Her hand wrapped around the jagged shard, Fuyu painfully pulled out the piece of glass piercing through her neck and dropped it to the ground. With her palm pressed firmly on the wound, she struggled to cease the incessant bleeding.
She observed the body of her now dead reflection. In her last bit of contest, she stabbed the manic reflection in the torso with one of the loose pieces of glass from the very window that nearly killed her. How ironic, she thought to herself, that it was now that tortured aberrant that suffered the same death it tried so hard to inflict. But even still, her life seemed rewarded to her. As though she’d exploited a gap in the system that somehow allowed her to overstay her welcome. Could it have been because of the life that she’d taken?
Bursting through the doors, Fuyu landed center stage in the lobby. An untimely buckle in her knees collapsed her to the ground. Unforeseen waves poured over her, and for a split second, she felt as though she could drown. Doused in a sweat, she lifted her head high enough to come back to reality… caustic as that was. The blood continuously ran from her neck and lubricated the floor beneath her body as she dragged her limp self towards the exit.
She could feel her mind slipping and knew she would never make it before her body gave out on her. With one last push, Fuyu fragilely stood to her feet and attempted to run towards the doors.
With one empowered step… she fell once again.
Face planted into a pool of water; each breath taken only worked to fill her lungs and hasten her demise. Tryingly forcing every inch of her strength to lift her head up one last time.
Clinching success, she’d returned to the lobby.
Working her way up to a kneeling position, the air around her felt thick and her head clouded. Like an off-balance pillar her body tipped forwards and, yet again, found herself falling to the floor. In the moments that passed before she hit the ground, Fuyu could feel her consciousness fading and knew this would be her last.
Just as she touched the floor, an anonymous pair of hands from beneath her raised her body upwards and brought her back to reality. The true reality. The vacant walls, the garden that filled them, the pool of water surrounding her. She’d made it back.
This woman… the same woman from before, Fuyu spoke to herself in her head, she’s making this happen to me. This woman holding on to me right now.
Repeatedly calling out to Fuyu, the woman tried to recouple Fuyu’s attention. Watching closely to Fuyu’s palm still pressed firmly against her own neck.
“Fuyu, you need to breathe,” the woman said to her, “breath.” Lowering her head ever so slightly to meet Fuyu eye to eye, she stated, “Nothing that happened in there can hurt you out here. You’re alive, and you’re fine.”
“What did you see?” she then asked. But Fuyu would barely let a breath of air pass between her lips as she remained silent, unable to speak her mind. “If you woke up on your own, then you must have found what you were looking for.”
Still unsuccessful in properly reaching Fuyu, who seemed as though she was slipping into a panic, the woman then informed her, “If you found it… then you need to say it… You need to tell us who she is.”
As Fuyu began to recall the lady in the kimono slowly lowering the camera from her face a violent cough escaped her mouth. Blood ejected from her throat as the burn from the wound on her neck stiffened her entire body.
Signaling arbitrarily towards something out of sight, the woman looked at Fuyu sternly and asked once again, “Who is she?”
A medic then rushed over beside Fuyu and attempted to lift her upright. Fuyu began to battle with intermittent bouts of hyperventilating and blood-filled coughs. As the medic began attaching a strange equipment onto to her, she swiftly lifted a syringe from the medic’s pocket and rammed it through the woman’s neck.
In a fraught filled attempt to hold her back, the medic was tossed to the side by a raging Fuyu whom raced for the doorway.
Coming from the other end, the same man who earlier sedated Fuyu, sprinted across the garden intent on catching her; but was stopped when the medic quickly grabbed hold of the man. Startled and unwavering, the man turned back towards the medic with force. Only to then supplant that force with concern as the medic gestured towards the woman’s dying body.
Meanwhile, Fuyu stumbled her way through hall after hall after hall. One corridor leading to another. Cold in appearance, the intimidating passageway was lined by uninviting tall metal walls that all looked the same, felt the same, were the same. Much unlike a maze that is designed to misdirect a person, this space felt more as though it was moving along with her. As if she was running in place.
Kneeling beside the woman as she fought against suffocation from her collapsing lungs, the man placed his hand on her shoulder and called out to her. “Akane… just let it pass, you’ll wake up fine,” he tried to reassure her as her eyes slowly rolled to the back of her head.
Observing her unmoving body, the man turned towards the medic and they both confirmed that she was now gone.
“Why would you be carrying that much serum in the syringe?”
“That’s just the thing… I-I wasn’t carrying a syringe.”
The man gave an apprehensive glance over at the doorway before arriving at an unwanted conclusion. “Fuyu is glitching this entire system.”
“I’ll go catch her,” the man exclaimed. “Get the Console ready to shut the sequence down.”
“I don’t think chasing after her is a good idea,” the medic then warned, “we should just shut the sequence down right away.”
With visible irritation scrawled over his face, the man interjected, “I may not be quite the expert on how all this works, but even I know that what we need to do is get her and make her tell us what she knows. You and I are both aware; we shut it down now, and she doesn’t speak- the system won’t be able to record the information. Without that concrete data we’ll have to reinitialize this entire thing. You doctor… should be well aware that that girl won’t survive it.”
Standing up and facing the man directly, the medic spoke very staunchly, “None of us will survive if we suffer any life-threatening injuries here. Fuyu coughing up blood proved that. This… the system’s protective barriers are now failing. Whatever she suffered while she was down in-in the sub-level followed her here. We overused the system; it’s falling apart, and effects are now leaking through the levels.”
Pointing towards Aki’s now deceased body on the ground, he continued, “She may not be able to wake up due to brain trauma. The quicker we shut the sequence down then perhaps… maybe… she’ll be alright. I-I don’ know; this system wasn’t exactly designed for a sequence to be repeated one thousand times.”
The man looked upon the medic with frustration, but all the while a sense of understanding. However, something about his demeanor felt unaccepting of the situation at hand.
“This is my last resort, and I will take the risks.”
“This obsession you have… you know… catching the lady responsible for taking your niece’s life. It will make every bit of effort you put forth pointless. You’ll end up just as dead as she is.”
With his eyes closed and a stinging silence as his only retort, the man walked out of the room and off into the corridors beyond the garden.
Confidently making his way through swindling halls, he approached a scatter minded Fuyu desperately trying to find reprieve. “I can’t find the way out…” she somberly exclaimed as she stared off into the steel crafted valley. Approaching her from the side, He took a deep breath as he stared off alongside her. “Fuyu… it’s nice to be able to see you again in one piece. You haven’t changed at all.” Fuyu slowly turned to look at him. Black hair with shaggy grey strands scattered all over. Eyes that looked worn and heavy, sagging just at the outer corners. Deep lines contouring the bags underneath each eyelid. All detailing a stressed countenance that laced the surface of his face.
“How many years has it been, Kisetsu Sensei?”
As he looked over at her she could see his sorrow drifting in the water welled up at the edge of his eyes. “Too long,” he whispered… “too long.”
Fuyu pulled in a deep gasp of air through her nose and exhaled her angst through her mouth. Her heart calmed and she began to feel a bit at ease.
For a moment, everything stopped.
With her back leaning against the wall as she slowly slid to ground quivering, Fuyu looked upon Mr. Kisetsu as a reflection jammed a piece of glass deep into his left shoulder. As he collapsed to the ground, Fuyu watched horridly as the reflection repeatedly stabbed her old High School teacher to death. With a deep tremble rumbling through her entire body, a shadow slowly stretched itself over the bloody scene. Fuyu followed it to her left and found herself staring up at the lady in the kimono. With her camera held firmly to her face, she snapped a picture. Setting off a glaring flash.
As her vision returned Fuyu stood firmly on her two feet. Looking down as she towered over Mr. Kisetsu’s tortured body. Her grip held tightly over the glass shard in her hand. Terrified, she gave a pleading cry to the lady standing in front of her, still with the camera to her face. “Okaa-san… please stop.” Only to have her view blinded by another flash from the camera. She could almost feel its rays burning through her.
Standing at the ledge of a cliff she could feel a phantom touch fade from her outstretched hands. The inertia of her body thrusting forward fought against her desperate attempts to regain her footing and not fall over. The faint trail of something departing her view dragged her eyes downwards. Just barely gaining hold of her footing, she peered below the cliff to a distorted corpse that laid on the road beneath. It was only then that she could feel the rain falling from above.
In an urge to flee she turned around, revealing an old decaying shrine behind her. Her feet splashed in the mud as she took off. Making her way firmly in front of the shrine, she was inches away from a set of stone steps when the appearance of the lady in the kimono nearly sent her tumbling downwards. Feeling the world nearly slow to a halt, Fuyu was blinded again by another camera flash.
She now found herself standing in a tight space. Dark, with barely an inch to move. She could feel her chest expand with every breath she took. The beat of her heart felt like a drum being beaten with a mallet.
A sliver of light crept through a crevice right in front of her. It was slim, but as she leaned in closely, she could see the slightest picture of what was on the other side. A woman, sitting on top of a bed, looking back towards her direction. As if she was aware of Fuyu’s presence. Placing her hands against the surface in front of her, Fuyu felt it slightly budge forward. Doors, she thought to herself before trying to force it open. As the woman hesitantly approached her, Fuyu became impatient and, in a desperate plea, began banging as hard as she could while crying out for help. Screaming at the top of her lungs as the woman continued to tepidly walk forward. Seemingly deaf to Fuyu’s cries. But before the mysterious girl could reach any closer, Fuyu found herself nearly choking on her own voice as suddenly the lady in the kimono appeared through the crack between the doors. Taking another picture and engulfing the area once more.
Standing in front of a mirror, Fuyu found herself in what resembled a typical Japanese home. Dressed in a traditional kimono. The fabric seemed authentic and expensive. And it all somehow felt… familiar. Her face was young. No older than 12, maybe. In her hands was an old polaroid style camera. She held it up to the mirror and took a picture of herself. Watching as the world around her fell to white.
As it faded, she panned her sights across a strange room. Almost like a hospital, but not quite. There were too many people gathered. Unusual machines towering over four beds lined up, side by side. Looking into the beds from right to left she recognized them... their faces. Calm and quiet as though asleep. The man, the woman, the medic, and directly forward… herself. Her body in gauze and straps. IV and other tubes penetrating her skin; infiltrating through her mouth and nose. Swelling and bruised. Looking at herself she felt like a carcass tortured with the punishment of life. Like death was being withheld from her. What happened to me, she thought to herself in horror.
Abruptly, multiple alarms set off at the same time. People dressed in lab coats darted back and forth around the room, completely oblivious to her conscious presence.
The Fuyu that stood amongst them was a mere ghost. Unseen to those existing in reality.
The panic in the room began to fester like a mold. “They’re unresponsive,” one of them said. “Their readings show signs of them slipping into a coma,” another inferred. “I think the system is stuck in a perpetual automatic repeat request,” interjected a third.
Fuyu simply stepped forward towards herself. Her dying body propped up in the bed. She gazed into her own face. A part of her felt unrecognizable. Reaching over to place a hand on herself a polaroid film slipped from the camera that she was unknowingly still holding on to.
Lifting the photograph up, Fuyu was torn by what she saw.
That same adolescent version of herself. Beside her sat three individuals she’d all met before. All similar in age. Natsuiro Kisetsu, Akane Aki, and Toki Haruhi. All dressed in kimono garbs. All seated outside an old Japanese home.
Behind the four of them stood her mother. Her face expressionless as she stared into the camera.
Fuyu turned the photograph over to find something that struck as the most peculiar. A date written in pen.
All of the people in the room swiftly quieted down as they turned towards Fuyu’s direction. Looking back at them she could tell that it wasn’t at her they were looking, but through her. When unexpectedly a terrifying sound riffled her very soul. A long-winded beep whistling through the room.
Fuyu had flatlined.