The shadow hadn’t moved from the corner of the living room for a long time. It was clinging between the walls like a long black spider, with his horrifying fingers grabbing clumsily the walls from each side. Naito was taking brief glimpses at it every now and then. He wasn’t sure if it was not completely conscious or it was plotting something. He was still in front of Airi, blocking its vision. It didn’t make any movements to change this angle and be able to see her. When she was done with what she was reading, she looked at Naito, waiting for another sign about what she should do from now on.
“You don’t have to refrain from talking. Keep only the important things on paper. I have to go to work now. I am already 1 hour late, and it will take some more time to reach the manga-café. If anything happens, text me immediately.”
“Sure. Sorry for keeping you so late.”
“Don’t apologize, it was an expected possibility.”
“Thank Rookie from me too. I will send him a message later.”
Naito had already put his things in his backpack while they were talking, he put it on his back and walked to the door. For some reason, the reason moved from its position and started tailing him.
“Well that’s interesting.” Said Naito while giving an exciting look to Airi.
“You’re so weird. An underworldly creature is following you, and you are grinning instead of getting scared. Simply unbelievable. But it works for me. Go, go with him. Let me rest in peace for a while. I beg you.” Said to the shadow with a tone full of sarcasm and lied down again after turning on the TV. Naito got out of the house and started walking towards the manga-café. He had no intention of talking to the shadow anymore. The thing could actually hear everything. He wanted to use it only in his favor, when there was something he’d like to test. He walked in silence in the middle of the dark road, trying to figure out how he would gain more information on it instead.
“Hey Nai.. oh damn it’s behind you, man.”
Naito had completely forgotten that Jin-woon could not only see the shadow, but he was totally horrified by it. He rushed toward the reception stall and tried to stop him from saying anything else.
That’s the second day today I tell someone to shut up. How unnerving.
“Please don’t shout. I know it’s with me. You are not the only one who can see it, remember? Airi and I have a longer relationship with it than you. Try not to say anything about it so openly. You don't want to create situations you will not be able to explain, right?”
“Yeah but loot at it! How can you remain so calm! Oh no, it’s coming closer, it’s coming closer!”
“I asked you not to shout. I don’t want anyone else to know about it. They may take you for a lunatic if you are not careful. How are you going to make friends then?”
Naito had a talent to manipulate obvious people like Jin-woon with social guilt. He didn’t feel like he was doing something bad. After all, it was Jin-woon’s fault that he was attached to human relationships to that extent, and it wouldn't harm him to be careful of what he was saying. On the contrary, it would save him from many uncomfortable situations. Everything worked out for everyone.
“Ah, you’re right, Senpai. You know so many things and you are so mature. Airi-chan must be very lucky.”
Naito put his hand on his forehead with frustration.
“Let’s set some things straight. I have nothing with her. Neither I am interested in her, nor her. We don’t even get along. The only reason we had any kind of contact out of work was this situation. Don’t make a fuss out of it, please. It tires me.”
“Yessir! I think you’re just a gentleman though! Airi-chan is super cute, isn’t she!”
“Your mood changed awfully fast, don’t you think? The shadow is still behind me.”
“Do you want me to forget about it? Well that’s the only way!”
Naito shook his head with disappointment.
“You’re funny, Senpai!”
“I told you not to call me that. Naito is just fine.”
“No, no. I consider you my Senpai. You have taught me many things and I admire you. Just let me call you that as a return for today’s cover at work. Ok?”
“I don’t think that’s a good deal… I prefer working one of your shifts or buying you something to eat..”
“Then what about you buy Ramen for both of us and let me call you Senpai?”
“Calling me Senpai must be unconditionally in the deal?”
“YES!” said Jin-woon with a huge smile on his proud face. He looked extremely happy even having an insignificant conversersation with Naito. He was like an excited helpless puppy in Naito’s eyes. And he had no intention of taking responsibility for a pet.
“I guess nothing else satisfies you. Ok, do as you wish. Now, you have to go home. I can take it from here.”
“Is it safe to cross the door with this thing around here?”
“Don’t worry, it will not follow you. It still isn’t aware of you. Thank you again for covering for me. Airi says thank you too.”
“When will you treat me to ramen?”
“Just go for now, and we will talk about it later.”
“Don’t forget it!”
“I don’t forget what I owe.”
Jin-woon tribbled around the shadow like a nimble football player and exited the door as fast as he could. Then he turned around and waved goodbye at Naito once more. Naito waved back unwillingly. But although unaware of it, the half smile on his lips gave away something else.
The night was quiet and peaceful. Naito was quite tired from the events that took place the whole afternoon, but still had things in his mind that he wanted to do. There was no possibility that he would be able to relax or forget about the matter, if he wasn’t sure what was happening. He was thinking of his next moves during the night shift. Thankfully, the morning came uneventfully and before long he was back at his house. The shadow had remained at the manga-café for a few hours, but after some point it started moving around the booths and between the bookshelves, until it vanished from his field of vision. Naito hadn’t said almost anything during the whole shift. He talked with some customers, repeating the same phrases again and again.
“Welcome, thank you for your patronage.”
“How long would you like to stay?”
“These booths are available, which one would you prefer?”
“You can have unlimited drinks from our drinks stall. Help yourself.”
“I’ll be at your service if you need anything.”
“Thank you for your patronage, please come again.”
Always the same phrases. He wouldn’t even change the tone of his voice from customer to customer. He learned them like a song, and just repeated the right one like a robot.
He double-checked if the shadow was around him before leaving the manga-cafe. He wanted to check if it would follow him back home. His plan required that it stays away from him for the time being, keeping his house as a safe gray zone, where he could do his sleep sessions without disturbances.
Today, he was planning to change the game a little bit. He got home, took a shower, had a cup of tea, put his notebook and pen next to his pillow as always, wrote down some extra notes regarding the sleeping session that would follow and closed his eyes. Before going to bed he had checked once more if the shadow was anywhere near the house, or inside it. His theory was right until now - the shadow would go to places it had heard about from people of whom it is aware of in the real world (Airi and Naito so far) or from Airi’s thoughts, while she was sleeping.
The next time he opened his eyes, Naito was already inside his dream. He didn’t need any particular landscape or environment, and didn’t have a specific idea in mind. Being quite tired, he preferred leaving the unnecessary details to his mind to decide.
He was inside a park with many tall trees colored in autumn colors like red and orange. The dirt was also very red, like the surface of Mars. There were not so many extra elements to the scenery, and the park was extending as far as the eye could see. Naito gained consciousness right away and cut to the case. He closed his eyes, concentrated and whispered decisively “Kyuu, come.”.
The black sphere appeared out of nowhere next to his shoulder, making a funny noise like “puff”. It seemed very happy to see Naito, and started floating excitedly and flying around him with its tail dancing in the air.
Naito stretched his arm and touched its surface. Then it stopped moving and fell onto his chest. It started rubbing on his t-shirt and making that cuddly noise/vibration like purring again. He was feeling very comfortable around Kyuu and had already started to develop a bond with it. It was not a rare phenomenon to let himself pet it, hug it or caress it. It had become his friend, even if he didn’t want to accept it, or use this word to describe their relationship.
He would communicate with it either using this weird kind of connection that felt like wave exchange in specific frequencies, or talk to it simultaneously, because he was feeling weird to make no noise when talking to someone. Another thing that Naito realized he could do, is change Kyuu’s size - something that Kyuu could do whenever he wished.
“Kyuu-chan, I will need your help through this. I used the information that you gave me all the times we talked about it. From the last occurrences, I started believing that the situation may be more dangerous than I thought. I didn’t say anything to Airi yet, because she definitely cannot handle hypothetical scenarios - she would freak out. Why is this shadow able to come out of her dreams?”
The sphere started making weird sounds, which Naito was able to understand like he was talking its language. For such an entity to be able to escape the dream world, there has to be something forcing it in and out. It could be her own subconscious, but that is not the only possibility. There can be someone else trying to do something to her. Since the shadow is so attached to her, it seems to be a creation of her own mind, but that would mean that she may have a split personality… Hearing that, Naito looked at the flying ball very troubled.
“You imply that there could be someone else creating this entity?”
Isn’t it something that could happen? The human brain is a very powerful tool. Some people may have the power to control it in a way that they can send waves to other receivers, and communicate like I do with you.
“That makes the situation very complicated. I will have to find out if there is anyone who wants something from Airi. This person could be someone completely random, who just realized that she could use her mind in this way - practice Lucid Dreaming. Judging from what the shadow does, this person cannot have good intentions. It may even be a very intelligent murderer. And Airi may be only the beginning to this whole thing, because she’s easy to handle. They may use her just for practice.”
That is a possible scenario, yes. The other scenario that revolves around the split personality scenario is also something you shouldn’t reject. Maybe she doesn’t really like herself and tries to destroy it from the inside out, without even being able to accept it in her conscious state.
“I don’t know if this is a rigid explanation. If she herself was the target of her actions, why does the shadow keep tailing me, and seems to have interest in her environment?”
Maybe the shadow gained its own consciousness after some time, and wants to use information from the outside world to destroy her faster.
“Why doesn’t it do it at once, instead of playing with her and tormenting her with nightmares?”
Maybe this is how much she hates herself.
Naito remained quiet. If she had a psychiatric problem like this, then there was nothing that he could do. The problem that would occur from this would be that she lost control and started using the shadow to harm others. In both cases, the one with the murderer and the one where Airi is the one hurting herself, could lead only to dangerous situations that would be a threat not only to the initial host, but also any person around the host.
“Whatever the case, I still want to try doing something to find out sooner. I may end up more involved than I wanted, but I don’t think there is a way back at this point for me. Since the shadow is already aware of me, the host can potentially harm me at any moment. If they still cannot control their powers to their fullest, at least I can try to gain a head start over them and take advantage of the knowledge I have collected so far. Kyuu-chan, I will need your help. We need to find a way to deal with the shadow in the real world first. Since it’s not its natural environment and its just a visitor in our world, it has to be weaker here. It hasn’t harmed anyone until now, but it keeps torturing Airi in her dreams. There is no other logical explanation why it doesn't do the same in the real world too. But I believe this moment will come very soon..and I want to be ready to face it. So what I’m saying is.. If that thing can manifest in the real world..that means that you could also do that.”
I don’t know if I have the mental power to achieve that, Naito. But we don’t have anything to lose if we try.”
Naito let a slight smile appear on his face. He looked at the floating black sphere. He could feel its loyalty towards him, and he started believing that this thingy had developed its own consciousness, even if it initiated from his ethics and conscience. It had been very long since he felt any kind of emotional bond with anything, let aside anyone. Kyuu-chan was his first true friend, and he was planning to protect it, like it would protect him in the near future.
“I will tell you my plan now, Kyuu-chan. I hope we will be able to accomplish it very, very soon.
Naito tried to explain as clearly as he could what he wanted Kyuu-chan to do. He would bring specific places in mind and make them appear in front of the two of them, so that Kyuu-chan could understand exactly what steps it had to follow. Being a creation of his own consciousness, Kyuu had all the information that was available in Naito’s brain. He could use not only the information of his working memory but also the ones that he had buried in his long-term memory and never had to use. This is getting exciting!
At around 13.00 o’clock Naito opened his eyes. He hadn’t set an alarm, because he wanted to be sure that he wouldn’t be interrupted in his dream from any kind of external disturbances. He remained in the same position without moving for some minutes, trying to bring in his mind exactly what happened inside his dream, and give time to his body and senses to adjust to the real world. Then a huge smile lightened his face.
“You made it.”
Kyuu-chan was floating above his bed, going up and down like a balloon in the wind. It made a circle around its spot, expressing its happiness.
Since it was outside of his dream, Naito couldn’t “hear” what Kyuu-chan was saying to him. On the contrary, it seemed that it could hear Naito’s voice perfectly and understand everything he said to him. He stood up and tried to touch it. The sensation was a very weird emotion. When his hand touched Kyuu’s surface, it vanished inside it. It is indeed like a black hole. Its physical state couldn’t be described with common terms. Somehow it seemed completely solid, but it was too light to be solid. If it was a gas, it seemed like it had very high concentration, but when Naito’s hand touched it, he couldn't feel anything except a kind of light gravity embracing his hand.
“We have to find a way to make you express yourself. I think you already noticed, but I cannot hear you. You have become a different part of my conscience, you are cut from the initial host. Even if you are one with me inside my mind, in the dream world, you’re a separate body now.
Let’s try something.” Naito turned on his laptop and opened a browser, typing the name of a local radio on the search tab. He played the live broadcast and let it on for some minutes.
“Do you think you could use sound waves from around your environment and recreate them?”
Kyuu-chan looked at him with his deep eyes, and then concentrated on the sound coming from the radio. After a few moments, it seemed like it was catching sounds from all around him, facing a different direction each time. It started looking like it was trying very, very hard, almost like it was about to explode. Then something came out. At first it was almost silent, but steadily it became stronger and stronger.
“Can” “you” “hear” “me” sounded 4 different voices.
“I can hear you, Kyuu-chan! You did a good job. Thank you.”
“I” “am” “glad”
The sentences were the spoken version of the notes made with letters or words cut out from magazines and newspapers, like the ones you see in mystery-solving movies, left from the culprit to blackmail the victims, or ask for money.
“I think we make a good team, Kyuu-chan. Let’s do this.”
“I” “will” “do” “my” “best” said Kyuu-chan with its robot-like voice. Naito looked at it satisfied and then turned his head around and covered it with his hand. He was thinking only of one thing when he heard Kyuu-chan: So cute.