Chapter 1:

Greetings, New Me.


I heard from a shadow that when religion was created, it was a way to get people to feel worthy of something. 
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I'd curse in my head and think the world is better off without religion, especially when my mother once told me that humans need to believe there's a divine being in order to do good. Bookmark here

But...sometimes I find myself at the edge of uncertainty.Bookmark here

The vision of that angel I saw that night... it flickered and then vanished. Then, I was floating.Bookmark here

In endless space, the darkness swallowed my confused self, but not before I thought my eyes failed to catch a glimpse of something, or someone, at the distance.Bookmark here

Then suddenly my stomach dropped and I fell through the stars. They glitched and shimmered. I used to ponder what it was like to see a sky twinkle with them. I'd like to believe this was what it feels like. I continued to fall until the tightness of my chest no longer paralyzed my body.Bookmark here

For the first time, I reached out for a star.Bookmark here

A piece of "hope". Bookmark here

The atmosphere abruptly changed. My body lay on ice-cold water, and yet I couldn't help but chuckle. Bookmark here

Everything felt peaceful.Bookmark here

Until the repetitive waves crash and I'm back drowning in what seemed to be a swamp. Years of guilt and anxiety crushed my throat as I struggled to breathe.Bookmark here

More than half the time I'm left playing the guessing game with how random my nightmares have gotten. I forced my eyes open, panting as I stared outside my window. Bookmark here

The birds chirped, and the sounds of a busy city entered my ears. A child's laughter, the bell of a bicycle, and then the honk of a car impatiently waiting behind a school bus dropping off the elementary kids down the block. Bookmark here

I sighed, relieved that the nightmare was over. Bookmark here

However, I turned around to see my brother, Toshiro, standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. Bookmark here

A good-hearted worrywart. Perhaps a bit too much. That's when I have issues with him. Bookmark here

"Kamiko," he furrowed his eyebrows, "Are you sure you're ready? You know, if you're feeling sick, you could stay here-"Bookmark here

"I'm fine."Bookmark here

"Are you mad at me?"Bookmark here

"For what?"Bookmark here

"Because I haven’t visited in a while. Have you been talking to dad lately?”  Bookmark here

"Eh, does it matter," I hate it when he asked such questions. Bookmark here

Several years went with the wind ever since our parents' divorce. Our mother no longer lived with us, let alone visited. It was specifically requested by Toshiro that she did not remain in our lives, given that he witnessed everything. Bookmark here

And so, the both of us were raised by our father but to me, it wasn't enough. It didn't feel right. He was often gone, busy with work, and chores; simply caring for the burden of both parents. Bookmark here

He did his best.Bookmark here

I think the biggest victim here is Toshiro. Acting as the next man of the house, by 14 years old he had secured a part-time job washing apples so his boss could make caramel apple treats for the neighborhood kids. Bookmark here

Sometimes, Toshiro would bring home a caramel apple just to cheer me up. Bookmark here

Those were the days, but now, I've grown accustomed to distancing myself from him. Bookmark here

In fact, winter break's here and I hadn't seen him for the last 3 months. Bookmark here

"Kamiko," Toshiro took a step into the room, "I know it was hard being on your own here last semester. I wished I could take you with me, but you know you had school."Bookmark here

"I know. It's just- I kinda was hoping you'd drop by more often. I haven't invited friends over, and every day's just a repeat of yesterday."Bookmark here

"Well, I hope all that waiting was worth it then."Bookmark here

"Huh?"Bookmark here

"What? Did you think I left only to renovate a few parts of Grandma's house?" Toshiro chuckled, "Kamiko, please! We're heading over there today!"Bookmark here

I nearly fell out of my bed. "TODAY?"Bookmark here

"TO-DAY. I had dad's permission since a while back but told him to not tell you, and I mean...I guess I wanted to surprise you with a vacation in the mountains?"Bookmark here

He scratched his head, unsure of what my reaction would be. I don't blame him. Half the time I'd get excited about something, while other times I just acted ungratefully.Bookmark here

"Today, going to Diamond Creek," I got up and fixed my pajamas, "So you're saying, we don't have to stay here for the next 3 weeks? Is dad really OK with that?"Bookmark here

He shrugged. "Yeah, I asked him. And he's not here to stop us now. Being the busy workaholic he is, us being gone for nearly a month would mean lower bills." Bookmark here

"Thanks, missing my 16th birthday better be worth it. I'll be down in a bit."Bookmark here

"Don't take too long, or else your eggs will grow cold."Bookmark here

"What! You made breakfast already!"Bookmark here

"Hurry up," he turned around and exited the room, "Or else I'll eat my own cooking!"Bookmark here

"NOOOOOOOO-" Within a few minutes, I was ready. Obviously, I didn't want cold eggs for breakfast. He blinked, and the next thing he realized, his little sister had already gobbled the eggs and set the luggage inside the trunk of his car.Bookmark here

"It was as if I just watched a bad time skip," he commented. I softly chuckled and invited myself into the passenger side of his car while he slammed the trunk shut. Bookmark here

I observed my brother while he started the engine. A tall, fine young man who inherited our mother's peridot eyes and father's unkempt hair. Toshiro had dyed his hair a while back but grew to dislike the brightness of it. Well, his fault for choosing orange.Bookmark here

Sometimes, your favorite color wouldn't cooperate with you.Bookmark here

"How's Grandma," I asked as Toshiro reversed the car, "I haven't really kept in touch with her."Bookmark here

My brother pushed on the gas pedal. The engine roared, and then we were off. Bookmark here

"'s weird. I don't actually remember if I had said bye to her yesterday."Bookmark here

"Huh? What do you mean?"Bookmark here

"I mean, I really can't remember," he stared at a red light intensively before it turned green, "I know I was busy but I didn't think it had affected my memory skills. I know Grandma was mostly in her room, but I don't think I've seen her today when I left."Bookmark here

"I...see," I glanced out the window, "I hope she's OK. She doesn't talk as much anymore."Bookmark here

"Yeah."Bookmark here

The drive to the mountains remained silent. Up and down, the little hills and drastic turns made the car ride bumpier than needed. Or perhaps this was my way of criticizing Toshiro's driving. Beyond the rows of decorative trees and beautiful landscape, the sight of our beloved city eventually vanished behind us.Bookmark here

Then, it was more trees. I began counting the number of leaves I saw fell from dying branches and made it a game. The highest record I believe, was 15.Bookmark here

"What do you wanna do when we get there?" Toshiro broke the silence and decided to ask a loaded question.Bookmark here

"Uh, I don't know," I replied sarcastically, "Anything. Literally anything and it would be fun because Grandma's house is huge."Bookmark here

"True, and the forest behind it would be a great place for hide-and-seek."Bookmark here

"We're not kids anymore."Bookmark here

"I know," he laughed, the wheel jolted a little, "I'm going to assume you prefer shopping in the mall hm? Buying cutesy make-up to wear with your cutesy lil friends-"Bookmark here

"I'm not like that!" I yelped and smacked his head.Bookmark here

"Ow!" Bookmark here

The car was in the middle of a turn when Toshiro lost control of the wheel. His elbow flicked the light beams on, revealing a figure standing right in front of us.Bookmark here

"TOSHIRO, WATCH OUT-"Bookmark here

The screech of the tires and the sound of a body being slammed; it was inevitable. I had shut my eyes earlier and slowly opened them.Bookmark here

Light smoke started to emit from the hood of the car. Our bodies were on adrenaline after being shaken like ragdolls in our seats. Bookmark here

For a moment, it was silent.Bookmark here

Then Toshiro screamed.Bookmark here


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