I am on the ground, though I may as well be at sea – it isn't level. Waves of earth hurtle forward, leave me staggering, unsure which way is up. It's getting hard to breathe. The sun has been blocked out – with what, I'm not sure. Slashes of lightning hint at the clear areas to step into – but where am I moving towards? Is there anything left? A mound reveals itself as a pharmacy; the innards of a window display are spilt out in front of me.
This is my own neighbourhood.
The way I walk to school.
I feel sick.
The road ahead contorts again, throws me to the remains of a sidewalk. My ribs crunch against a litter of glass and rock and broken wood. I consider not getting up. I see a hand – it isn't connected to a body. The earth heaves once more. I push up from my bloodied knees, stagger forward – and there is a forward – the slightest blue light in the distance, a constant. Oh for a constant!
I try not to look at the bodies.
I try not to think of the souls they once carried. All gone now, all rubble, all zeroed. I don't know why I remain; I only know that I need to. Someone still needs me – I feel it keenly, it pulls me forward, blunts the edge of my sickness, my sadness.
I call out but my voice is absent. I scream –
And scream myself awake.
My arms move out in search of Elza, then I remember where I am (no longer in my Mother's bed) and where she is (safely back in her dorm bunk). I am alone with the shock of a brutally vivid nightmare and the sense that I've forgotten something critical. I can't sleep. I turn on my bedside light, dislike the smallness it creates, turn it off and open the curtains to the night sky. A sliver of moon smiles in the distance. Was that my light? No. All just a dream, but I don't dream like that. Never. Could it be the stress of the situation at hand?
Elza left long before my mother returned. The fear I took as a thrill, she simply took as what it was – the threat of serious trouble. Only so recently we remade the bed, pulling down at the corners, smoothing the cover, stepping back to check the effect. It made me giggle – that we should suddenly switch to such thoughts of precision and good house-keeping. I was alone in my amusement. I called for a taxi, watched it disappear down the road, felt the lonely night air, felt the thrill drain away. What was it at the root? Guilt? Shame?
I suppose I don't really want the world to know how I spend my free time, but now there is someone else – the roommate – the one whose name I didn't catch, whose eyes left my heart stammering. I guess I'm worried about what she thinks of us – of me. Is she the kind to spread gossip? Somehow I don't think so. Something about her voice – perhaps the way she left. I'm not sure why exactly, but I don't believe she is a stranger to secrets.
Tiredness still tugs at my eyelids as I step up the stairs to Aichi Academy's residential area. The world is a little too bright. Flashes from reflecting windows catch me off guard. I suppose a lot of the students will be involved in a Saturday morning clean-up. I can't imagine Elza being tidy; she was quite hopeless at bed-making!
I make my way to her door, raise my fist to knock, then pause when I see the door is ajar, there are voices – not Elza's. I step aside. I wait.
"At this stage, I'm afraid we need to keep those rooms free incase of – "
"Really? All six of them." It's the roommate.
"Miss Tenoh." A voice comes sharply. A teacher, perhaps? "How do you know how many spares we have anyway?"
"Try to keep in the know. Now that I am, let's talk about switching."
"You don't need to switch. We don't need anymore – "
"Incidents, huh? Is that what you call it in your line of work – "an incident."?"
"Miss Tenoh, you'll watch the way you speak to me." There is a pause. "And… I'm sorry."
"There's simply no way we could risk it, spare space or not."
"For Gods… it wasn't even here and it wasn't me that needed attention! It's not infectious, you know."
"Well actually in schools where there have been… incidents… the upset caused to fellow students, particularly those who were close – "
"Look, forget it. I get it. You can't help me. Someone else pulls your strings, right?"
"I don't think - !"
"Just… I'd like to be alone," she sounds defeated. "Thank you, Ma'am."
"Well… well if there's anything I can do to help." The teacher's voice is softer.
"Yeah, sure. Thanks."
I step back further to see the smart-suited woman move out of the room, blink in the light, appear to reassert her expression to one of purpose, and stride off down the corridor, her heels clicking quickly behind her.
"Elza's not here."
I jump to hear the voice again. Directed at me. I'm frozen. Something in the way she looks out. She's sitting on her bunk, slightly hunched. I'm not sure, but I think I catch the glitter of a tear. I step into the room.
"Are you alright?"
She looks up, watches me with that same curious expression, like I've solved a riddle. I don't understand. She shakes her head, rubs her eyes. She smiles. She looks at me and smiles and it is infectious. She rests her face on her fist.
"You heard all of that, huh?" She raises her eyebrows.
Her voice is quite soft, quite low. Deep water over rocks…
"Most of it, I think…" I say, "Is it because of…?"
"Because of the other day when you came in and I was here and…"
"Eh?" She laughs, "No, no nothing like that – that's… I don't know, next time put a sock on the door or – "
"Oh I wouldn't!" I say, feeling myself blush.
"Nicely worded note, maybe?" She thinks I'm ridiculous.
I move in further, sit opposite her on Elza's bunk, put my hands on my knees and watch the floor. The floor that does not think I am a joke.
"No one else knows, you see." I say.
"I see." She says. "It's okay."
I don't say anything. Is it okay?
"You're okay…" She speaks again. "You're not going to cry are you?"
"Oh! And I thought Elza was insensitive - and what would you do if I did? Sometimes people cry, you know? This is an incredibly stressful process, actually."
"All very well if you don't need to worry about what your mother thinks, or classmates or… society in general!"
"Would it be so hard just to… I don't know – " I reach out and touch her hand.
I can't see the room.
A thousand scenes flood my mind. The nightmare. The roommate. Dressed differently. She's calling out. Burning. Acid rain. Blood and dirt. Blood and sand. And I, all the way through, screaming for mercy.
It's Elza in the door frame. A shadow in the light. I see again. I've dropped my hand. The roommate doesn't look at me. Did she just get that? She turns away. She's part of it! She knows something, she –
"Who are you?" I blurt out.
She won't look up.
"Tenoh Haruka." She stands. "I'll leave you girls to it."
Again I watch her walk away. She's definitely hiding something. What is it that makes her so set on being a loner? Does she have the nightmare? Is that even possible?
Elza sits beside me, reaches out and I flinch. A bad move. Instinctive, I suppose. Gingerly, I put my hand on hers and… nothing. No visions. No terrors. It's not me. But Elza looks hurt.
"You're a fast mover, Hon?" She tries to joke. "Meet a pretty face and I can't let you out of my sight?"
"It's nothing like that." I touch her face. No nightmares. No danger.
I am a liar. I don't know what it is or isn't like at all. I've no idea what's happening. I part my lips, but just can't think of how to explain it to Elza. She would think I was losing my mind. Am I? Will this go away?
So it was a bad day. Really bad. I'm writing from that bar again. This time I brought Ikeda along. I brought him because he wasn't up to bringing himself. He wasn't up to walking because today he was the target.
He doesn't know what happened, can't recall. I told him that we got into a fight at the bar. It was the best I had at short notice. After it all I couldn't bring myself to just leave him on the street. His guitar got busted. The monster grew out of it, lashed strings around my neck and wrists. I've found bruising is slow to go away. Ikeda looks okay, just a busted lip, dazed expression – then again that's not too unusual for him. Musician thing, I guess.
The worst part was – when he was up against the thing, the monster, I has to stop myself from protecting him. I had to remember that he was as eligible as any so far. A musician with a pure heart. Are you a musician? I could probably look these things up about you. In a way I want to pretend you don't exist. If you don't exist, then I can't need you. Only on days like these I think I need someone else. There's Ikeda, I guess. He doesn't ask questions, well, with the exception of "Do you have a boyfriend?" I told him I was too busy for that kind of thing. Fortunately I don't think he cares in that way. He asked if I would help him with his "gig" in the cafeteria. I said yes. I felt so guilty after the busted guitar. No, not the guitar. I felt guilty because I did nothing to defend the guy, and he saw me. For this fraction of a second before it all kicked off, he looked to me as though I might help, like 'wasn't I on his side?' No. I was ready for him to die. Ready probably isn't the right word.
Cruel reminder or not - I liked seeing you today. I can see why Gray's so smitten. You're cute when you're angry. I don't know what happened before I left – you seemed a bit out of it. Sometimes I think you know everything, perhaps I just pretend to myself that you do. It makes me smile. I've carried the vision of you for so long, I suppose it's only natural that you feel familiar. Since meeting you I've been tossing it up - at times I've wanted to break out and tell you everything. I thought, if anyone else has been designed to understand – it's you, right? But you're lovely. You're too sweet. How could I ever ask such a hideous task of you?
The stars are out, watching me as I descend the steps. I look back and the light thrown out from the door to Elza's room is closes off again. We had spent the day together, enjoying the sweet weather and each other. She had traced a map of America, pointing out the migrations of her family. I had tried to picture her parents, had wondered whether she had her mother's hair, her father's mannerisms. Deeper than that, I wondered when Tenoh would return. It scared me. She scares me – at least the visions did. But if I couldn't see her, how could I explain any of it? Was it all a fluke, a trick of a tired mind?
I walk out through the gate, the cold catching at my exposed skin. I follow my shadow beneath streetlights. There is a scuffing from across the road. It's Tenoh! She looks… drunk? She has a limp. Are those cuts on her neck? What is this? I move back from the light, holding my breath. She walks on looking broken. Definitely – there's definitely blood on her shirt. I'm paralyzed. Do I check on her? Do I warn Elza? Before I move forward I see another form – the guitar man from the cafeteria. He follows her but doesn't appear injured. Something is really wrong here. He looks over at me and smiles, gives a quick wave. I stiffen.
"Yo!" He calls. "Careful, eh? This night's no place for girls out on their own."
I don't answer, just run towards home.
In the distance I hear his laughter.