REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours
Akabane looked between us like she was watching a volleyball game.
"Eh? Eh? Do you know each other?"
Yuuki was slathered in blood like he’d just lost a fight with a bucket of red paint.
“Holy smokes… Kurosawa-kun…”
His eyes kept watering as he hopped down the fallen log and went to hug me.
My arms tightened at the joints, and I moved to him mechanically like a wind up toy. Why, Yuuki? What did I do to deserve it? I said none of those things, and a smile plastered itself across my face.
"You don't know how happy I am to see you..."
"I think I have some idea, Kohei-kun..."
Our bodies slammed together and our arms coiled around each other like snakes. I felt the shape of his pocketknife in his school coat and wondered if that was covered in blood, too.
"Yuuki-kun, it's so..."
It's dreadful, Yuuki. It's awful and I don't know if I can live with the things you showed me. I think I might hate you, but I also might hate myself-
Yuuki clasped the nape of my neck and placed his forehead against mine. I resisted the urge to duck away as if I'd been snatched by a predator.
"It's been so much, man..."
Yuuki pulled away and stretched, shrugging off his worries (or at least pretending to) just how he'd shrugged me off, flicking a pest off his delinquent shoulders.
"I was really starting to think I'd gone crazy, man... but here you are... Kurosawa-kun... you're as real as you always were."
Not everything's what it seems. Something almost cracked in the motor that kept me chugging. Yuuki opened his mouth in a half-grin, but before he could say something that would really set me off, would have me wanting to stomp in his pretty boy face like one of his cigarette butts, I whispered:
"Did you get a cellphone..."
Realization dawned on him like he'd just stepped in dog poop, the fresh kind that oozes up and around the shoe like an absorbent.
“Hey! Whoa, whoa - I, listen, I don't know what you were told-"
"We should've exchanged numbers!"
Close call. Yuuki came out of his defensive posture.
"Yeah... totally. Oh, hey! Akabane-san, right? I'm Fuyuki Yuki, you can call me Yuuki or Fuyuki, cool?"
Akabane seemed to be resisting the urge stop stir the pot, her eye twitching. She was the kind of person who'd set off firecrackers in the trashcan at school, and I just knew she was weighing the possible consequences of setting off these live wires, crackling in front of her like a log fire. She gave a toothy grin.
Yuuki grinned again, and I resisted the weight that came to my hands like I was hefting around jugs of sand. I wanted to punch him.
“Good job, Kurosawa-kun! You found an actually interesting person!”
After more airless drivel, our makeshift trio ventured into the jungle, heading towards the area where the flare had gone off, the next part of the exam.
Black Mask sighed.
A man in a Yellow Mask appeared behind him in a bowing position. He spoke with the same voice as the announcer:
"Kill those two friends of his. They'll get in the way. The Mistress has entrusted me with this task and I won't let it go wrong. But let it simmer for a bit. I want it to sting."
Once Hermes had vanished, White Mask got up from her seat and sidled up next to Black Mask. They watched the Sun.
"Maybe you shouldn't kill his friends so soon. If they die now, he might lose his mind."
"Are you suggesting I go easy on him?"
"No, Black Mask. I'm suggesting you wait a long time. Be patient, and let them grow close. Let them share their hardships, and when Kohei is finally starting to feel alright… take it away."
Black Mask chuckled. She tilted her head.
"No… I was just thinking about that girlfriend of his that I disposed of."
"What about her?"
"Did you know that she asked him out on a dare?"
“And his best friend called him annoying behind his back!”
And then they were both laughing. White Mask even spilled her drink.
"Aw, no! That was human whiskey! It tastes leagues better than the whiskey I summon!"
"Don't act so dramatic. I'm the one who has to go buy more."
She hugged him.
"You're a good friend-”
“I lost a bet, to be frank.”
“-but really… it's so strange. Sometimes I feel like humans are much crueler than we could ever be."
Earth had a Rumble.
I think that's what I missed the most. The Rumble was so omniscient that you never noticed it was there. A washing machine barking in its steel-cage box, tucked away in a dark and musty room as if it was an embarrassing secret that clothes needed washing. A light whirring in a hallway the best it could, illuminating the smoke-stained popcorn ceiling, scuff marks along the peeling tile from decades of careless passerby. Those were the things I missed. I missed stooped cars that chugged by honking in the middle of the night. I missed civilization.
The jungle is the antithesis of civilization, if that wasn't obvious enough, yet there are oddly many similarities. A jungle might be much more alive, tossing and turning like a sleepless adult after a long night at work, that portfolio that needed finishing due early in the morning, but it also purred. It had it's own Rumble, and on a darker note it had an underbelly. They were their own beasts, their own Kaiju that threatened to swallow the weak and give in to the strong. Down the dark alleyway were criminals brandishing unspeakable weapons with which they would commit unspeakable acts. Behind the next vine-choked tree was a panther, brandishing claws as white as chemical whitened teeth. But I think that the things a panther might do to you are much easier to speak about than what a human might. And even if that wasn't the case, even if you were as willing to speak of human horrors as you were of the weather, reciting stories of Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy over a cup of coffee, you might not be able to. The sane mind can only attempt to wrap itself around the going-ons of the insane mind. That's the allure of murderers and psychos - you want to strap them down, cut them open, and see what makes them tick.
We came onto a stone path that was only barely managing to keep the greenery at bay. At some points we lost it in the tangle of grass and shrubbery, but Yuuki especially was good at this sort of thing.
"It's my intuition. I can feel the path under us."
The path guided us to a convergence of other, equally small paths into a much larger one. Contestants appeared on all sides of us, trickling through like pebbles down a stream. I was sure that's what we were, heading towards a waterfall. We all kept our distance, and I looked over my shoulder more than a few times to make sure someone wasn't
(going to kill you)
up to something they didn't want us seeing. Akabane pointed at something up ahead, her finger curling as if she expected something to bite it off.
"Look at the size of that! It looks so ancient!"
"I think I need glasses…"
Two stone gargoyles stood as sentinels beside a giant archway. Like everything else here (and soon to be present on the bodies that had been left behind in the game from earlier), vines persisted on the structure as if someone had traced the pathways of marching ants. Speaking of tracing, text was painted on shoddy wooden planks strung up along the archway like a macaroni necklace:
Here! Next Game!
And just some plain old pointers as if guiding an idiot to a Big Red Button. Past the archway was a white open space, formed by huge octagonal-shaped concrete slabs, placed so precisely that the gaps between them might as well have been string. I felt as if I was a human in a giants world, and an irrational anticipation welled up in my throat like a stone as the crowd gathered in the center of this new arena. I scanned the horizon, expecting a whomping step to preamble the arrival of a skyscraper-sized human. But the man that appeared before us was barely taller than me. He was a sunflower, with tan papery skin and a shock of yellow hair. Metal rings wrapped around his fingertips, attached to chains that ran up the fluffy sleeves of his blouse. A yellow mask hung at his hip.
"That's the guy who beamed me up! Yellow Mask dude!"
Akabane looked grim.
"He might be the guy to beam you to bits if you're not careful. I mean, take a look at those eyes!"
Her suspicions were confirmed when Yellow Mask spoke.
"Hey, guys! Been a few minutes!"
His voice was suave like the leading man in a black and white film, but most importantly he had the announcer's voice. Was he the mastermind, then? Did Black Mask answer to him? No. In some unexplainable fashion, Sei was detectable in all living things, and despite me being a newbie to the whole thing, I could tell that Yellow Mask's power was leagues below Black Mask's overwhelming aura.
That word might be important later.
"You all seem pretty sour and… bloody… and frankly you all smell bad. So I won't regale you with tales of my exploits. But I did promise that those who survived the first game could get some of their burning questions answered. Fire away!"
He shot finger guns at the crowd. Nobody said anything. He slumped over, and I could almost see a cartoon cloud gathering above him until someone asked:
"What the hell is this?"
Then the questions rained down like arrows at Yellow Mask in the most peeving way possible, like blades of grass itching the skin. He seemed to be making great efforts to not incinerate us all.
"I want to go home!"
"Let us quit!"
"What is this place?"
Yellow Mask raised a hand for silence.
"Firstly, half of those weren't even questions. You humans clearly don't get how this works. Secondly, I thought most of this would be clear. You win the games, you get a prize. Any wish you want, as long as it has existed or currently exists. Got it?"
We all clearly "got it", but we wanted to know more. What would I want, anyways? I had no home to go back to. Maybe I could wish for an entirely new home. My head started throbbing, a dull ache, like worms writhing around under my skin.
"I'm not answering questions until you all calm down! Okay, you know what? No more questions. Maybe this next game will sober you up. The Q&A session is officially postponed till then. But to give you some satisfaction, I'll say this much: this is an alternate dimension, and the power known as Sei is essentially the lifeblood of every living creature here. So get busy learning or get busy dying. Now that we're past that, I'll explain the rules. But first, form teams of four."
Yuuki whistled between his teeth.
"Teams of four, huh? We already have three. Let's find some harmless duckling who won't kill us the first chance they get."
The crowd had begun dispersing, most contestants drifting around aimlessly like new kids at school, unsure of who would accept them, hoping someone would come along and sweep them to where they needed to be.
A tall figure was making its way towards us. Akabane and I both gasped, though we tried to hide the fear now crawling on our necks. The spidery mime, Asano, raised a hand and gave a nonchalant wave, the same wave you might awkwardly give to the neighbor walking by as you accidentally lock eyes. The difference was that his hands were covered in blood. His lips curled as if he was savoring a lollipop.
"May I join you?"