Chapter 5:

Kurosawa and Yuuki

REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours

"Yuuki-kun?"Bookmark here

Akabane looked between us like she was watching a volleyball game.Bookmark here

"Eh? Eh? Do you know each other?"Bookmark here

Yuuki was slathered in blood like he’d just lost a fight with a bucket of red paint.Bookmark here

“Holy smokes… Kurosawa-kun…”Bookmark here

His eyes kept watering as he hopped down the fallen log and went to hug me.Bookmark here

“Hey, Yuuki."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"You don't know how happy I am to see you..."Bookmark here

"I think I have some idea, Kohei-kun..."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"Yuuki-kun, it's so..."Bookmark here

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-Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"It's been so much, man..."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

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:Bookmark here

"Did you get a cellphone..."Bookmark here

"Hm?"Bookmark here

"Did you..."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Hey! Whoa, whoa - I, listen, I don't know what you were told-"Bookmark here

"We should've exchanged numbers!"Bookmark here

Close call. Yuuki came out of his defensive posture.Bookmark here

"Yeah... totally. Oh, hey! Akabane-san, right? I'm Fuyuki Yuki, you can call me Yuuki or Fuyuki, cool?"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"Okay, Yuyu-san."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Good job, Kurosawa-kun! You found an actually interesting person!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Black Mask sighed.Bookmark here

"Hermes."Bookmark here

A man in a Yellow Mask appeared behind him in a bowing position. He spoke with the same voice as the announcer:Bookmark here

"Yes, sir?"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Of course."Bookmark here

Once Hermes had vanished, White Mask got up from her seat and sidled up next to Black Mask. They watched the Sun.Bookmark here

"Maybe you shouldn't kill his friends so soon. If they die now, he might lose his mind."Bookmark here

"Are you suggesting I go easy on him?"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

Black Mask chuckled. She tilted her head.Bookmark here

"Something funny?"Bookmark here

"No… I was just thinking about that girlfriend of his that I disposed of."Bookmark here

"What about her?"Bookmark here

"Did you know that she asked him out on a dare?"Bookmark here

Really?”Bookmark here

“And his best friend called him annoying behind his back!”Bookmark here

And then they were both laughing. White Mask even spilled her drink.Bookmark here

"Aw, no! That was human whiskey! It tastes leagues better than the whiskey I summon!"Bookmark here

"Don't act so dramatic. I'm the one who has to go buy more."Bookmark here

She hugged him.Bookmark here

"You're a good friend-”Bookmark here

“I lost a bet, to be frank.”Bookmark here

“-but really… it's so strange. Sometimes I feel like humans are much crueler than we could ever be."Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Earth had a Rumble.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"It's my intuition. I can feel the path under us."Bookmark here

Right.Bookmark here

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'tBookmark here

(going to kill you)Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"Look at the size of that! It looks so ancient!"Bookmark here

Yuuki squinted.Bookmark here

"I think I need glasses…"Bookmark here

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:Bookmark here

Here! Next Game!Bookmark here

Inside voices!Bookmark here

Banzai!Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Yuuki gasped.Bookmark here

"That's the guy who beamed me up! Yellow Mask dude!"Bookmark here

Akabane looked grim.Bookmark here

"He might be the guy to beam you to bits if you're not careful. I mean, take a look at those eyes!"Bookmark here

Her suspicions were confirmed when Yellow Mask spoke.Bookmark here

"Hey, guys! Been a few minutes!"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Aura…Bookmark here

That word might be important later.Bookmark here

"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!"Bookmark here

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:Bookmark here

"What the hell is this?"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"I want to go home!"Bookmark here

"Let us quit!"Bookmark here

"What is this place?"Bookmark here

Yellow Mask raised a hand for silence.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

Yuuki whistled between his teeth.Bookmark here

"Teams of four, huh? We already have three. Let's find some harmless duckling who won't kill us the first chance they get."Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"May I join you?"Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.