Chapter 6:

Fire Can Keep Its Secrets

I Woke Up in a Light Novel or Giant Expanding Robot Bear Devil Prince and the Invasion of the Secret Legion Brigade Army


The tram ride to Shinmaru didn’t take long. A little silver bug that clung to an overhead rail as it wound its way across town, while everyone inside clung to the rails inside it, rattling about like vegetables in a tin. Chichi spent the whole journey glaring at everyone who had managed to get a seat. She stopped just short of growling, though it was a close run thing.

It must not be able to remember the way by itself yet. Probably when it gets bigger they’ll let it try without the rail.

Kids from all the local villages came to Shinmaru when they needed to scratch the electronics itch. There were the arcade addicts, gacha collectors, who stood around mindlessly sliding coins into machines and discarding 90 percent of what came out, and about a thousand different types of second hand tv and game stores. Halves of empty plastic capsules littered the streets like some huge synthetic bird was flying over ovulating uncontrollably.

Kaori knew they made an odd couple. Chichi’s eyes darted from one store to another, then lingered on a blue bubblegum flavoured cotton candy being licked by a slender girl in shorts up ahead. An odd couple that somehow fitted together… like… icing and sponge. They had always been like that. Somehow an afternoon with Chichi always made her feel better. Like all the tight spots in her loosened up and all the loose bits came together. She fixed up her angles. She’d like to think she did the same for Chichi but Chichi was, well, Chichi. Who knew what kind of things were at work inside her. She seemed to run on ice cream and ‘green drinks’, which was her favourite flavoured beverage. Somehow all the dumb things she did, things that would have Kaori venting for hours when she saw other girls doing them, the cute kneesocks with animal ears, the occasional habit of referring to herself in the third person, the billion different squishy accessories she had hanging from her phone, which could no longer truly be called portable, somehow, rather than making Chichi dumb, she made those things less dumb. Kaori now even had one of her own phone accessories, something which would have made the Kaori of even two years ago want to batter the new improved model into submission. She looked at the black cat licking its paw hanging from a chain in her pocket. It had taken her ages to choose, while Chichi bounced from item to item like she was playing Frogger. ‘This one, this one, this one, this one..’

‘Uhh, that’s so lame. Come on, we gotta get you a new one.’ Chichi shoved her arm through Kaori’s and began to march off in a very deliberate direction.

Kaori didn’t want a new one. What if paw-licking-cat didn’t like it? What if it thought it was being replaced?!

I would never replace you paw licking cat! Never! You are beloved, forever, whatever happens!

She had a slight tendency to become attached to things. Which probably explained why she owned so few of them. When she went into shops she tried not to look at anything for too long. It only took a few seconds for the maternal bond to develop between her eyes and any item. The uglier it was the more guilty she would feel leaving it behind. It would pull at her heart as she walked through the street, that saggy brown bag, left on its own, abandoned, UNWANTED... until she had to turn back and buy it and try not to let her eyes meet any other item which she could tell would be thinking ‘you saved the bag, but not me - it’s ok, I understand, I’m not good enough…’ There had been one occasion she’d come out of the little corner shop in their old village, arms full of pencils and rulers and animal shaped erasers, telling her dad they had to take them all. It was the same when they’d got Momo. People say you chose the pet you most want to bring home. This wasn’t true. For Kaori, you chose the one you couldn’t leave behind. Among all the cuties, the friendly lovable kitties nuzzling the people coming into the pet shop, the gymnasts leaping from perch to perch, there would be one scruffy, inside-out-eared, uneven whiskered misfit and any indecision would disappear the moment you saw it. She had a horrible feeling that the only difference between her and Chichi was that she stopped herself doing what she really wanted.

‘Hey Chichi! You wanna play some Outrunner?’ A group of boys were standing reading manga outside Pi-mento’s arcade, their school bags crushed at their feet on the ground like giant coloured berries dropped from some giant airship. One of them, wearing glasses, was calling over.

‘Errrrrrr… no, thanks.’ Chichi pulled at Kaori’s arm. For a nice girl she could be kind of bitchy when it came to boys. It seemed like she’d learnt the correct boy interaction behaviour from tv shows. She could imagine her laying face down, taking out her otherwise empty maths notebook, and studying with furrowed brow exactly what Princess Bikini said to deter her unwanted suitors.

Chichi stopped after taking a left at the end of the street.

‘Dahhhhhh…’

Where her face glowed.

‘Ahhhhh…’

Her knees turned inward.

‘And she lost all ability to think.’ Said Kaori.

‘Said Kaori.’ Said Chichi.

The shop in front of them was filled with products of immeasurable pointlessness and beauty. Before them twirled and glistened all kinds of jewelled cosmetics cases and crystal pocket mirrors each fashioned from rare high-grade ABS plastic. Chichi inhaled the cocktail of heavenly VOCs that were off-gassing and leeching out of the shop. Things were really how they were moulded, not what they were moulded from. A single fire could reduce the store to one molten pile of melted plastic but was that really revealing its true nature, or destroying it? Fire could keep its secrets.

Kaori turned to speak to Chichi but there was no use trying now. Her eyes were filled with impossible fruits, Yen signs and strange coins as she looked about the shop like a possessed slot machine, pulled in one direction one moment, whereupon something else would catch her eye, so that she span and turned as though drawing out some arcane rune.

Kaori looked at the floor. Her path criss crossed like the orbits of one of those electrons in science class. She wondered what strange particle it was that Chichi was describing now. Maybe they arranged the shop displays in certain ways to convert kids like her into different elements. They would transmute between gold and wood and iron and condor-skin Chichis every time they went into a new shop.

Kaori looked up expecting her reverie to vanish and be replaced by reality but for a moment found herself staring at a solid silver figure.

Oh.

It was Warrior Prince from Princess Bikini. The figure was hanging right in front of her.

She grabbedd it. (Why not? Two bs deserve two ds.)

Hmm. Do I rrrreally want to encourage Tano’s peculiar obsession with a show named Princess Bikini?

Something in her made her want to buy it for him. Could this be this thing called family… ? She sighed and took it to the counter while Chichi bounced around the store.

‘—Hey! Careful!’ A group of voices rose up from the back of shop.

At the counter a profoundly disinterested teen took her money without even looking and stuffed it in the till.

Could have just given him a cabbage leaf.

‘Uh mah gud!’ Said Chichi in truly horrible English.

She felt a hand on her arm, and then span toward a corner where Chichi had dragged her. They crouched beside the end of an aisle. A display of semi-nude Captain Hero figures hung inches from her eyes. Ugh. Chichi was peeking around the aisle.

‘What is it?’ Hissed Kaori. She looked out where Chichi was staring.

‘Dont look, dont look!’ Whispered Chichi.

‘What? Who is it?’

She looked again and saw three boys, one with dyed blonde highlights. It was Haruto. He and one of the others were looking down at something he was holding. The third boy, Inoue from the year above, she thought, was looking around absently, chewing on a gummy stick.

Aside from ‘Tommy’ Takahashi, Haruto was the only male human Chichi liked. And so naturally avoided like her life depended on it. It wasn’t just her but practically the entire female contingent of the school. Kaori squinted at him. He was nodding as the other kid spoke, his hair flopping about as he occasionally ran a hand through it. She really couldn’t see what was so great about him. In fact, he looked like kind of a moron.

Some of the conversation carried to the aisle where they hid.

‘…you think she’ll like it?’

‘I dunno. How would I know what girls like? Aren’t they into dolls or something?’

Haruto hit his friend over the head playfully with rolled up magazine. ‘I’m not a paedophile.’

The friend was rubbing his head. Kaori thought he was quite handsome.

‘It’s what my little sister likes.’

But again, the moron issue.

‘I’m not dating your sister.’

A painful level of moron.

She turned to the side and saw Chichi looking up at her miserably. ‘What’s wrong with dolls?’ She whispered.

Kaori was about to say ‘nothing,’ when she caught a glimpse of naked Captain Hero from the corner of her eye and the word caught in her throat.

‘I don’t know about this stuff.’ Said Haruto, scratching his head and they saw now that he had a couple of scrunchies in his hand that he was turning over as though this might yield some vital information that he was missing.

‘Yandere mode activated.’ Said Chichi and drew a breath. She looked like she was about to go into war. Her face then changed alarmingly quickly and she stood and marched out with her cutest, gentlest smile. Kaori made a mental note not to cross Chichi over a boy, although there really wasn’t much risk of that.

‘Oooooooh… nice scrunchies. You want some help?’ She giggled her best ‘I am an imbecile’ giggle.

This much was true. There was no greater luminary in the field of scrunchie appreciation than Chichi.

Kaori crouched lower. Wait. What am I doing? I don’t care about this. She was perhaps the only girl in the school to have been born with natural Haruto Miura immunity. When Harutogeddon came, she would be ready. She stood and walked out into the aisle.

‘Uhhh… yeah, sure… thanks.’ Said Haruto.

‘Uhhhh… yeah, sure… I’m Haruto Miura… uhhh, sure… uhhh…’ muttered Kaori.

The boys looked over for a moment and she blushed like a traffic light, quickly grabbed one of the toys on display and buried her attention in it. From the corner of her eye she could see puzzled expressions on their faces but after a few seconds they turned away.

Phhhhhhewwwwww.

She looked back at the toy she had grabbed and her heart plummeted.

It wasn’t a toy. It was Extreme Body Odour Eliminator MAX: Our Most Powerful Solution Yet. The packaging was covered in huge bright lettering in case anyone within 500 meters had trouble making it out.

Great. Now they think I smell like a corpse. What kind of shop is this anyway? For all your scrunchie and extreme body odour needs…

She put it back on the shelf and glanced back at the group.

‘Oh…’ Haruto looked confused for a moment, like when a moron tries to remember a thing that has happened. ‘You’re uhh… that girl, right,’ - correct so far - ‘Chuchu!’ - oh dear.

Chichi laughed excessively though Kaori heard only chandeliers exploding in a palace of pain. ‘It’s Chichi.’ She said and smiled softly. She looked back to the scrunchies in his hand. ‘So is that… a gift?’

He turned over the scrunchies. ‘Oh, yeah, I guess—I was gonna buy something for uhhh—‘ he scratched the back of his head ‘—for Noriko.’

Uhhhhh… I was gonna like buy something… uhhh… for like uhhh Noriko…

‘Ohh that’s SO nicccccccce.’ said Chichi. The volume of the SO had startled the boys for a moment but she smiled quickly after, bending her knees. ‘But you dont want those ones.’ A flash of pure unadulterated evil, brief enough that only Kaori recognised it, passed over her features, like the shadow of a thundercloud sailing over an otherwise virgin land.

‘No?’ said Haruto, some enthusiasm now in his voice.

‘No, they’re ancient! Come on, the new ones are here…’ Chichi took him toward the back, out of sight. A minute or so later they returned.

‘You’re sure this is the one she’ll like?’ He was staring puzzled at his hand.

In it was a scrunchie with a promotional label, the letters large enough that she could read them: Extreme Body Odour Eliminator MAX.

‘Yes, honestly. It’s so cool.’

He stared at it for a moment longer then looked up and flashed Chichi a gleaming smile. ‘Thanks!’

After they had paid, Kaori came to stand beside Chichi as she watched the boys shrinking into Shinmaru’s colourful street. Haruto turned back and shouted ‘I owe you one Chuchu!’ holding a little white paper bag aloft.

Chichi laughed and waved back. ‘No problem!’

She let out an enormous breath.

‘You really are evil.’ said Kaori.

Xan Ti
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