An eerie touch of movement surrounded her like a vague aura. Something felt… different.
She slowly opened her eyes to a staunch white ceiling. It seemed boundless, yet she felt overwhelmed by a sense of deprivation. As her mind came to know its body her sense of reality began to return. She was surrounded by a pool of water. She sat herself upright and found herself in a room unknown. A traditional design language but with a modern execution. Her eyes met with the tip of her feet stretched out in front of her, halfway raised above the water level of the unusual pool she found herself in. It was reminiscent of a traditional Japanese fishpond that would often be used to keep koi. The oddity of her location only made her question even more why she would be in a place like this. Her eyes traveled forward down a stone path leading to an old styled Japanese door just a few feet ahead. No desks. No chalkboards. No cryptic messages. Only left with an enigma.
The door slowly slid open and a woman appeared through the doorway. She had black hair tied back into a ponytail and donned a black turtleneck. Her figure was slender. Her walk was confident. Her face was calm. And the atmosphere around her felt muted.
“Hi, Fuyu,” the woman spoke.
With a beat of hesitation, Fuyu asked, “where am I?
“Somewhere you can relax,” The woman informed her. Always speaking with a subtle tone.
“Why would you need to tell me that?” Fuyu interjected. A quiver passed through the woman’s lips but a notable pause before her response struck Fuyu with a touch of unease.
“You know where you are but you’re just having a difficult time remembering,” the woman stated. There was tranquility in the woman’s approach. One that came across so natural Fuyu felt a strong urge to reject it.
"Why can’t I remember?"
"You’re helping us look for someone."
"Helping you look for who? I don’t even know who you are."
"That’s fine… When this is over, you’ll have time to slowly remember things once again. The system is still scrambling your memories. It’s normal."
"None of this is making any sense. Where is my father?"
Another untimely pause in the woman’s countenance shoved Fuyu further into reluctance. Her gawk at the woman deepened as her eyes glistened like marbles. The woman closed her eyes for a moment before turning her gaze elsewhere for once. Looking back towards Fuyu, her expression came with it an injection of gravity.
"There’s something out there causing people to die. Fuyu, it’s a miracle that your alive…"
"You saw her face. You may be the only person who’s ever done so and lived."
"Saw whose face?"
“The lady in the kimono.”
A candid sense of fear and fatigue befell Fuyu. Her view became overtaken by a glimpse of an old shrine that sat atop a hill in the middle of her small town. A weighted thump in her chest and a gasp for air made her feel as though she’d just run a mile. Why would I be running? She thought to herself. There was a yanking dread in her gut as if her life was at stake. Her feet finally touched down at the top of the stairs. Her legs were heavy and every step she made on the rugged ground she could feel through her entire body. The trees shuffled ominously with the dry breeze almost as if something had been taunting her. Something about the atmosphere didn’t feel safe.
A black cat passed across her feet as it galloped towards the shrine doors just up ahead. Watching it scamper on, a compelling force drove Fuyu to walk towards it. Towards the old shrine. She stepped up to its old wooden doors left ever so slightly ajar. She leaned in just a touch. Quietly placing her hand against the door’s surface as she peeked through into the old abandoned shrine. She could see her just ahead. A lady, sitting inside. The cat casually walked up just behind the lady. She slowly raised her hand towards it, letting her sleeve fall just below her wrist, gesturing for it to come closer. She then gently brushed the back of her hand against the cat’s fur. There was a sense of elegance in her movement, but also a feeling of tension. Fuyu continued to watch quietly from the entrance. Then unexpectedly, the lady slowly turned her head towards Fuyu. She could hardly make out the lady’s face as most of it was obscured in shadow. The lady then carefully stood up. Just then the cat darted past Fuyu prompting her to shift her weight, faintly pushing the door further open. Fuyu quickly looked forward, feeling the jump of her heart through her chest as she stared the mysterious lady straight in the face. Merely inches away from her. With the same elegance as before, the lady carefully placed one finger over her lips and gave Fuyu a subtle “shh”.
Fuyu’s entire body froze as if she was cursed by a thousand weights. The lady leaned over and whispered a few words into Fuyu’s ear. Every single one of them inaudible.
Abruptly, a loud beep struck Fuyu as she stared at her feet in the water. She quickly glanced upwards to see the woman in the black sweater still crouching next to her.
“What was that sound just now?”
“Your heartrate must have spiked.”
“What did you say?”
“… I think she left you alive, Fuyu.”
“Why would she do that?”
“We don’t know. But we need you to try and remember who she is. You said that you looked directly at her.”
“I don’t remember saying any of that.”
“It’s fine… You only need to remember her face and who she is.”
That moment. That very moment Fuyu stared the lady straight into her eyes. It came to her clear as crystal, yet she couldn’t remember a single feature on the lady’s face. An anomaly worthy of all the questions a human could conjure up.
“I know you’re scared, confused, and can’t think straight. But hear me, Fuyu. You truly wanted to find this lady. What we’re doing may be the only way to do that.”
“No… No, I don’t know what’s happening here, but we’re done. I can’t do this. Send me home.”
The woman gave Fuyu a sincere look. One that almost felt somber. Then she gradually focused her eyes behind Fuyu.
Fuyu turned around and noticed a man walking towards her from the opposite side of the shallow pond.
“No! Dammit! Take me home!”
Fuyu returned her gaze back towards the woman as she pleaded for their mercy. A burning pinch struck her in the neck and her body began to fall numb.
“I’m sorry. We need this to work. Try not to forget, don’t leave the school! If you leave, you’ll forget why you’re there.”
Fuyu’s conscious slowly faded as her body fell back into the pond of water. Faintly managing to question, “who are you people?” before passing out.
The man, with a syringe in hand, stood beside the woman and asked, “why is it always a school? She told her father that it was at an abandoned shrine where she met the lady.”
“I don’t know…”
The woman then languidly looked towards the man and stated, “12 minutes. Start it up.”
The man made his way back through the door on the opposite side of the pond, walked over to a computer in an unlit room, entered a 12-minute time limit, and then pressed his finger against the word ‘initiate’ spread across the center of the screen.