A new morning, but not the same morning anymore. A repeat would be welcome, preferred over what became of morning now. Fresh and new turned soured like rotting eggs. It needed to be scrapped and pushed away into a far away corner. Left out of sight preferably, disposed of or even incinerated. Anything that would excise the hint of the stain.
Yuki stood planted firmly in the street. A heavily drawn shadow cast over his face toned his smiling visage with dire highlights. Yet only those with the purview of his thoughts would find such superfluous details to be more than a break of the norm.
While he waited, he kept adjusting his uniform. A palette of pale blues and whites painted the plaid print pants. A curiously bold choice for uniform, but grounded by the more conservative black blazer. Matching blue stitches and lines penciled in the highlights of the blazer with the shared plaid print found on the exposed part of the collar breaking the solid painted black of the jacket. On the right breast pocket, the school logo, an embroidered triangle with mirrored shooting stars accompanied by a Japanese maple tree beneath.
Around the corner, he glimpsed his best friend, Saki and the stranger, Ayumi. The two conversed as though long time close friends sharing everything freely. Should I tell her? Telling her would mean that I believe Ayumi’s tale… I don’t even have any proof. I’d look like an idiot.’ Silence, for now at least, he required further time to consider.
If only it made sense.
Saki stopped as she came up to Yuki. “Why are you waiting for us? Something wrong?”
“What?! I wait for you two.”
“No, you walk with your head in the clouds until we catch up.”
“Only sometimes.” She stared at him waiting for him to correct his understatement. “Okay, most times I do. Hey, a good book is hard to ignore.”
“And when you wait for us, you want something or you’re pissed about something you read.”
“It’s not always books. Fine, yes it’s always books.”
He nodded in agreement, lacking the determination for anything else. “Column B. It was a terrible story. I couldn't suspend my disbelief experiencing it. I didn’t really get much sleep.”
“You do know that not every book you find is going to be good. No need to lose sleep over it.”
The duality of their conversation made it hard to commit fully to her stance. All the while, he kept a corner eye out to see what Ayumi did. She remained disengaged, likely waiting to see what he did. Knowing that he kept the company of a killer gave him pause to any sort of action in front of her, regardless of her previous declarations. Even disbelieving the story, he did witness someone’s death. Which should have left him with a heavier burden if she had not dumped a metric ton of random refuse upon him.
As the conversation stalled out, Ayumi leaned in. “We probably should start heading to school.” Accepting nods agreed to carry the conversation? Debate? Disagreement? One or all of the above things would be continued as they walked.
Chapter 4 - Blood Tinge
Walking through the hallway, Yuki continued to try to rationalize the finer points of daydreaming as a mental release of stresses that maintained his personal health. After a long walk to school only nodding compliance came out of Saki by this point.
He stopped himself mid sentence to step aside a classmate. “Morning Yumi!” Roughly similar in height with a shorter close haircut, a few long strains drawn back behind her ear, Yumi had a smaller frame compared to Saki, though against an athlete was probably unfair to Yumi. Quiet with a traditional, yet slight modern vibe, she politely stepped out of his way as well with her two friends staring intently at Yuki’s overt friendliness.
“Good…morning Hayashi…” Her gaze darted towards him for a second and then down and to the right.
Watching the stares from her friends, Kaede and Katsumi, he kept moving undeterred from his destination. Though as he went to look back to resume with Saki, his friend had a look for him as well, though different than the previous he just received. “What? I’m just being friendly.”
“Not everyone’s so easy going with your openness like Hiroshi, especially with your history.”
“Which being history, is in the past. So let’s just focus on the now.”
“Yuki…I really wish you’d have a little more common sense.”
“I don’t know, it seems pretty common to be friendly.”
Kaede moved to physically place herself between Yumi and Yuki. “Don’t worry about him, Yumi. It’s better if you stay away.” Bright eyed with a bob cut that curved into shape around her face, Kaede held a stern expression to deflect anything from Yuki that might get through.
“All of the rumors from his past school,” cut in Katsumi, “Something about him doesn’t add up, like he’s a fake. I wouldn’t trust his kindness.”
She was tilting a little between her friends and a little towards the half obscured Yuki. Darting her eyes around, she was searching for her words. “But…he helped me…” Her voice was trailing off into silence as the rest of her words turned into vapor.
“Even if he did, we don’t know what he’s thinking. You know how people can be.”
Yumi froze up with bits of memory blinking in her mind. A soft slow nod came from her in agreement. She knew that they weren’t wrong. Yet she looked around them still wondering if he was in the hall. She was too late.
She was quiet. Silence turned to weights tying her down. Left unable to walk, she gave into her course. It was right. They were right. This was safe.
Safe was best.
Safe wasn’t what guided Yuki at the moment. He ignored his surroundings and transitioned into retelling Saki about a scene from a recent book he finished. Painting a vivid image with his hands and arms, his voice definitely began to fight for control of the general ambient noise in the classroom. A few classmates began to grow quiet as his dramatic recounting continued.
Yuki only made it about two minutes further into the presentation before the class rep and teacher broke things up to restore order. A stern, familiar reprimand later and he walked back to his desk with a few low chuckles. Not that affected Yuki in any manner.
School continued out normally without attacks from assassins, which was how things should be. It’d be pretty strange for that to be the norm. So normal was the everyday. No reason to think it should be anything else.
Yet, something felt off.
He never let on during class or the walk back with Saki and Ayumi. Waving off the two, he watched from the gate as they continued on up the road. Ayumi shattered his peace and upon reflection, he never knew what she did after leaving him. What sort of life did she have? How much of what he thought he knew about could be real? Was any of it real? Where did the lies end?
It mattered little how real her story was. The facts were that the girl in his memory and the one that killed a man didn’t match up. Any way he tried to paint the story in his mind it didn’t fit into neat pieces. Every possible answer simply sounded like a book from his shelf.
What was reality? Ayumi’s reality? His?
Turning away finally, Yuki opened the gate. Another night awaited him as he attempted to ignore the problem Ayumi. He didn’t even get the door open before Jun pushed it. “I’m home, Jun!” Yuki gave a little pat on his little brother’s head.
In silence, Jun lit up with a warm glow in his eyes as he hopped back inside. Yuki followed him in soon greeted by Ken as well. They tug together on his arms dragging him away even while attempting to take off his shoes. He managed to maintain his manners in time, even if his shoes laid half turned on their side.
He couldn’t help smiling at their energy. Ken handed out a couple of the toy planes that they were playing with before. Yuki sat down with Jun flying around the fighter plane given to him. It only took a few seconds it seemed before Ken rushed back in with two more toys, a truck and a car, running them over the wood floor.
They played for a few minutes before a shout from the storage room wound around. “Yuki!” Momoko called, but it felt different. She had urgency and panic in her voice. He dropped the plane and stood up. An uneasy churning sickness crept into his stomach. His mind played terrible scenarios that doubled his heart rate.
Before he even managed to take a step, everything suddenly changed to crimson. At first it looked like someone took dozens of paint buckets and emptied them over everything. The floor, walls, ceiling, couch even the toy plane he just held turned a dark unnecessary red hue. This impossible change where the surfaces literally seemed to birth an endless font of crimson ichor flashed an disturbingly familiar memory. ‘That sand guy…’
“What’s this red water?!” exclaimed Ken clapping his hands against the surface. It strangely didn’t stick to his hands when he played with it. Any splashing just dripped off him like the world's best liquid resistant material.
And yet that didn’t seem to be the end of it. Just as Yuki started to adjust to the strange warping of reality, reality got more bizarre. Out of the walls, floor and even the couch came illustrations of nightmares and horror. He had seen similar imagery in his manga, but that didn’t prepare him for something that had real form and sound presenting a vivid painting of grotesque life.
Half formed humanoid frames of bones, muscle and sinew transitioned through any surface in his sight. Some had legs and a head, others arms and a chest, others were a frankenstein mix as if anatomy meant nothing. A mass of vaguely human limbs reached towards anything not like itself.
Immediately, Yuki knelt down and put his arms around Jun and Ken only to find half muscle covered arms reaching out for them. With an unusual amount of agility, Yuki picked up both and leapt on the table and then couch. A quick skip and skip landed him up against the wall facing outside of their house. What little remained recognizable as a house steady distorted into a pulsing mess of flesh all covered in thick blood.
Sweat beading up in droplets on his temple. Flashes of yesterday threatened to cuff him to the ground. Panic and fear didn’t win though as his instincts to protect remained. ‘I’ve got to get them out of here. Somewhere safe…and Momo…’
Tilting his head back towards the window, he remembered that the sand eventually stopped. But this already presented a completely different situation than before. ‘Come on, where’s the end?’ Scanning quickly, he pulled up his brothers closer. The property wall made it impossible for him to see outside, but crimson painted everything in sight.
The few seconds he spent near the wall finally caught up to him. Creepy baby and giant feet reached out to pin him down. “Damn it! Sorry, dad, but I’ve got to do what’s important!” Yuki pulled free from the grab and sprinted to the end table. Spinning around swiftly, he kicked the lamp off the table and at the window. Shattered immediately, he bounded for the opening pushing through the limbs coming up to hold him down.
Unlike the traction he expected, the blood didn’t slip and he came to a quick and painful stop smacking his back against the wall, in an attempt to keep Jun and Ken out of harm. “Shi…t…” He caught the confused stares of the two as they went through a whiplash of emotions, but empathetically figuring out the seriousness. “Are you two okay?”
“Big bro…what’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but I promise you that I’ll do anything to keep you safe.”
“I wouldn’t start making promises,” echoed a slick deep male voice.
“Ken?!” Snapped back to his brother, he saw both disappeared. Yuki craned his head back to Ken’s voice seeing two limbs holding his little brother moving through the property wall away from his reach. He reactively took a step to save Ken, but looked the opposite direction to see Jun silently dragged away similarly. “Jun!” Yuki ground his teeth at the choice as seconds wasted his efforts. “Bastard, come for me!”
“In time, but the distractions must be removed.”
Staring into the darkness of his home, the unknown challenged him with the impossible choice. Indecision froze him. ‘Where are you Momo? I need help! I don’t know how to get out of this situation…’
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