Chapter 3:

SHIN-TSUBAKI

UZUME | Whispering: Files


     The rain had finally eased as we approached the town border. Cruising down a long winding road we were flanked by mountains on the right, and an elegant sun setting over the sea on the left. Yashiro had his nose stuck into a map of the city while Agent Yamanaka sat patiently in the back alongside Uzume. It was her suggestion that we carry Uzume along since there was a possibility that she’d been here before, and that it may jog her memory.

     Creeping up around the final bend before we passed over into Shin-Tsubaki, the calming ocean view began to recede deeper into my rare view as a cascading forest filled the surrounding. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that maybe we were a bit too quick on our feet in coming all the way out here, but with our intentions set, there wasn’t much room for us to change course now. I was completely unaware of what to expect.

     Passing through the forest the trees began to part before us as a police cruiser crept into view. Two cops stood outside of it blatantly blocking off the road. An odd invitation if I were to say so myself. As I pulled the vehicle in front of them Yamanaka leaned forward between me and Agent Yashiro. “Did you ask for this?”

     “No, I didn’t.”

     I stepped out of the car and approached the two officers. One male, one female. They introduced themselves as Officer Kuro, and Officer Shiro respectively. A stiff pair, but not necessarily confrontational. Their cruiser read Kyoto District 6, which meant that they were most likely dispatched from one of the nearby towns.

     After introducing myself and the other two agents I couldn’t help but ask, “Is there something in there we need to be worried about?”

     Officer Kuro shook his head with his mouth furled, “Orders came from the top. They seem unusually invested in this one.”

     He followed with a caustically large nod before peeking at Uzume sitting in the backseat.

     “I guess considering that you all come from right out the backyard of the great ‘Ninomaru City’, perhaps the government holds you all.. uh.. dearly.”

     Slowly catching the rift of Officer Kuro’s character and the dynamic that the two of us were most likely to have, I wondered if these two would either be of a nuisance… or a welcomed addition. Perhaps maybe even just a bunch of spectators.

     “That’s not quite how it works.”

     Overexaggerating another head nod, Officer Kuro readjusted the conversation. With his arm outstretched towards Uzume he asked, “Is that the girl?”

     “Yeah, that’s her alright,” I confirmed.” Officer Shiro then stepped forward, “Did she really just show up out of nowhere?” I could see the bemusement in her temperament as she gazed off towards Uzume. Looking at her, she couldn’t’ve been more than 162 centimeters or so. Her hair a dark shade with the slightest shimmer as it hung just above her shoulders. The almond contour of her eyes vaguely reminded me of someone, but that person never came to mind. “That’s the story…” I eerily replied. In that instant we all kind of… paused with our sights zeroed in on Uzume. The peculiarity of the evening had begun to fester in our minds for a second there… I can’t really describe in words what we were all experiencing, but I’m confident that everyone was more or less on the same page at that moment.

     With a weary wind to his voice, Officer Kuro broke the stagnation in the air, “Let’s make this quick can we. We’ve already lost the sunlight.”

     As the officers made their way back over towards their vehicle I approached Uzume; grabbing her attention as she peered down into the palms of her hands. Flashing my light on her repeatedly caused her to squint before glaring at me, visibly annoyed.

     “6:25 is fast approaching. You plan on telling me what to expect when it does show up?”

     “Sure, just wait for it to happen and I’ll tell you…”

     Noticing that her compulsion for unnecessary sarcasm hadn’t faded was a bit reassuring.

     “Don’t they teach you manners wherever you come from?”

     Overhearing our conversation, Yashiro uninvitingly pressed, “Wait what happens at 6:25?” Taking my time to walk my way over to the driver’s side I mocked, “The Earth continues to rotate.”

     The time read about 6:48pm as we neared an aging torii gate situated right at the corner of an intersection. From here the shrine was nowhere in sight, but through the torii gate followed a path that led into a rather dense wooded area. It reminded me of those ancient graves from the Kofun period.

     Pulling in behind the officers we all stepped out of the car, Uzume included, and gathered right underneath the towering gate.

     “This is it?” I queried.

     “According to the district map it should be further down there,” Officer Shiro explained while pointing deeper into woods. Yashiro stood beside me annoyingly rotating his map around as if he was searching for something to pop out at him. His fixation for small details was beginning to become a pet peeve of mine. Eventually, I’d had enough and snatched the thing from his hands. “Look with your eyes, not with this tablet.”

     Adjusting his glasses as he attempted to stand me up; sudden loud beeping sounds began to blare off from behind us.

     Startled, Uzume harked, “What’s that?

     Reaching in through the car window, Officer Kuro informed, “That, young lady, is the surveillance monitor.” He stretched his arm over to the center console and began navigating through the menus, “And that beeping means that we are outside the surveillance perimeter.”

     Curious, she tailed, “And how often does that happen?”

     With all of us dead silent, and only the sound of the monitor ringing nonstop to fill the vacuum, Officer Kuro looked towards her and said, “Never.”

     I signaled to Agent Yamanaka to contact the bureau and inform them of the situation just as the accompanying officers did the same to their precinct. But within no time Officer Shiro notified to all of us, “Don’t bother. It’s dead.”

     “Yeah, I can’t get through…” Yamanaka also confirmed.

     Yashiro, leaning into the car to fiddle with the comm system added, “What a glaring dead zone. Could you imagine if criminals caught wind of this place?”

     “I guess the government should have considered putting up that data center after all.” I quipped.

     Looking down at the map in my hand, I wasn’t surprised to see that it had disconnected from the system as well. “The map isn’t refreshing either.”

     Trying to grasp the chaos that had suddenly erupted amongst us, Uzume quizzed, “What… is everything linked to that one surveillance network?”

     Following her, I challenged, “Should that not be the case?”

     “Well, what about the open internet.. or cell service or something?”

     Fitting himself into the back and forth, Officer Kuro contested, “… Young lady, the only network that exists is the government surveillance system. What you’re talking about, personal cell phones and the internet… That’s been banned a long time ago.”

     Walking towards her with his hands clasped onto his pants waste, “You’re starting to make me believe you’re not even from this time period.”

     Turning towards me, he shifted topics, “Now what... Detective, Head, Agent, Senior… umm…”

     “Agent Kisetsu is fine.”

     “Agent Kisetsu. Are we shutting this operation down?”

     “Uhh, no. There’s no protocol for this kind of situation so instead, we go take a look at the old shrine, find what we came here for, and inform the government about the dead zone when we return.”

     “Well, I don’t know how you set your protocols back in the central district, but here, field officers like us call for back up when in uncanny territory.”

     “Well officer, whatever decision you go with, that’s a decision you’ll have to take up with the top. My job doesn’t require me to coordinate with field officers.”

     “Heh… Well alright… I’ll let you take care of that one then,” arrogantly gesturing towards something behind me as he leaned back onto the side of his car.

     As I turned around, all I could see was the tail end of Uzume dashing through the torii gate and down an old overgrown path.

     “Hey!” I barked as I clawed forward after her. The speed on the girl was unexpected, and a challenge to keep up with. The sky fell ever darker as the trees enveloped one another from above. Their ominous sway felt intimidating as I nudged forward. I was nearly out of breath.

     Finally, I began to close in on Uzume as she slowed upon arriving at a set of stone steps reaching a few meters up a hill. Forcibly directing my breathing through my nose, I approached her with all the intent to maintain my… ‘image’.

     “That, young lady, is how you get dragged out of here in handcuffs,” I scolded. She barely peeked over in my direction before fixating herself at the top of the steps. Following suit, I peered up the steps as well, only to find a lone cat sitting at the top glaring back down at us. I pointlessly fanned my hand in the air before dropping them back down to my sides, “You came running down here after a cat?”

     With her eyes glued to the animal, she ever so slightly shifted her body towards me. “Doesn’t that animal seem unusual to you?” she inquired. “The more you use terms like that, the less effective they are,” I argued.

     Just then the remaining members arrived. “You two have got a pair of runners on yah I’ll give you that,” Officer Kuro exclaimed as he stepped the closest towards me. “I can’t do my job if everyone is gonna be running outta sight.”

     I looked at him with a tired look, unwilling to call him out on his hypocrisy.

     “What is she staring at?” Officer Shiro then questioned. “She’s intrigued by a feline. I guess they don’t have those on her planet.” Uzume finally looked at me directly with a scowl on her veneer.

     “The word cat was on the list, actually” Yamanaka then incurred. “There must be a whole family of them around here,” Officer Shiro followed, and when I asked her what she was trying to imply she answered, “As the story goes, there’s a guardian cat that tramps around this town.” A glimmer glossed over her eyes as she spoke, “Some people even say it’s the true form of the government surveillance system.”

     As the officer spoke she gradually made her way up the steps, and like a compelling force, we all began to climb our way up as well.

     “I don’t quite remember the conversations about this place,” I confessed.

     “Eh… It changes every generation,” she stated.

     I peeked behind me at Officer Kuro, before passing a glance over at Yamanaka, Yashiro and Uzume.

     “Anything in particular that managed to stay consistent?”

     We arrived at the top of the steps where a stone walkway continued to stretch forward. Pointing her flashlight straight ahead, Officer Shiro concluded, “That’s one.”

     I looked forward to find the old shrine standing right in front of us. The wind began to pick up pace as the leaves shuffled and the atmosphere howled over our heads.

     “Is there a name for this shrine?” I asked, now finding myself truly invested in this so-called urban legend. “I’m sure one existed,” she answered, “but it’s probably lost to time now.” Following, she continued, “Doesn’t seem like a pretty big place, if what you’re looking for is in there, we should come across it soon enough.”

     I looked towards Uzume who was unusually scanning the surrounding area, “If you have anything else you want to add to this pretext, now’s your only chance.”

     “How about I save you the spoiler this time around,” Uzume snakingly remarked as she turned to me with smug sneer on her face.

     Still standing on the steps, Officer Kuro bellowed from behind, “After you, Agent.”

     With an inexplicable feeling churning in my gut, I began to make my march towards the fabled old shrine. As I gripped my hand onto the rickety old wooden door, a cold sensation trickled through my fingers, up my arm, and down my spine. I couldn’t help but get the notion that I was becoming anxious.

     Sliding the door open, what laid before our eyes was bewildering to say the least.

     A wide-open square room with one lone item sitting center stage. Something I had never seen. Something that stood out like nothing ever before. Something so vibrant, so attractive, so… remarkable. I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was witnessing… until Uzume stepped beside me and spoke.

     “That’s the color red.”