Chapter 21:


The Last of Our Summers

Throwing back the last of her iced Americano like a shot, Sugino says, "Oh hey. My mom's texted. Says that the person who did all that research on your death timer thingy is okay to see us." She looks up. "Wanna go right now?" 

They all exchange looks. They shrug. They pile into Chizuru's scary celebrity car. 

Sugino gets in front to give directions, while Yoshioka, Kazuha and Chizuru squeeze in the back. Their elbows bump against each other. At one point, Sugino digs in her bag and offers them all candy, and they all stuff it in their mouths in silence, a row of hamster cheeks.

"What exactly are we hoping to find out?"

Kazuha meets Sugino's eyes in the rearview mirror and shrugs, too-conscious of the driver. "There were some questions about his research I wanted to ask. And, um. It seemed like he'd interviewed someone like me. Once."

"Oh wow."


Chizuru's driver drops them off near the entrance and peels off towards the parking lot. They shade their eyes and look up at the thirteen story building while Sugino calls her mother.

"Kazuha, yeah," Sugino is saying on the phone. "And two other friends. Yeah, yeah, Yoshioka too. She promises to behave."

Yoshioka makes a face, but stays uncharacteristically silent. Kazuha frowns at her.

"Leggo," Sugino says presently, striding forward. "Look like you're supposed to be here."

The impeccably clean lines of the interior of the hospital fills Kazuha with a sense of ease as soon as they step inside. It feels right, proper, almost aspirational in its neatness.

Kazuha sees Chizuru straighten her shoulders and tip her head up. She hides a smile.

Sugino charges ahead, making absolutely zero eye contact, the distinct air of someone carrying out a SWAT team operation about her. She leads them past a counter or a help desk where the staff tries to offer help and straight into an alcove with rows of elevators.

"If you look at them, they try to help you," is Sugino's baffling explanation.

On the fifth floor, Sugino storms past doors and doors and slams the brakes in front of one that has her mother's name on it.

"Hustle, hustle," she says, and holds the door open for them to pass.

Dr. Sugino looks up with sharp eyes when they enter, before she melts into a warm smile. The delineation between her friend's mother and specialist surgeon is obvious.

"You're here," she says. "Did you take the bus?"

"Chizuru dropped us," Sugino says.

Chizuru introduces herself, still holding herself stiffly. Dr. Sugino's face lights up.

"Ah, Rin has told me about you. About you both. I'm so glad you've all made friends. I'm sure you're a positive influence on her, Kazuha."

"Oh. Um, it's Sugino–Rin– who's the positive influence."

"Rin tells me you're quite athletic on top of being the school's top scorer. She's lucky to have a friend like you."

"Mom," Sugino whines.

"What? It's true, having a friend like her will make you improve."

Kazuha knows it's in good faith, but something in her prickles. "Sugino–um, Rin is admirable too. I'm learning a lot from her every day. She's much better at a lot of things that I'm not good at."

She flushes under their gazes. Chizuru's is warm, and knowing. The rest look a little startled.

"Rin is special in her own way," Dr. Sugino says hesitantly, "But–"

"She'll get further ahead with her skills than me. I, um, I just study well."

In the ensuing silence Sugino speaks first, moving next to Kazuha to slap her on the back.

"I had no idea you thought that way, Kajiura."

Kazuha shuffles her feet. "I've been figuring a few things out. With everyone's help."

Dr. Sugino smiles as well, identical. "Well. I won't fault that. But studying is an important skill too, and I wish all of you would value it more. Especially at your age."

"Mom, is Dr. Nakamura still busy?"

Dr. Sugino slants a very Sugino-like grin, allowing the change of subject. "Let me call and see."

Sugino and Kazuha exchange thankful glances. Chizuru pokes at the side of Kazuha's hand with her finger, and they twine pinkies.

"It looks like it'll be a while till he's available," Dr. Sugino says, putting down her extension. "You girls will have to wait outside. There's a seating area near the–"

"Actually," Kazuha says, "I was wondering if you could give me directions to the emergency room."


"For the record," Yoshioka says, speaking up for the first time since they came, "I think you're being pretty ghoulish, Kajiura."

Kazuha ignores her, and keeps following Sugino.

"I can't believe you're letting her go through with this," Yoshioka says, directed at no one in particular. "Your mom should have put us in jail for even considering it, Sugino."

"It makes sense," Chizuru points out. "If we want to find out what Kazuha's timers lead to, we need to be in an environment where there will be people to help if the timer runs out. I think it's a great idea."

Kazuha flushes, while Yoshioka grumbles something that sounds like of course you do, and pipes down.

Sugino does another of her abrupt stops in front of a set of double doors. "Here we are," she says. "Act natural."

She pushes open the doors.

"How can I help you girls?"


Barely a few steps into the emergency ward, they're waylaid by a handsome orderly. Over his shoulder Kazuha can see an ambulance entrance that opens up towards the back of the hospital. Their goal–the actual patients– are hidden beyond a door past the triage area.

The orderly repeats his question. His tone is gentle but firm. Kazuha senses that they're maybe minutes away from being politely ushered out.

"We're injured!" she blurts.

The orderly raises an eyebrow.

"She's injured," she amends, pushing Yoshioka forward. Yoshioka grunts as Kazuha's elbow meets her side. "She, um. Fell down some stairs at school and hit her head pretty bad. Right?"

Yoshioka gives her the flattest stare. "…Right."

"We wanted to see if, um, if, uhhh, we wanted to get her checked up on," Sugino manages.

The handsome orderly nods, all business now. "When did this happen?"

As Sugino badly improvises an anecdote, something further down the corridor catches Kazuha's eye. Flashing lights.

A few moments later, the whole ward bursts into noise and action as an ambulance pulls up next to one of the doors and a stretcher gets wheeled out. The orderly they're talking to looks distracted.

"You can go," Sugino tells him. "She'll be fine. We can get some tests. Um, an MRI."

"I'll be right back," he says, and sprints off.

There's a scuffle of people falling into line and fussing over the stretcher that gets pushed in.

Kazuha walks as close as she can. It's an old woman, eyes closed, tiny in the whiteness around her as she gets wheeled off. As she watches, some of the staff stop to take her pulse, and the confusion increases. Someone runs in with something Kazuha recognizes from movies: a defibrillator.

One staff member shakes his head at the other. A silence falls over the room.

"Is she–" Sugino whispers.

Kazuha tries to take another step forward. She has a good enough angle, but she still can't see–

Sugino's grabbed her by the arm. "Come on, Kajiura," she says. "Yoshioka was right. We shouldn't be here."


She hadn't seen the timer. At all. Not when the old lady was wheeled in. Not when she died.

"Kajiura, you're being a creep now, for real," Yoshioka says, also grabbing her by the collar. "Have some respect."

"We can figure it out later," Chizuru says, gently. "Now come. We need to go."

Kazuha's in a daze as she allows her friends to lead her back into the corridor they came from.

Why hadn't there been a timer? Wasn't it a countdown to a person's death after all?

This time, the lift takes them to the seventh floor, where Sugino finally buckles and ask for directions to Dr. Nakamura's office. A kindly staff member points them towards a door with Dr. Nakamura's name on it.

"Behave," Sugino says before they go in, making wary eye contact with Kazuha.

Kazuha makes a face at her.

Opening the door reveals a now-familiar setup of a medical bed, some equipment, and a man the size of slenderman pacing behind a chair.

All four of them scream.

The giant man looks at them, and gives them a stern frown. "Can I help you?"

Sugino, visibly quaking, manages, "We're looking for Dr. Nakamura? Um, Dr. Sugino sent us."

The giant frown doesn't relax. "I'm Nakamura. Give me a moment, I have some business to settle."

Bowing profusely, they watch him leave.

They're too stunned to say anything while he's gone, and instead quietly play rock-paper-scissor among themselves for the chairs. Yoshioka wins, and chooses to stand near the door.

In about five minutes, Dr. Nakamura strides back in on his horror movie legs.

"My apologies for the delay." He takes two massive gloves off. "I'm at your disposal."

"We can come back if you're busy with anything."

"No, indeed. I informed Dr. Sugino that I was available, and nothing has cropped up since then. I'm not certain why you would assume there was." He frowns.

"Sorry, we were just in the emergency room and we're a little shaken," Kazuha says quickly. "I wanted to ask you more about the…death predictions, you called them in your research paper."

He relaxes, shaking his head. "A fanciful term. I was barely specialized then, and this was a passion project with not much science behind it, I'm afraid."

"Ah," says Kazuha.

"It had completely left my mind until Sugino rang me a few days ago." He pauses. "Well. That's not entirely accurate. It never fully left my mind. The idea of being able to predict a patient's time of death and to do what I can…it's not a concept easily dismissed."

"There was a person you interviewed? Who said they could see when someone else died?"

"I interviewed two people, both claiming the same thing. And there was previous research of another set of people who claimed it as well. From the '50's, I believe. Highly questionable, of course, but the claims were homogeneous enough to at least not dismiss them out of hand. It was the same pattern: they had a near-death experience, they said they started seeing predictions for when certain deaths would occur."


"It was never a holistic…ability, if you can even call it that. They missed some. I put forward a theory that they could only foresee preventable deaths, but there was simply not enough data to claim anything as fact."

"Preventable," Kazuha murmurs.

Next to her Sugino gives a little start. She knocks her shoulder against Kazuha's, and whispers, "Maybe that old lady didn't have a timer because there was nothing you could do about it."

"Oh. Maybe."

Dr. Nakamura doesn't seem to notice. He's too engrossed in his explanation.

"That leads to a different line of thinking, of course. If it's not random, then that would suggest logic. But whose? I'm no theologist. All of this is simple conjecture, of course. No scientific backing at all. It was merely that it was so new, and it was so fascinating from a neurological standpoint. And those hopes were dashed when it was never recreated, aside from those two, at which point there was nothing we could do but throw our hands up and conclude that they were simply making lucky, statistically improbable guesses."

"Do you think we could talk to them?"

"I'm afraid not. I think one of them passed away soon after, and the other fell off the radar no matter how hard I attempted to track him down. They were twins, you see."

Kazuha absorbs this with an even inhale. Some unspoken hope in her crumbles.

Chizuru's pinkie squeezes hers, and she squeezes back.

"Thank you for the information, doctor," she says, as they stand up.

"Sorry for taking so much of your time," Chizuru adds.

"It is no trouble. I'm better known for dryer subjects now, but it's pleasant to revisit a time when my research was more whimsical."

"It was very helpful."

"I hope so. Have a good day. Ah!"

They turn back to him.

"A detail that slipped my mind. I don't know if it was mentioned in my paper, but only one of them started seeing the predictions after their near death experience."


"The other one -the younger, if I'm not mistaken- claimed to have seen them his whole life."

Kazuha's head spins. "What?"

"It was quite a long time ago, so you'll have to forgive my poor recollection. I'd guess it happened before you were even born." He lifts his shoulders in a little shrug. "It's been so long since I've thought about the Kirigiri twins."

Steward McOy