Chapter 24:

The Beginning of the End

The Web Novel Club

Another train ride home. Once again, nobody paid any mind to the forlorn girl sitting alone who just had her idol tear all her beliefs down. But how could they have known? They all had their own idle conversations and routines to go through.

You and me. That’s what Masako had told Natsuki. As the train ride home went on and on, Natsuki got to thinking about herself and everything she learned this school year.

She used to live in a world covered in gray, only bits and pieces of color appearing when she hung out with Mitsuko. This year, Masako revealed to her how colorful the world really was. Being alive - that was the first lesson of the year.

The definition of being alive really felt so simple back then - it just meant that she existed in this vast web of interconnected relationships between herself, people, environment, and the city, the way it all came together and formed something beautiful.

But then Natsuki learned a lot more about herself. She learned about pride and jealousy and anger. She learned what it meant to be a good friend. She learned that good friends could move away or deal with problems she never noticed.

Never noticed. That was the lesson of this train ride home. If Masako could be struggling with a lot more than anyone realized, then so could Natsuki. Despite the brief spark of color earlier, the world had returned to gray by now. The ties that bound the world together seemed to come undone.

And that was the worst part. Seeing the world go from gray to colorful to gray again made Natsuki realize that all of it was just inside her own head. The city had always been colorful - it was just that Natsuki had never noticed it. People didn’t engage in empty, meaningless idle conversation - that was just Natsuki’s own bitterness over having nobody to talk to. Her classmates genuinely enjoyed speaking to one another. People genuinely enjoyed going to school and to work. There was nothing robotic about their routines at all - Natsuki just told herself that to make herself feel better.

By default, the world was a colorful place. Natsuki just saw it all through a gray lens. The only gray one there was Natsuki herself.

That was the question of the night. As Natsuki arrived home, the only thought on her mind was - will it always go back to gray? Will I ever be able to see colors again?

If Masako was right about how the world worked…then Natsuki would forever see a gray world. Natsuki wanted to prove her wrong, but the sight of an empty apartment made arguing against her difficult.

Just think about it. At one point in this semester, I had my parents, Fuyuki, Mitsuko, Yumiko, and Masako with me. And now, everybody’s gone.

Natsuki opened the fridge, but closed it soon after; she hadn’t eaten since this morning, but she wasn’t hungry. When she entered her room, she thought about changing clothes, but couldn’t be bothered. What could she really be bothered to do?

She gritted her teeth; she wanted to do some brainstorming for the contest tonight.

A contest you can’t win.

Ignoring that part of herself, Natsuki found her journal of ideas in her desk drawer. Feeling lonely in her room, she moved back into the kitchen area to write at the table. If all the lights in the apartment were on, and if Natsuki was out in the kitchen, it almost felt like a full house instead of one small girl at an empty table.

She uncapped a pen and opened the journal to find the next blank page. Along the way, she passed an entry from early April.

I feel alive for the first time today!

Natsuki chuckled at her own excited chicken-scratch writing and found a fresh page to work on. She tapped her fingers on the table and tried to think of some ideas.

I think going with school for the contest would be best. School, school…

Instead of writing “school” on the page, her thoughts drifted. Instead, she found herself writing “Being alive”.

Being alive…what does it mean?

That you feel connected to something greater than yourself?

The freedom to do whatever you want?

Moving through time?

Natsuki rubbed her chin. Somehow, all those answers felt both right and wrong at the same time. Something was missing from all of them.

She thought back to Masako’s words from earlier that night.

Being alive - is it the journey? Or is it defined by the destination?

Natsuki felt like she was onto something there.

Can you have a journey without a destination? Are journeys only defined by the existence of a destination at the end?

Being alive…does it just mean existence? And if so…what’s the destination of existence?

Natsuki wrote faster now.

The destination of existence is non-existence. If things exist, they must someday not exist. I see now. That’s what Masako means by things always ending in failure. Is non-existence the same as failure? I’m not sure, but…

If stories you’ve put your heart into don’t grow popular and you stop writing them…

If the parents you miss so much stay out longer and longer for work…

If your best friend can move away…

If another friend can get locked up because someone thinks that she knows what’s best for her…

If the girl you admire most turns out to be struggling with issues you don’t have answers to…

If all your hopes, dreams, and aspirations can come crashing down and end just like that…if your life’s work, the work you want to define this moment in life, never comes to fruition…if you can work so hard at something, only to fail…if being alive means that you exist, and if everything that exists must someday not exist…

Natsuki caught her breath as she scrawled out the culmination of that train of thought.

It means that I, Natsuki Kondo, must someday-

Natsuki left that thought unfinished, refusing to actually write it out fully. But before slumping her head onto her table, she wrote down one more concluding thought.

If that’s true…

If everything ends…

If everything fails…

Then what’s the point?

Steward McOy