Chapter 12:

"Sumiko in a Thousand Ways"


I finish the bag of chips and eye the waste basket behind the counter. I pretend to dribble, then mimic the American basketball sensation Dick Slaughter by lobbing a high three. The crumpled bag goes into the wastebasket cleanly - nothing but net.

I let out a little chuckle, then slouch in my seat. Now that the adrenaline’s gone and I have to return to the real world, I’m reminded of how tiring it all is.

I pick out a cigarette from my pack at random. My chicken-scratch scrawl across the side of this cigarette reads DROP THE BOMB, EXTERMINATE THEM ALL. I’m sure I had some deep, edgy metaphor in mind when I wrote it this afternoon, but I’m too tired to recall it right now. Perhaps you yourself can make a metaphor out of it. In any case, I only want to feel the harsh roughness of the smoke in my throat.

How has nobody managed to kill me yet? It’s honestly mind-boggling.

While sitting, I tilt the seat so only the back two legs touch the ground. I smoke and smoke and come to the disappointing conclusion that right now, I'm bored as all hell. My mind starts to wander. Why do I want somebody to kill me, anyway?

I shrug. I guess I wanna die.

But why do I wanna die?

I take a drag from the cigarette, and suppose it's because life is a drag, too. 

I’m sixteen years old, so I like to think I have a decent amount of life experience. It feels like everyone's looking forward, while I'm looking backwards. But maybe that's not what really upsets me. I think it's something more like - there's no reason to look forward, and out of the millions of people here on Shikishima, somehow I'm the only one who gets it. 

I make the seat sway slightly while I think. As a species, we're going in the wrong direction. The media always lies and the politicians just want to line their own pockets. The elites don't give two squats about the people. I frown, because we all know that. Doesn't it make you angry? Doesn't it make you want to do something?

But the people don't do anything. They roll over and take it. Everyone's apathetic. Everyone just goes on their online echo chambers and hears what they want to hear. Nobody gets their opinions challenged. Nobody challenges themselves. They just sit behind bad screen from 9-5, usually even later, until they can go home and look at good screen. Nobody's happy, but they distract themselves with 21st-century bread and circuses until the pain goes away and they submit themselves to the rat race once more.

How am I the only one who sees this?

I love Nii-chan, I really do, but he finds inspiration in a two-dimensional high school girl who plays guitar. Read that line again - a two-dimensional high school girl who plays guitar! A wise musician, he calls her. What kind of society is this? What happened to finding inspiration in nature, in man's achievements, in your own progression and hard work? In family, in tradition, in each other? Life is hard, no doubt, but that's because man is both the marble and the sculptor. Don't just buy and consume and numb yourself, you need to stand up and be strong! Don't say you're sick or what's the point in all this, you need to be resilient and refuse to surrender! How else are we going to live a good life, let alone change the world for the better?

Nii-chan will justify his way of the sword with a line like 'fun things are fun'. How can you justify anything with a quotation from a cartoon character! Fun things are fun. I shake my head. Whatever happened to turning life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood?

Problem is - more people see things Nii-chan's way than my own. There's nothing to believe in anymore. I was born too late. I should've been killed at Verdun.

So I guess I wanna die because I just wasn't made for these modern times.

That, and I have no friends. 

I guess I could kill myself, but that's pretty lame. Plus, it'll hurt like hell. Hanging, drowning, choking, freezing, burning - not gonna do any of those. If I lose a fight, I could commit hara-kiri, but I would need a second person, the kaishakunin, to truly pull it off.  Nii-chan sure as hell wouldn't do it. I don't have anyone else in mind.

The modern world is lonely, too. I'd love a good friend. They don't even have to agree with what I have to say. They only need to acknowledge that I'm saying it. 

I toss my cigarette into the wastebasket behind the counter. I guess I could shoot myself. That's a good solo activity. Too bad there are no guns on Shikishima-

Haruki’s gun. It’s still sitting there on the floor.

I start sweating.

A minute goes by. The gun’s still there.

Something strange happens - I feel like I’m living life by watching my own reflection in the glass shards, thousands of which surround me on the floor. Mizutami Sumiko goes to pick up the gun. She feels the cold, oily steel in her hands. She returns to her seat and her mouth goes dry.

I swallow and struggle against the dissociation. Seeing herself in a thousand different ways all around her isn’t helping her cause. But I know for sure that I have the gun in my hand now.

Well, I suppose I have everything I need now. 

I stop and think. 

Have I missed anything? Nope, I didn’t leave the sink running at home. 

Guess it’s time to die.

But then I stop again. I was supposed to cook for Nii-chan tonight. He’d be real sad if he came home to a kitchen table without dinner waiting for him.

I sigh. 

Guess it’s not time to die.

I stand and stretch. Out of the corner of my eye, the Mizutami Sumiko’s in the glass shards gaze back at me. They don't look too happy, so I guess I must not look too happy, either.

They take a step forward. I take a step back. I don't know which one occurred first. 

Do it, I say. Do it and be done with it.

But it’s not me saying it. Do you get it? It’s the me’s in the glass shards saying it. My mouth isn’t moving at all - at least, I don’t think it is - but their mouths are. Maybe nobody's mouth is moving, and we're all just thinking. 

No more excuses, a thousand Mizutami Sumiko's say, or maybe just one of them is saying it. Do it.

I point the gun at myself. 

Do it, I keep saying, do it and finish things.

I fire the gun.

The Sumiko I was aiming at shatters into another thousand glass shards. That just means a thousand more me’s have been added to the symphony now, like I've turned into a hydra or something.

Do it, do it, do it. 

I fire at myself again and again until the pistol clicks empty. Smoke drifts from the barrel; my chest rises and falls; a kaleidoscope of hundred million shattered shards reflect a girl crying in them.

I keep talking.

Nii-chan wouldn’t care. He’d be happy to see you go.

Anger rises in me. I know for an undeniable fact that Nii-chan doesn’t feel that way. He would never say something like that. 

That's not true at all, I tell myself. 

Yes it is, it answers.

That's when I realize-

This is no longer Mizutami Sumiko talking.

I feel something rise behind me, something not entirely there, something part noxious gas and something part cold shadow. My legs grow weak; I can’t turn my body to face it, and it's most definitely an it. Black vapor tendrils pour from the hundred million Sumiko’s and join together like a rat king behind me.

Maybe this isn’t an it. Maybe it’s another side of me. I don’t know anymore. I won't allow myself to surrender, because it's all I really got going for me, so the only way I can lose is to be annihilated into oblivion, into a hundred million shattered jewels, and that's fine with me.

I’m out of bullets, but the vapor snakes and coils around my arm. When it reaches the pistol, I feel something simultaneously cosmic and earthly put a shadowy round in the chamber. The pistol’s loaded again. I can fire again.

Do it, I say again.

I point the gun at myself once more. Do it, it keeps saying, do it and finish things.

My finger’s on the trigger.

Then something strange - well stranger - happens. I hear the back wall of the convenience store buckle. Then, much to shock, the wall bursts entirely as someone charges right through it.

I find the strength to jump away from the vapor. As I turn my head, I get a good glimpse at it. The vapor condensed itself into something resembling a cloaked, hooded man with no face beneath the hood, just infinite darkness. When I hit the ground, I collect myself and raise the gun to shoot at it, but the monster’s tendrils retreat from my arm to face the new threat, taking the shadow bullet with it.

I expect to see Nii-chan at the back of the store, but it’s none other than Rina Nobuko from the Student Council. I don’t know what a litter-cleaner is gonna do against the vapor monster, but the black-and-white glove on Nobuko's hand glows purple.


The purple haze rises and consolidates into the form of a massive warhammer that Nobuko wields with just one hand. The monster charges her, its tendrils racing toward Nobuko, but she cocks the warhammer back and then swings upward with all her might. The hammer catches the monster in the chest, launching it off its feet. As it ascends, its cloak shifts, revealing a pale, sinewy body beneath composed almost entirely of faces, twenty-one of them in all.

The hammer slams the monster with twenty-one faces into the konbini ceiling. There’s a shriek as the monster flails and then disintegrates entirely, the faces disappearing, the smoke dashing off in a thousand different directions.

The store goes quiet again. And that’s that.

The event startles me so much that she starts dissociating again. Nobuko sees her struggle and swings her hammer into the air; the breeze kicked up carries away the hundred million glass shards and Mizutami Sumiko’s with it.

Mizutami Sumiko takes a deep breath and I calm down. Nobuko clenches her fist and the warhammer, purple haze and all, disappears. Then she grins and extends that hand to help me to my feet.

Steward McOy