Chapter 1:

Memories Like Snowflakes

The Hollow

Kiseki could hear the rain outside her window, the drip drip as the water riddled the roof then flowed off on either side. She reached up and closed the window, the raindrops sneaking in through the screen, leaving the sill dotted with a fine spray.

The clock on the wall silently ticked forward as Kiseki haphazardly tiptoed around her small apartment, double checking to see if she had all her books and if she had washed the dishes from breakfast. Everything looked pretty much cleaned up and all her books were in her bag.

Tick tick. She was already late for her class, she knew it. The image of the professor’s annoyed face flashed in her mind for a second. Kiseki was late, a bit too often. At least it was better than skipping class entirely. She tugged on her boots, grabbed her umbrella, and was out the door with a jangle of keys. Her boots thumped on the cement stairs with every step as Kiseki raced down all three flights, turned the corner, and made a mad dash across the open courtyard to get to the front entrance of the apartment complex.

Squinting through the cloudy gloom, Kiseki took a step into the rain as it drew watery lines that looked as though they were trying to connect the sky to the ground. Her right boot landed with a splash in a particularly large puddle that had formed in an indentation in the concrete blocks that lined the courtyard.

Kiseki braced for the sensation of water splashing on her jeans and closed her eyes for a moment.

But that sensation never came. Instead, she felt her body lurch forward and downwards.

In that moment, Kiseki’s eyes were still closed. She felt the same feeling as one does in a falling dream, where the dreamer falls from a height and awakens just at the right moment, in their bed, safe and sound. In that moment, Kiseki hoped that it was the case, and that this strange sensation was a dream and that she was still in her bed, in her small apartment.

Kiseki opened her eyes. And quickly realised it was not a falling dream.

All around her was just the colour black. It neither shifted or rippled. It was not water but just darkness. And Kiseki was suspended in it, like an astronaut in zero gravity. At least she was not falling onto her face or onto her arms. But this situation was even more pressing than worrying about falling or not falling.

Where was she?

Kiseki opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out. A wave of sudden dread drenched her like a cold shower. Why could she not speak? Was this really a dream or a nightmare?

She felt her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. She could breathe but not speak. The foreign sensation of not being able to speak caused her dread to be melted away and replaced with panic. Her heart began to beat louder than usual in her chest, threatening to jump out.

Then out of the corner of her eye, Kiseki saw something flittering. It was white and looked like a snowflake on a backdrop of black. Then another one appeared. And another. The sudden appearance of these strangely beautiful snowflakes calmed the panic rising in Kiseki’s chest and she paused. She reached out and watched with wonder as one of the snowflakes landed on her hand.

The snowflake appeared to be coloured. Kiseki brought the white crystal closer to see it clearer. When she noticed it was like a small window displaying a miniature video. There was a small child laughing and smiling out at the viewer. The child was holding a book in its lap. Perhaps it was smiling as a result of the book.

Kiseki smiled softly. The snowflake glowed, the image playing over and over until it suddenly burst into a thousand shards of miniscule ice shards. Kiseki was shocked at the abrupt shattering. When she felt a dull pain in her chest.

More snowflakes materialized and fluttered over, gently floating past Kiseki’s face. In one, the small child was trying to ride a bicycle without training wheels, wobbling precariously. In another, the child was slightly older, now holding wooden sword, swinging it with an expression of focus. Each one shattered like small beads of glass after playing back the images a few times.

As Kiseki’s eyes followed these little crystals and their shatterings, the pain seemed to increase in increments. What started as a dull throb, had now grew to sharp pangs. It hurt so much, she could barely breathe.

Grasping her chest, Kiseki doubled over. The pain was as if someone had pierced her heart with a barb-tipped arrow. It hurt. It hurt, a lot. The child’s smiling face appeared in her mind and the pain rolled through again, a tidal wave.

Then, she felt hot tears spring to her eyes and pool at the corners of her eyes. Her eyesight blurred with her tears and as she blinked, the tears would drift off in little globules, disappearing into the surrounding darkness.

The child was Kiseki herself. And the snowflakes were her own memories.

The realization made Kiseki gasp with a soundless cry and her tears began to flow more and more. She couldn’t see before her, the wavering curtain of tears obstructing her vision. Not that there was anything to see.

As the tears flowed and her vision blurred, Kiseki could see more and more memory snowflakes falling around her and shattering, at a much faster rate than before.

The pain had now built up to be insurmountable and Kiseki had all but curled up into fetal position, holding her knees to herself.

Then, there was a whoosh like a gust of wind and the darkness around her began to move. Downwards. Like waterfalls of black. And these waterfalls pulled at Kiseki’s body and dragged her downwards.

Through the pain, Kiseki felt her body being dragged down, down, down. Until she felt herself being tossed like a flag in the wind. She lost track of which way her limbs were going and simply screwed her eyes shut, surrendering herself to the darkness. It would take her where it would take her.

As suddenly as it began, the downward sensation ended abruptly. With a dry thump, Kiseki’s fall was broken. She opened her eyes slowly, inching her eyelids open.

And the first thing she saw before her was a dark hooded figure, made of shadows and the night, looking back at her.