Chapter 1:

The Sun Rises Outside My Window, But I’m Not Awake to See It

Midsummer Crisis


Waking up is a scary thing.

For just a few seconds, you fail to grasp what’s going on as you transition from one reality to another.

The summer light invites itself in through my window, illuminating my room as I open my eyes. As my vision slowly forms, I try to remember who I am… I’m surrounded by colors. Pictures. Visual overload, I can’t process it all at first. Then I begin to remember. This setting is familiar to me. Girls. Flat, painted against the wall. No, posters. Yes. Posters of girls. I am a girl. Wait, no, that’s not right at all. These are fake girls. Anime. I love anime. I never think about my love of anime as a fact unless I am in this state. This state where nothing is natural. Am I unnatural? Is this setting such an alien one? To me, it is not. To others, perhaps. But I have yet to perceive an “other.” My door. My door is locked. This is a locked room full of fictional women propped up on walls. A prison of fantasies.

Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m just a loser.

I flop back onto my pillow, my identity restored and my lucid mind satisfied. But just as I’m about to retreat back into the land of dreams, I hear a shrill voice from beyond my door.

“Heeeeey! It’s almost lunchtime! Wake up, lazy ass!”

My eyes open, if only to perform an expression of tired frustration that no one will see. I certainly don’t have any hard feelings toward my sister. That said, the acceptance isn’t mutual. You’d think little siblings would respect their elders, but it seems I just don’t get that privilege. I muster up all my 12:48 o’clock energy to construct a retort.

“Lazy? Y-you only get up an hour before I do!”

“Yeah, well I’m not just a year away from adulthood! It’s about time you learned some responsibility, dammit!” I listen to my sibling’s feet on the hardwood floor as she storms off. No worse way to start a day than getting yelled at, much less by a middle schooler. That’s just no way to live. I guess I’d better cheer myself up.

Not yet ready to stand on my own two feet, I crawl across my bed in order to reach my PC chair at the end of the small room. Like a dying slug, I flop into it, typing in my password with laser speed and accuracy. On my bright monitor, WebTube is already open in preparation for this moment. I check the page.

Sure enough, she’s live.

As I click the brightly illustrated stream thumbnail, I’m allowed to peek into someone else’s life for a bit. A life covered up by a cute virtual model and layers of anonymity, but a life nonetheless.

“So, how’s everybody doing today? I know it’s a bit early for some of you, but… hey, chat! I saw that! Stop calling me a smoker! We agreed to stop that!” The animated girl on screen rants in conjunction with the movements of a real woman somewhere.

Sumire Anata, Vampire Princess of the Night. ProdoTV English Branch, 2nd Generation. I know how sad it sounds, but I love her. It is a pure love. A love built on trust and experience. Ever since she debuted last year, she’s been my favorite Vtuber by far. Her kind, openhearted personality blows even virtual gods like Aukami Fubaki and Tsubasa Miko out of the water. Yet at the same time, her sociability and humor rival that of even the greatest IRL talk show hosts. Even among the 70+ other members of virtual agency ProdoTV, it’s her I connect with more than anyone else. I could go on and on about her beautiful singing voice and amazing art skills, but then I wouldn’t have any time to watch the steam.

“No… it’s okay, it’s okay, chat. As Vampire Princess of the Night, I will forgive you- for now. Cool, cool. So… today we’re gonna be trying to get CosineRaft working again. I was really upset when it went down the drain last time… but never again! Today’s steam will be the greatest yet!” She delivers an animated wink.

Ah, that stream. The last time she tried to play CosineRaft. I remember it like it was yesterday. Though, I suppose that’s not so crazy considering it aired two days ago. Anata tried her hardest to boot up a world in the game when her notoriously poor internet started to go haywire. Even though she never got it to work, and the stream was cutting out like crazy, chat cheered her on the whole time. Truly inspires hope for humanity, if you ask me.

“Let’s see… okay… loading? Come on, come on… please?” Her streamed game screen comes to life as the world opens. “YES! Oh, thank fu- thank the Night it’s working!”

It’s so cute when she almost swears.

It’s not like she’s not allowed to swear or anything. Hell, her genmates do it all the time. Tricia is especially yabai. But I guess she just finds it embarrassing. She definitely lets go a bit more whenever she ends up drinking on stream- at that point she can go full old-man mode. Not that I would ever consider her actually being an old man in real life. I mean, that’s just a superstition. A stereotype with little to no root in reality. I mean, if she were an old man, she could gain even more views by playing into that. And even then, to me at least… by the time you spend a year pretending to be an anime girl on the internet, you may as well be one.

But regardless... It's just so endearing to me how hard she tries to keep up her image even when it doesn’t matter. Such is the nature of gap moe, I suppose.

“WOAH! I’m so glad I finally get to visit the group server! Is that Teme’s house? It’s so cool!” She squeals, her avatar in the game moving to her avatar in the stream’s will.

I had been especially anticipating her seeing what all the other ProdoTV English members had built in this world. Her reaction was exactly as adorable as I had expected. Sometimes, I feel like I know this girl better than I know myself. I lean back, ready to enjoy the stream, but just as I’m about to immerse myself in Anata’s cozy, wonderful world, a high-pitched voice cruelly shatters my reality once again.

ROSCOE! Get outta your room and start acting like a real man!”

Okay, that’s it.

I spring from my desk chair and swing the magical-girl covered door wide open. There stands my sister, Mylie, in full cosplay. What a weirdo.

“Good morning, lazy. Go see dad. He needs your help with something.” She says, not so much as making eye contact despite the aggressive nature of her disturbance.

“Oh, alright.”

I hop down the stairs to find my dad in our dining/workroom. He’s hunched over the table, his giant shoulders subtly moving back and forth as he tinkers with something.

“Mornin’, Roscoe. Mind helpin’ your old man with some minor repairs?”

“Yeah.. alright.” I sit down, starting to mess around with the clock lying on our dinner-table-turned-workbench.

“You’re gettin’ real good at repair work, Ross. Might say you’re better than me.” He says. I listen, but don’t look up from my work.

“Uh-huh. Who’s this for?”

“Twenty-something guy down there road.”

“Oh. I don’t know him.”

“Yeah, I know ya don’t.” My dad hands me some of the tools he was using. “But ya know, you’re spreadin’ happiness either way, doin’ this with me.”

“You’re right… yeah.”

My father leans into the table.

“Make any new friends lately?”

“Uh… no. School’s out, so… not a lot of chances to.”

“What about them internets? Make any friends on them?”

“Whahuh? No, no. I don’t trust people I can’t see.”

“Then who’s that city girl you keep talking to?”

“Eh?”

Oh god. Oh god.

Anxiety flashes through my skull. Was I- pretending to talk to Anata out loud? Or- could I have left my headphones out? Maybe both? This is bad. This is really bad. Oh, my god. Does he think I know her? I have to talk. I have to talk, he’s looking at me. Um-

“Oh! I just remembered, I was gonna go meet Kirk at the park today!” I spill, the lies falling out of my mouth easier than sand through a grater.

“Huh? The park? You never go outside.”

Whoops, I think. Never was a good liar. Well… no turning back now, I guess.

“It was- his idea.”

“Is that so. Well, alright. See ya, I guess.”

Sheesh… There goes my peaceful, sedentary day.

I walk outside. I may have made up that story, but Kirk’s always up for anything, so I might as well try and make it reality. I’d feel bad if I lied to dad.

I’m such a coward.

As I take out my phone to call up Kirk, my attention is briefly stolen by the creepy house next door.

It’s been on the market for years, and only now is someone buying it. I just hope they don’t bother me… rumor has it they move in sometime this week. If I’m lucky, it’ll be an old lady or something. Old ladies are nice, you know? They won’t ever bother you. You probably won’t even see them if you don’t go out of your way to do so. They just act nice and try not to make trouble for people.

Sometimes, I wish the whole world was nothing but old ladies. Wouldn’t that be sort of a utopia in a way?

It takes me a moment to remember why I was even out here.

Oh right, Kirk.

He doesn’t pick up the first time I call him, but as soon as I try again, he’s on the line the second I hit the call button.

“Roscoe?”

“Hey, Kirk… do you wanna… go to the park?”

“What?”

“T-the one down the road.”

“Oh, you just took me off guard. This ain’t really like you, you know.” I listen to him laugh for a second before he continues speaking. “But uh, yeah. I’ll be there in like five minutes, easy.”

“Thank you! Bye.” I hang up. Okay, now I just need to walk over there!

We have this “park” near the center of our neighborhood- it’s tiny, but while there’s always someone using it, it never gets crowded or anything. And the people who are there are usually with their families, so it doesn’t bother me that much.

Even if they’re unpredictable as hell and cause plenty of problems, I still like most people deep down. It’s just kids my own age that scare me. They always seem so intent to involve you in things you don’t want to do or create issues without a reason for it. I hate people like that.

Kirk’s the exception. Don’t get me wrong- he can cause his fair share of problems- but the two of us have been friends since I remember. He knows my boundaries, he never talks down to me, and even with how different we are, we can still get along.

Looking back to the house as I get moving, I shudder as I briefly consider the thought of another teenager moving in right next to me. That’d be bound to stir up plenty of trouble.

It’s bad enough having kids sorta know you’re different. To have one right down the street… Now that would really suck.

Brushing it off, I run down the sidewalk-less road.

The local park is pretty as usual. There’s a couple families here. One brought a dog. Some little kids are running around. But as I search my surroundings, I don’t see Kirk anywhere. That is, until I hear his voice a ways off and to my left.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you!”

He’s arguing with a business-dressed older man, motioning with his hands and looking up at the guy like he’s some big villain he has to fight. The man doesn’t seem too happy.

“Ugh… not you again.” He slowly rolls his shoulders, exasperated to the point of hatred.

“If you’re so tired of seeing me, you should stop acting up so much! I lay down the law here, ya hear me?”

“Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“As I matter of fact I do! I came here to see my friend when I caught you littering all over the place like some kinda deranged psychopath!”

“Kid, I just dropped a gum wrapper. I was gonna pick it up before you came and blew out my eardrums.”

“You think you can just get away with- Oh, hey Roscoe!”

As he and the man turn to look at me, I feel a wave of embarrassment. I may feel like the weird one between us, but Kirk’s way crazier than I’ll ever be. Despite that, he’s pretty well-liked- popular even, in the right circles. Confidence must take a guy like that a long way.

“Uh- hey, Kirk! How’s it going?” I speak, trying to break the silence.

“Just having some fun.”

The older man stops looking at me to speak with Kirk again.

“Okay, your friend’s here. I’m gonna go now, so you better leave me alone. Unlike you little shits I have actual responsibilities to attend to.”

“Fair enough! But I’ll be watching you!” Kirk points up to the man’s chin.

“Fine, fine, whatever floats your boat. So long.” The man walks away. There’s a certain strength to his movements, held down by an overpowering weariness. Poor guy. If there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s to end up like that.

“So Roscoe.” Kirk still just has the same goofy smile as always on his face.

“Yeah?”

“Who do you think’s movin’ in next to you?”

“Oh, I dunno. Some quiet, I hope. I’d settle for an elderly couple.”

“Aww, but that’s so boring! Wouldn’t you prefer it if someone else like me moved in?”

“I don’t think I could handle two of you.”

The smile drops for a moment. Kirk gets offended by all sorts of strange things. At least he forgives me. Can’t say the same for everyone else he meets.

“Anyways… we’ll be finding out any day now, so why worry about it? Whoever moves in, I’m sure they’ll at least be nice.”

“Maybe. But if they are an asshole, I can deal with ‘em. You saw how I put that guy Seth back in his place.”

“Yeah… you sure did some… justice.”

“You ever need help with anything, you just let me know, ya hear?”

“Of course! Of course.”

Me and Kirk hang out for about half and hour before going home. He talks about his family. I talk about the few anime I’ve tried to get him into. He humors me. On my way back, I just pray dad’s forgotten about hearing Anata by now.

I reach my yard, but I don’t go in immediately. Something’s caught my eye. That guy from the park’s at the house for sale next door. Is he the one? Seems more likely it might just be someone he knows. Or maybe he’s just curious. I dunno. It’s not like it’s my business. Casually stepping up my porch, I open the front door and see my dad still working on the clock from earlier.

“Roscoe! You’re home! Wanna help me finish this job now?”

“Oh… yeah, sure.”

Barring a short lunch break, me and dad spend all day working on that clock. I find myself wanting to fall asleep. There’s nothing interesting about putting pieces of metal together. I quickly turn off my brain and go with the flow.

“Haha! Relaxed as always, Ross! This is exactly what makes a pro!”

I lose a bit of myself somewhere in that clock’s gears.

Near the end of the repair process, dad gets up to make dinner. I really respect the guy, but I’d never want to be in his place. Working from home, fixing whatever people send him all while caring for me and Mylie… the guy’s got no time for anything else. He played baseball all throughout school, but I dunno the last time he picked up a bat.

By the time I’m done working, the meal is ready, and I can hit the benches. It takes us an extra ten minutes to clean the table off before we get to eat. Sitting around the large table, the three of us hardly feel like a family. Part of me wishes we had a guest or two to fill the seats, but none of us are especially social.

As I dig into my eggs, Mylie pipes up. “So, what exactly are you gonna do when you grow up, huh Roscoe?”

I hate it when she does this.

As the only woman in the house, Mylie seems to try and take on the role of my mother and sister all at once. I do wish my mom… a mom… was around, but Mylie filling that spot just feels wrong, even though she probably isn’t doing it on purpose. It’s annoying, for sure, but I have to respond anyway.

“I- dunno. Something fun.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Okay, well- what do you wanna do when you grow up?”

“Writer-cosplayer-artist! Full-time! Duh.”

“Oh. Sounds a like a bit of a long shot…”

“Yeah, well you sound like an asshole!”

Dad gives the obligatory reprimanding of saying Mylie’s name in a disappointed tone. She just laughs. He takes it no further, dropping it to move on to the next topic of discussion.

“I got a text from the internet-provider-guys this morning. Apparently Wi-Fi’s gonna have some issues tomorrow.”

Mylie twirls her finger around a strand of hair. “Oh well. So long’s as it’s just tomorrow. Oh yeah, what’re we doing for the 4th?”

“Oh, I dunno. Maybe just yard fireworks.”

“Fine by me.”

As we finish dinner, I’m exhausted. This was way more than I usually do in a day. I can’t help but yawn…

“Ope, somebody’s tired. You did good today, Ross- why don’t you go get some rest? We’ll clean up.”

“Y-yeah, thanks. I think I’ll just go up to bed.”

“Already?”

End of the day and Mylie’s still critiquing my every choice.

“What? I can’t sleep in and I can’t go to bed early either? Do you have an agenda against my sleep or something?”

“Nevermind, jerk… just go to bed already then.”

I happily oblidge. I’m under the sheets before I know it. Drifting off into sleep, I dream of broken clocks…

Waking up is a scary thing.

For just a few seconds, you fail to grasp what’s going on as you transition from one reality to another. My ears open before my eyes do, as the sounds of loud metal and men talking penetrate my slumber.

Is my house being broken into?

Wait, no. That’s coming from outside.

Wait, outside?

Oh!

I climb over to my window and peek out. Sure enough, the driveway next to mine is full of moving trucks. They’re here.

There’s a car by the road… it must be the buyer’s. Just as I’m examining it, a woman steps out of its door. I can’t see clearly, but she looks like she’s probably somewhere in her twenties. Before anyone can see me spying, I duck back into bed. It’s not a teenager. That’s enough for me.

I’d feel kind of pitiful if I had someone right next door to compare myself to.

Agh, I shouldn’t think like that. Now I feel bad again. I hate feeling bad.

I’d like a pick-me-up, but because Anata won’t stream until later, I’ll have to cheer myself up with a nice breakfast instead. But before I march downstairs to acquire one, I check on my sister. Sure enough, she’s still asleep. I consider waking her up to get some payback for yesterday, but decide against it. Wouldn’t make me feel any better right now.

In the kitchen, I see the clock I fixed. I did plenty of work yesterday, so I guess it’s okay to just kick back for now. I head to the den with a cereal bar and hop onto the couch. Now this- this is how I like to live. No more early morning park visits with litter vigilantes. It’s fun hanging out with Kirk and all, but if I could stay indoors for the rest of my entire life, I honestly think I might.

As long as I’m here, the only problems that ever arise boil down to broken clocks and hypocrite sisters. For me… this is as good as it gets. Complete peace, left wholly undisturbed by the outside world. I boot up CosineRaft on the TV, drifting into a single-player world I come back to from time to time.

Here I’ve built a few things, from a 1/1 recreation of a house from an anime to a pixel art shrine for Sumire Anata, which I spend today expanding. Before I know it, it’s already noon. And as I continue playing, even more time passes, like I’m in some sort of vacuum.

Time just sucks up into the great beyond, the hours passing through me like soft rain.

The whole day slips away.

Looking outside, the sun has now set.

I’m happy… aren’t I?

I mean, if a caveman saw this, he’d be amazed. A life without hunting or struggle… he’d do anything to get it.

‘Course, a caveman might actually desire all that unknown stuff. Mystery. Women. Violence.

Kirk’s kinda like a caveman, haha.

Better not say that to his face.

Haha.

If I’m so happy, what’s this strange feeling of guilt? Why do I feel so strange?

Maybe I need some human interaction?

I mean… I can get that inside too.

My family’s probably woken up and gone back to sleep by this hour, but I’ve got something better.

I rush to my room and boot up my PC. WebTube is already open, and Anata is waiting for me.

I memorize her schedule every week. Opening the stream is mere muscle memory at this point. This part of the week’s always the very best, as she’ll almost always steam the morning of one day followed by the night of the next.

As I click the stream, it appears I’m a little early. Staring at the waiting screen that she painstakingly animated herself, it doesn't feel like any time at all before she shows up.

“Hello, hello! Vampire Princess of the Night, Sumire Anata, here! How’s it hanging, bats?”

I must’ve heard that greeting over a thousand times, but tonight, it’s like the first one all over again. Something about that voice just makes me happy. I can’t explain why.

“I have a funny story to tell today-“

Just as she’s about to tell her story, my internet starts cutting out until it slows down to a crawl. The stream lags to a halt. Her model rests at a stand-still as if Anata died mid-sentence.

Dammit! I should’ve remembered what dad said about the Wi-Fi issues.

“-that’s when I got pulled over, and…”

Huh?

It’s insanely quiet, but I can still manage to hear her, just barely- like a muffled whisper from a mouse. That was a close one… It must still be working. I can fix this.

….

Wait, the hell?

“-it wasn’t easy, but I got out fine…”

My stream’s still frozen.

Her model isn’t moving.

The chat isn’t moving.

Nothing on screen is.

So how is she-

Before I can think, the signal catches up.

Hahahoo! I know- I know- look, I did what I had too, okay?”

I guess the audio was just desynced. Alright, back to normal- Ah!

Just as I’m about to get immersed back into the chill stream, a loud truck drives right by my house, in the middle of the night no less!

“Eh! Oh, sorry guys. That just startled me a little.”

Huh? Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait a damn minute here.

I unplug my PC entirely.

The screen goes black.

It’s quiet- intensely quiet- nearly inaudible- but it’s there.

“So anyways, today we’ll just be chatting. Yeah. No late night karaoke or anything. Sorry. What’d I do today? Actually, I just moved into a new place.”

I fall out of my chair.