "I see."
I hated her voice that lacked any compassion or hate. The only thing I can receive from people is their sympathy, and she denies me even that.
"Shiki told me the cut was around the area of the left ventricle and the aorta, so it might have been the mitral valve. Is it all right?" She says such an absurd thing so normally. The peculiarity of her manner of speech catches me off guard, and I smile despite myself.
"You're a strange one, aren't you? If my heart had really been cut, then we wouldn't be able to talk like this, would we?"
"Quite right. I was only confirming." I see. She was a friend of the person who stabbed me after all, perhaps trying to tie up loose ends on the battle that took place in the rooftop. "But it won't be long until it affects you as well. Shiki's Eyes are potent, perhaps even beyond what that child knows. The sympathetic connection between your double existences means that the spell will reach you in time. There are a few inquiries I need to make, which is why I'm here." She means the "other" me when she mentions the double existence, I'd imagine.
"Because I haven't personally gone to the Fujo Tower, I haven't seen your floating image there," she continues. "What was it really?"
"I don't know, to be honest. For the longest time now, the scenery out-side the window was the world to me. I looked down on the panorama, watching the seasons fly past, and the coming and going of people in the hospital. My voice is never heard, and my hands never reach anything. And I grew to curse this view as I continued to suffer alone in this room."
The woman's eyebrows crease as she contemplates on something. "I see now. So you really are a woman of the Fujo bloodline. Your dynasty is an old one, and pure. It's thought that you and your dynasty granted blessings of providence, but now I see that your true abilities lie in cursing. The clue was in your name, as Fujo can also mean "defile." A fitting name, don't you think?"
But that too is a chapter of my life that's forever gone. Not long after I was hospitalized, both my parents and my brother met an accident and lost their lives. My medical expenses have been paid by a man who calls himself my father's friend, a curiously named man that had the air of a monk about him.
"But a curse is not so easily performed. What was it that you wished for so hard?" I can't help but smile a little bit. Finally, we have something that even she doesn't know about.
"Have you known what it is to look down on the outside world for so long? To look at such a view for years and years, even as your consciousness erodes? I have hated, cursed, and feared the outside world for so long now, seeing it all from on high. And one day, something happened. It suddenly seemed as if I was in the sky above the hospital courtyard, the one outside my window. I could look down on everything. My body and mind were still in the room, but I felt my vision fly in the sky. But I still couldn't move from here, and my vision didn't go anywhere beyond this hospital."
"Your mind must have gained correspondence with the surroundings, considering how long you've been here. Your spatial awareness must have been quite strong." For the second time now, she pauses before she says, "Is that the time when you started to lose your eyesight?"
It seems there is little about me this woman doesn't know even before she entered the room. It's true, though. I will soon be fully blind. I nod my answer.
"Yes. I could do nothing as the world slowly turned into nothingness. At first, I thought that everything was just turning into a deep darkness. But it was the void I was gazing into. But this didn't bother me, because my real eyes were floating high up in the sky. I can only see the view around the hospital, but I was never going to get out of here anyway. Nothing really changed, if you think about it. Nothing ever changed…"
I have a short coughing fit. It's been such a long time since I talked to anyone for this long, it hurts my throat and lungs, and focusing too much makes my eyes burn.
"I see," she replies after I compose myself. "You projected your consciousness in the sky. But if that was your consciousness, then you should truly be dead, since Shiki killed your 'ghost' consciousness."
In truth, I've actually been thinking that as well. This woman keeps saying the name Shiki, who I assume to be my assailant. How was that person able to stab me? The me floating in the Fujo Tower can't touch anything, but also cannot be affected in turn. Yet this Shiki slashed me as if that was my real body.
"Answer me. Was that truly you in the Fujo Tower?" she asks with a tone of curiosity laced with the forcefulness that has never left her voice since she came inside the room.
"It…wasn't. I only stare at the sky, while she exists in it. That other me turned its back on me. Self abandons self." Wording it that way made it seem like more than an affectation. I did truly turn my back on the world, as it had abandoned me. And I abandoned myself, of any hope that my sickness would get better. Being separated from the world outside the window and unable to break through that boundary no matter how hard I prayed every night, both me and the other me couldn't put our feet firmly on the ground, and were resigned to an ephemeral, fragile existence. We share that similarity, despite parting with each other. I suppose it's what this woman called a "sympathetic connection".
She draws a short breath, perhaps in surprise. It's the first time that this person has shown any sort of uncalculated emotion, and it surprises me a little. "So it's not that your consciousness was separated, but that you were acting on two vessels with one state of mind. Someone else gave you this vessel. It's unlike any work I've seen yet, I understand that much." A small nod before she regards me with a frighteningly disappointed look. "But why go through so much just to lure children to throw themselves off buildings? Why were you not content with just looking at the world?"
Ah, those poor, enviable girls. What happened to them still saddens me. But I had nothing to do with them. They fell because they wanted to.
"You used the image of you at the Fujo Tower as more of a channel for your will, didn't you? You reached out to them in sleep, in their dreams of flight. And in those dreamscapes, at least one or two of them were probably on the verge of awakening to magic, which is why you could notice them in the mess of other minds in this city, and why you can snare them so easily. But it was you who made them think about flying while they were outside of sleep, even as they weren't really 'awake'. They tried to fly, and they got the natural result of trying to do the impossible."
Yes. In the fever dreams, they always fly around me, and I thought that we could be friends. But they never noticed me, never talked to me, never touched me. All they did was float around like fishes without consciousness. I thought that, when they were outside of sleep, in the times when they were conscious, they could notice me. That was the only way I knew…
"You're trembling, friend. Are you cold?" The woman's voice returns to its previous icy demeanor. I clutch myself as the unearthly wind fails to subside, despite the window being closed. "I'd like to ask you one more thing. Why yearn so much for the sky of a world you so detest?"
A difficult question. I answer to the best of my ability. "In the sky, you can fly as far as you want, go as far as you can go, because it never ends. I thought I could find a world that I didn't hate, and a world that could accept me in turn."
"Did you find that world?"
My shivering doesn't subside, the chill acting like invisible hands shaking my body. My eyes sear with pain from being focused for so long. I nod yes.
"Before I sleep every night, I fear that I will not wake up the next day. I fear that one day, it will be morning, and my eyes will never open again. But it's also the reason why I feel alive. Strange, isn't it? My hollow shell of a body and poor excuse for a life is always shadowed by death, but it's that shadow which I rely on to keep myself alive." Yes, that's the reason why I yearn for death more than life. Death is release. To fly without end, to go anywhere one wishes…that's the world I can yearn for.
"So you took my acquaintance as a companion to your world?"
"No. At that time, I didn't know. I was still longing for life, and while doing so, I wanted to fly. I thought I could do so if I was with him. Those times are long gone now."
"You and Shiki aren't so different from each other. Both of you believe you can find salvation in someone like Kokuto. It isn't wrong to think you can feel alive and be saved by someone else."
Kokuto. I see. So this Shiki confronted me to take him back. Even though I know now that my savior is also the harbinger of Death, I feel no regrets. "He's still a child. Always looking at the sky. Always so honest. That's why I thought he could take me anywhere if he put his mind to it. I…I wanted him to take me away from all of this." I start to cry, and it stings my eyes so much they seem to scream in pain.
It's not really because I'm sad. What happiness it could have been had he been able to spirit me away! But it will never come true. It was always a far dream. But it was such a beautiful dream, and because of that I couldn't stop the tears. In my eternity in this prison, it was the only dream I've had in so many years, the only delusion I allowed myself.
"But Kokuto has no interest in the sky. Those who long for the sky are the farthest from it. Ironic, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. People always seem to have the things we don't need. I could never truly fly. Floating was all I could do." The burning in my eyes subsides, a feeling that will probably never happen again. The wind's invisible hands grip my spine and make me tremble even more strongly.
"I've been a burden long enough. This question will have to be my last. What are you going to do after this? I can cure the creeping pain Shiki gave you through your other vessel, if that is your wish." I don't answer her, save for shaking my head no. I can't see for sure, but it seems like she's frowning. "I understand. There are two ways to escape: escape without a purpose, and escape with a purpose. I call the former 'floating', and the latter 'flight'. You are the only one that decides which of the two your view of the world from on high was. But you don't choose these paths because of the weight on your soul. We don't choose the path we take because of the sins we carry. But we carry our sins on the path we choose."
After saying her parting words, the woman leaves. She never said her name, but I know now that she didn't need to. I don't doubt for a moment that she knows what I am going to do. Because for me there is no choice: I can't fly. I can only float. I can't do what she says because I'm weak. That's why I can no longer resist this temptation: The flash of realization when I was stabbed in the heart. The overwhelming torrent of death and the pulse of life. I thought I no longer had anything left, but I was left with such a simple, sweet thing.
It was not the nonexistent wind, but death, that little fear, that gripped my spine in these last moments. I need to experience more of death to feel the joy of life, the glory of everything I had ignored in my life until now. But that death I experienced on that night, the pain that pierced me like a needle, like a sword, like lightning, would be impossible to replicate. I cannot hope for such a vivid end now. But I will try to come as close to it as much as I can. I still have a few days to think on it, but the method need not even be said.
I think my last moment should be spent on a high place, a place where I can look down on a panorama of the world, and fall back to the embrace of the reality that has rejected me so.
The sun has already fallen as we leave the abandoned building Miss Toko calls home. Shiki's apartment is quite close by, but my apartment is about twenty minutes away by train. Shiki's groggy pace and an unsteady walk remind me of the lack of sleep mentioned earlier, and I stay close beside just in case it's needed. Out of the blue, Shiki asks me a strange question.
"Hey, Mikiya. Do you think suicide is right?"
"Hmm, let me think on that…," I say, trying to drum up a good answer. "Well, let's put it this way. Say I had a terribly deadly retrovirus, such that me just staying alive threatens all of Tokyo. If dying meant everyone would be saved, then maybe I'd kill myself."
"What in the hell? That's such a far-fetched scenario it hurts my brain." Shiki makes a disappointed face.
"Let me finish, alright? Think about it for a moment. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have the will to live while the whole of Tokyo sees me as the carrier of a virulent plague. Choosing suicide would be the easier path. An instant of determination, or a lifetime; I think you can tell which is the hard choice. And that's what it boils down to, isn't it? Death is the easy choice. And when push comes to shove, I don't truly think I have what it takes to make the hard decision."
After that, we continue to walk in silence, leaving me to think more about what I said. In my scenario, sacrificing yourself might certainly be the right thing. It might even be called heroic, another one for the books. But choosing death for yourself, no matter the practicality of such an action, seems the foolish thing to do. Struggling through the slings and arrows allows us to put ourselves to right, and emerge as better people. That's true bravery, which I don't think I could muster. I don't say it though, since I feel like Shiki is getting annoyed at me again, looking at me doubtfully after my answer.
"Anyway," I try to conclude awkwardly, "Each person has his own answers, I guess."
"You're different, though," says Shiki, as if reading my mind. Shiki said it in the usual cold front, granted, but it feels as if there's a compliment in there somewhere. Slightly taken aback, I couldn't bring myself to answer it, and we continue to walk through the city silently. Pretty soon I can hear the the bustle of people and the noise of engines. It sounds like we're nearing the city's main street, with its ostentatious display of lights and sounds, accompanied by the wave of people commuting home after a day's work. I can just make out the department stores in the distance, and not too far after that is the train station.
Shiki stops suddenly.
"Mikiya, stay over at my place tonight."
"What in th—"
Shiki takes me by the shoulder in a gesture firmly in the "just fucking do it, c'mon" variety. Shiki's apartment is closer, and it would be easier that way, but I don't think I really should on moral grounds.
"It's all right, really," I try to say. "It'd be boring even if I do go there. Or are you saying there's something you need me to do?" I know there really wasn't anything, so this should have been the end of the discussion, and yet Shiki looks at me accusatorily, like I was at fault.
"Those goddamn ice cream cups you bought a while back. They're still there. Eat the damn things."
"Well, I suppose I did buy them." Got me there. I bought that on a hot day on my way to Shiki's home. Was it really that hot? It's almost September after all. Well, whatever. Not like it matters in the grand scheme of things. Shiki's pulling any excuse to get me to stay, and I suppose I have no choice but to follow. But I can at least make a feeble attempt to strike back. There is a topic—serving almost like a trigger—which, when brought to discussion, makes Shiki mad but unable to retort back properly. It's about something I really want Shiki to do, but in this matter, the universe seems to have seen it proper to bestow upon Shiki the stubbornness of mules.
"I can see there's no persuading you. All right, I'll stay over. But Shiki…" Harsh eyes look at me, and I respond with as serious a face I can muster. "'Eat the damn thing?' Such unseemly words. I'd really like it if you did something about that. I mean, you are a girl after all."
Right on target. After I say "girl," she points a finger at her lips and says "Hey, my mouth, my choice of words. Got it?"
That was the day when, led on by nothing except an impulse of curiosity, I took the main avenue on the way home. It wasn't a shortcut, and I didn't plan on passing by any particular place there. It was just something I decided to do on a whim.
This part of the avenue was full of skyscrapers and tall condos, some old, more of them new, while others were abandoned husks, all commingled into one crowded skyline. I'd wager everybody in the city, including me, was tired of looking at them day in and day out. While walking beside the buildings, I suddenly saw something fall from a roof to the concrete sidewalk a ways ahead of me.
It was a person.
In the moment that that person fell, I heard a sickening sound. The wet, raw sound you associate with the kind of things you don't want happening anywhere near you. The kind of sound you never really get to hear often. Judging from the height that the person fell from, it was clear that whoever he or she was died the instant it hit pavement.
As I drew closer to the point of impact, I was able to scrutinize what happened more clearly. All that was left, all that my mind could take in, was the scarlet trail seeping across the asphalt; the frail, bone-like limbs, and the long, black hair, which still retained some of its living beauty.
And that dead face.
The scene struck my mind with the image of a flower pressed between the pages of an old, musty tome. It all seemed vaguely familiar. I knew what happened here. In the end, I suppose she chose the true slumber, instead of the lie.
A throng of people had already begun to gather around, and Azaka and I soon had to work our way through them, avoiding the crowd.
"Miss Toko, that was a jumper, wasn't it?"
"I suppose," I answer almost absent-mindedly. My part in this case had long since played out. Society had better things to do than psychoanalyze a jumper that just decided to take a tumble out of a building. In the end, they'd say one suicide is no different from the next. Kirie's last wish, right up to the end, was not flight, or even floating, but to fall. A pity, but it's best not to dwell on it for long.
"I've heard there were quite a lot of cases last year, but I guess it's still a trend, huh? I don't really understand what goes through these people's minds, though. Would you, Miss Toko?"
I nod my head; another vague answer. I look up at the sky, training my vision on an illusion of the light.
"She had no reason to kill herself," I say finally. "She just wasn't able to fly."