Part 1: With Love
Sitting by the window in her rocking chair, Fabi’s mother slept peacefully, a slight smile on her lips. Fabi watched her gentle breathing and felt happy for the first time in a while.
“She’s exhausted,” one of the facility’s nurses had told him earlier. “You can wake her up if you have to, but it might be best to just let her sleep and come back another time.”
Probably a good idea, he thought.
He peered down at the Tupperware container full of lasagna he had made and wondered what he should do with it.
She can still eat some when she wakes up, right? It should still be good…
He made up his mind and put the container onto her bed stand. He then removed his small notebook from his pocket and wrote “From Fabi. Enjoy!” on one of the pages before tearing it out and setting it on top of the Tupperware.
Pausing, he stared at the note for a moment before snatching it up and writing a new one.
Not good enough, he thought.
The new note read “From Fabi, with love.” He set that one down and gave it an approving nod. It was a definite improvement.
One last thing before I leave.
He leaned over and planted a kiss on his mother’s forehead. It was so gentle that she didn’t stir at all.
“Love you mom,” he said with a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Satisfied, he quickly left the nursing home to make preparations for a very important meeting with a dear friend.
Part 2: Aftermath
Fabi drove carefully down the snow-lined rural road which would lead him to his meeting place. Winter had come early that year, and with the cold temperatures came the snow, which made driving difficult. Not only that, but the black ice could get really bad out in the boonies, which meant he’d have to be vigilant and maintain control.
Why’d he have to find a place all the way out here? Fabi wondered, steadying his steering wheel as he drove over a particularly vicious pothole.
It had been over three weeks since Fabi had even spoken to Kimura, so he had no idea how the old detective was faring. Needless to say, things had been rough for him since the incident a few months ago. Authorities estimated the total casualty count to be in the tens of thousands, and Kimura put the weight of each of those deaths on his shoulders. Considering this, it was amazing that the man didn’t buckle and break down under all of the pressure.
Still, the stress showed in every move the detective made and every expression on his face. The case had taken a heavy toll on the man, that much was certain.
Fabi, on the other hand, tried to look on the bright side. They’d been able to prevent probably millions of deaths with their work. Even if it had all culminated in a mass casualty event, the ending would have been far worse had they not been there to stop it. For that, Fabi was glad.
But all of that from a photograph, Fabi thought, shaking his head.
It was still hard for him to wrap his head around just how nuts the situation had been (and still was, to a certain extent).The world would certainly never be the same after what happened. For everyone around the world, the existence of the supernatural was now more than just a fantasy. It was a very harsh and dangerous reality. He had to imagine that was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people.
It was going to be interesting to see how things progressed after such a revelation, that much was certain.
One immediate change was the internet. Even though the country’s power grid was restored after the first couple of days following the incident, all of the world’s internet providers had to shut down indefinitely, or risk getting more people killed.
Even though BlueBell had primarily targeted America, some other countries ended up with casualties as well. No one wanted to take any chances, and so the world’s internet was gone for now. Fabi had no idea how that situation was going to resolve itself.
Not that it bothers me too much, he thought.
Fabi was always a low-tech kind of guy, so the transition didn’t hit him as hard as it hit some other people. A few of his colleagues at the station, particularly Wendy, were devastated.
“How am I gonna get my dopamine fix now?!” he remembered her saying. The memory made him chuckle.
The thing Fabi was most grateful for was probably saving his hometown from getting hit as bad as some other places. It turned out that the call he had made to the sheriff had saved them a lot of grief in the long run. They had a few fatalities, but it didn’t compare to some of the other cities, particularly New York.
It sucks, but we have to keep on moving, he thought to himself. We have no other choice after all. Life only moved in one direction.
Another bright spot was the take-down of the “Half Moon Church” that Niles Ishida had worked for. The feds had raided their compound in Virginia, resulting in a shootout with the church members. Thankfully, most of them simply gave up and turned themselves in once their leader Enoch Winchester was taken out by special forces.
The notable exception to this was an ex-Bookface employee named Zach Thorn who attempted to flee the scene carrying a portable hard drive which contained not only the cursed image, but also the bulk of the coding work he’d done for Half Moon’s “Project BlueBell.”
Unfortunately for Zach, the church had hidden various traps around the compound in case anyone had tried to intrude on their operation. Special Forces found him later that day, pale and sickly, with his leg stuck in a bear trap.
How humiliating, Fabi thought. But fitting...
At this point, Fabi had reached the driveway of the house he had been looking for. The driveway was long, as many in the rural areas were, and led to a large pleasant-looking red house sitting in the center of a huge plot of land.
Nice place, Fabi thought, sizing it up as he approached it. Wonder who the owners are.
He pulled his car over into a small parking area and parked it. Before heading outside, he made sure to straighten up his raincoat. He didn’t want to look too unkempt in front of the homeowners. As far as Kimura was concerned, however, he probably wouldn’t care too much.
Alright, Fabi thought, taking a quick final look at his Jesus icon for good luck. Let’s go.
After traipsing through the snow-covered entrance path, he gave the white front door a few heavy knocks and waited. He was right on time, so they should be expecting him.
The door cracked open, and out peered a small old lady with dyed sandy brown hair.
“Hello?” she asked, peering over a small pair of glasses. “Oh, you must be Detective Mendez.”
“That’s correct, ma’am.”
She opened up the door more for him. “Well then, come on in!”
As he followed the small woman inside, he looked around at the house’s interior. It was fairly spacious, with two staircases on both of his sides that led up to the second floor, the hallway of which overlooked the foyer. Straight ahead was the house’s living room, the centerpiece of which was a large stone fireplace.
“Ah, Fabi!” He heard a familiar voice call to him from the second floor hallway, and looked up to see Kimura dressed in a blue flannel shirt and jeans.
“K-Kimura?” Fabi was legitimately shocked to see the man dressed in such casual clothes. It caught him completely off guard.
“Yes,” Kimura replied, appearing oblivious to Fabi’s surprised reaction. “Come on up to my room. Let’s talk in private.”
Part 3: Home is Nowhere
Compared to the rest of the house, Kimura’s room was fairly modest. It featured a small writing desk, a dresser, a small flat screen TV, a twin-sized bed with a wooden bedframe, and a window overlooking the snow-covered fields behind the big red house. There were only two chairs, an office-style one in front of the writing desk, and a rocking chair near the entrance to the room.
“Please, have a seat, Fabi,” Kimura told him, gesturing towards the rocking chair with his prosthetic hand.
Fabi did as he was asked and eased himself down into the old chair. In truth, he really liked rocking chairs and wanted to eventually get one for his own house.
Maybe I’ll get on that after I’m done with all of this craziness…
“I haven’t heard from you in a while. What’ve you been up to?” Fabi asked, slowly pushing himself back and forth in the creaky chair.
“Oh, this and that,” replied Kimura, easing himself down into the other seat. “I’ve been advising them on their project to bring back the internet, although I’m not sure how helpful I’ve been.”
“Oh? What’s the plan there?”
“They’ve got a program they’re calling ‘The Crawler.’ It’s going to constantly scan data from the world wide web performing hash analysis to detect any remaining copies of the photo.”
“Sorry. I’m not too familiar with that stuff.”
Kimura chuckled. “Me neither. That’s kind of the problem. But I’m learning…”
“Is the program going to be permanent?”
“They’re not sure yet, but it will be running for at least the next five years.”
Fabi rolled his eyes. “Knowing how the government operates, that means it’s likely permanent.”
Fabi looked over Kimura’s outfit once again. He was still the same guy from before, his mannerisms were more than enough proof of that, but Fabi still couldn’t get over the getup he had on.
“Why the change of wardrobe?” he suddenly asked.
Kimura raised his eyebrows. “Huh? The clothes?”
“Oh, right.” He chuckled. “Well, I haven’t exactly set up shop in a metropolitan area here. I ended up getting a lot of stares when I chose to go to town.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
After the event, the airlines had been shut down for quite some time so they could overhaul their computer systems with the help of the government. That meant Kimura couldn’t go home for a while. However, when flights resumed a month later, Kimura chose to stay in America even longer. Fabi suspected it was for another project, but Kimura was fairly close-lipped on the details of his work whenever Fabi called to check up on him.
“Speaking of which,” Fabi continued. “How have the locals been treating you?”
“Oh. It’s been splendid. There are some very warm people around here.”
“Gotcha. That’s what I hoped. I’m glad it’s working out for you.”
“Thanks. It’s been an improvement from the city. I was never able to truly get used to living around so many other people. There’s no room to meditate.”
Oh, that’s right, Fabi remembered. He told me once that he was basically from the middle of nowhere back in Japan.
Fabi couldn’t relate. He had always lived in and around the cities, so the thought of living out in a field somewhere sounded downright unpleasant.
Making himself more comfortable, Kimura carefully removed the doll-like prosthetic hand he had been wearing and set it onto the nearby writing table. Not having seen him without the prosthetic thus far, Fabi was surprised at the appearance of Kimura’s naked arm. The end of it was a strange purplish-black, with the color extending further down his forearm in vein-like shapes.
“I need to give this thing some air once in a while,” Kimura said casually. “I don’t like to do it around people I don’t know, but I think we’re well established enough by now.”
“Did the scissors cause that?” Fabi asked, nodding towards the appendage. “the coloring?”
“I believe so. Do you remember how I brought the scissors to the interrogation room?”
Fabi nodded. “Of course.”
“I should probably let you know that I have a sort of special connection with them.” Kimura rubbed absent-mindedly at his stump as he spoke, his eyes distant. “To put it simply: after the Sunday Night Cannibal had finally perished, whatever had infected him and turned him into that beast ended up transferring into me.”
Fabi felt a chill run up his back at the revelation. “For real?” he asked, eyes wide.
Kimura nodded solemnly. “While I was in the hospital recovering, they put me into a medically induced coma, during which I had recurring nightmares where I was stalked by a skull-faced maniac wielding a massive pair of scissors. For what felt like a hundred years, I was dismembered by him, only to regrow my severed limbs and start the chase again. This happened over and over again.”
Fabi shuddered at the thought. He had previously heard stories about the nightmares people had while in a coma and how real they felt, and hoped he would never have to experience such a terrible fate himself.
“One night,” Kimura continued. “I had apparently awoken from my coma and went on a rampage, destroying most of the medical equipment in my room before I could be sedated. I don’t remember any of this, but the doctors said my eyes were wild and almost bulging out of my head. After I was put back into the coma, the dreams continued. The only way to stop my torment was to defeat the skull-faced man myself.”
“How did you do that?”
“By doing to him what he had been doing to me, of course. I stole his scissors and cut him into so many pieces he was completely unrecognizable as a person. Since then I’ve had no more outbursts, but my arm has taken on this strange appearance for reasons unknown to any medical professional.”
Fabi glanced down at the stump once again. It looked as if it would be painful, but Kimura seemed completely fine with touching it.
“What do you think caused it?” he asked.
“I think whatever possessed that man is still in me, and this is the result of that. This is also why I’m able to wield the scissors. In anyone else’s hands, they’re too dull to cut even a sheet of paper. But when I hold them,they’re sharp enough to slice through steel as if it were butter. Luckily, I’ve only had to use them one other time.”
Fabi was certainly curious, but decided not to inquire any further for now. Sometimes it was best to let those stories come at the appropriate time.
“Anyway, I suppose I should finally tell you why I’ve summoned you here,” Kimura continued, lifting up one of his legs to casually cross it over the other. He gently rested his stump on top, the dark purple flesh exposed through the sleeve of his flannel.
Fabi locked eyes with him, putting all of his focus into the conversation. “Go on.”
“I received a call from Agent Wolf last night. The agency she’s been working for is being expanded into a full-fledged intelligence operation. Right now, they’re calling it ‘Agency 33.’”
Agency 33? Fabi winced. There’s that number again. I can’t seem to escape it...
“For this reason, they’re looking for worthy recruits to staff it with,” Kimura continued. “Needless to say, you’re at the very top of their list.”
Fabi wasn’t particularly surprised at this development, but hadn’t expected such a direct invitation so soon, and from Kimura no less.
“Does this mean you’re joining as well?” Fabi asked.
“I don’t think I have a choice at this point. I have to prevent another disaster from happening. It’s the only way I can live with myself.”
Fabi winced. He understood why Kimura felt so guilty, but hated hearing him talk about it. That kind of suffering was too much for one person to bear.
In that case, I guess I have no choice either, he thought.
“I’m in,” Fabi replied. “But only on one condition.”
Kimura raised a questioning eyebrow. “And that would be?”
“I need to visit my mother at least twice a week. She means the world to me.”
“I see. I’ll let Mrs. Wolf know. I’m sure it won’t be too big of an issue.
“Thanks. Good to hear.”
Most of Fabi’s questions had been cleared up, but there was still something in the back of his mind that had been nagging him for a while.
“Have you heard anything about Niles?” Fabi asked. He’d considered whether or not he even wanted to bring that guy up, but was too curious to avoid asking the question.
Kimura nodded grimly. “He’ll be locked away for a very long time.”
“I’m not sure, but it’s not going to be a short term, that much is certain.”
Kimura paused, as if deliberating whether or not he should continue on that particular line of conversation.
“I saw him in a dream, you know,” he finally confessed.
Kimura nodded grimly. “I was on the wall of his childhood home, right above the fireplace. Niles was still a child, maybe seven or eight years old. He was crying over something, but I couldn’t get a clear view of what it was.”
Fabi’s eyes were locked onto Kimura in fascination. He knew by now that there were usually profound secrets hidden in the man’s dreams.
“Well,” he began. “What did it look like?”
Kimura squinted, focusing to conjure the image back into his mind. “It looked like… like a hamster…”
Part 4: Rascal
“Tap tap tap!”
Dressed in his bright orange jumpsuit, Niles poked at the colorful plastic enclosure that sat on the shelf inside of his dull grey prison cell. A patch of paper bedding inside the small plastic container wiggled around, disturbed by something hidden underneath.
“Rascal,” he whispered softly. “It’s time to come out, little guy…”
Slowly, a small fuzzy head emerged from the bedding, its tiny black eyes still heavy from sleep.
“There you are,” Niles said with a grin. “I missed you, buddy!”
After obeying the prison’s rules and behaving well, Niles had not only been given a nicer private cell, but had also been allowed a hamster. It was his one and only request after the long year he’d spent inside, and no other privilege he could have asked for even came close.
The hamster drowsily walked up to the cage door. Niles opened it up and held out his hand, which the hamster obediently trotted out onto.
“There, there,” Niles crooned, stroking the tiny rodent with his thumb. “We’re friends forever, right? You won’t leave me, will you buddy? There, there…”
For his entire life, Niles just wanted to be great. He wanted everyone to love and respect him; to look up to him as a role model and hero, just as he looked up to his father. In the end, this ambition had reduced him to nothing but a jumpsuit and a prison cell.
All those years of hard work, gone without a trace.
But I still have rascal, he thought, feeling the creature's warm fur brush against his hands.
I still have him…
Cradling the rodent, he sat down onto the bed of his cell and silently wept.