Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

The Owl's Glacial Dreams

She ran. Her auburn hair swayed in the wind as she put as much effort as possible into reaching her desired destination. She breathed heavily and felt the ache in her muscles, sweat was running down her forehead and around her determined chestnut-coloured eyes, soaking her shirt; a creeping dizziness slowly washed over her. I could see her irises were golden as the gentle evening sun glided over them with her movement.

As she neared her destination, Yuki felt a wave of exhaustion overcome her. Her breathing shortened to a dangerous rate and her heartbeat felt as if it could break her ribcage from the pressure. Then, a sudden spasm of pain shot through her back. As her shoulder blades sprang out of place, she knew. The pain she felt, both physical and emotional, overflowed within her, threatening to spill over the edge. White feathers formed her wings and swirled in the spring wind. Now her plans for that evening were shattered, there was no way she could continue. Every fiber within my body wanted to desperately cheer her on, but it would be pointless.

As the sun was setting over the horizon, she found herself no longer human. Her owl orb-like eyes glimmered and reflected the sunset. Unexpressed rage overwhelmed her, she hated herself then.

She, now a bird, felt helpless. Having the ability to fly was an undying dream amongst humanity. Yet, Yuki’s wings didn’t feel like wings at all, rather, heavy, unbreakable chains she was tethered to the ground by. As she whined and writhed lying there, metal chains restraining her, their sounds almost loud enough to pierce her eardrums, the dream of becoming an agile volleyball player was hardly visible within her field of vision. It all seemed like a far away dream, deep within the clouds, barely visible amongst them from where she was sprawled on the ground.


I abruptly sat up in cold sweat, damp clothing was stuck to my body, it was eleven in the evening. I could almost still hear the heavy metal chains resonating inside my head. Out of breath, shivering and distraught, I glanced towards the glass balcony doors to look for it. There it was, the same barn owl that’s been visiting daily, perched on the elderly cherry blossom tree in the backyard, the moonlight illuminated its feathers. I felt something hard pressing into my lower back and remembered the diary I had started reading since I arrived, I must’ve fallen asleep reading it. “Yuki” was clumsily written on the plain cover; I vaguely remembered being told she moved in with her grandmother into the mountains. Was it okay to read her diary if fate allowed me to conveniently find it amongst a pile of dusty junk at her parents’ house? Probably not, but I was too afraid to face her again after all these years, the distance between us had grown too large with little-to-no communication. Would reading her old, secret musings somehow help bridge that gap? Possibly, but I'm really just a coward.

My father had insisted on me returning to Japan as a way to “discipline” me, but really, all he wanted was to distance me from my mother as much as he could. I suppose gaining custody of me was never enough on it’s own. Being good friends with Yuki’s parents, we were borrowing two rooms at her family home for the time being.

Remembering that it was a school day tomorrow, I tried my hardest to fall back asleep within the confines of my linen futon quilt.


A few hours later, I was finally stepping into fresh air. My eyes squinted behind rimless glasses in the sun’s wake as it fully greeted me. After a few minutes, I neared the university gates and heard a sudden movement. A girl leapt over the wall to my left, cherry blossom leaves were all over her from head to toe. It felt as if time had stopped for a second as I recorded a view of her in my mind’s eye. Her hair, which resembled autumn leaves, glistened in the sunlight as it swayed in the wind before sprawling across her face. Her eyes, peeking through, reminded me of an entirely different season, summer to be exact; they resembled freshly-picked chestnuts. She abruptly landed in the middle of my path. Our eyes met for a brief moment, her expression turned into a sudden frown.

“It’s you!” she exclaimed “The school’s infamous perverted stalker who doesn’t talk to anyone but himself!” The volleyball she was carrying bounced off into the distance. I didn’t know whether to deny or admit these allegations. As I stared at her, a realisation slowly hit me.

She went after her ball and it almost seemed as if her body was disappearing down the hill, or melting into the horizon. I blinked, she was standing before me again, having turned her attention back to me with a piercing glare “Quit looking at me like that! you’re giving me the chills.” An awkward silence filled the brisk morning air. “Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?!”

Although apprehensive, I asked “Yuki?... is that you?!!”

She looked at me with an empty expression for a few seconds “Isamu-kun?…oh, It really is you” she tilted her head, then ran to embrace me in an abrupt hug. I awkwardly wrapped my arms around her to return the gesture. She looked up while our face were a few centimetres apart and said “I couldnt recognise you for two weeks! I only ever saw you from a distance. There are crazy rumours about you!”

I laughed awkwardly “Why would you believe them”

“Weeell” she takes two steps backwards playfully “To me you were just a random dude at the time you know? We all have our vices, but to my defence! you did seem a little weird” she paused “But I can be your muse if you want me to be! Consensually! to help you fight the rumours” she chuckled.

I tried to change the subject “Let’s head to class we’re gonna be late”

“Hey! I’m serious! Do you really still draw? I’m so curious about your art now. Wanna meet up at lunch time?” she asks with a smile

I answer her hesitantly “Sure…we can do that”


My pencil glided across the sketchbook’s paper with a gentle scratching sound. I looked up, among the low branches of the wisteria tree in front me, Yuki sat with her head leaning against the trunk, she stared into the far distance as the flowers’ shade cascaded across her face and body. I couldn’t read her expression but it seemed she was deep in thought. I tried to concentrate and capture her likeness.

When I looked up again from being engrossed within the endless scratch-scratching, I noticed a barn owl in the distance. After a few seconds of squinting to confirm my suspicion, I realised it was suddenly lunging at me, full speed, diving lower into the grassy field in my direction. I was perplexed. Panicking, I quickly lay down on the grass on my stomach, covering my head with my forearms while peeking through impulsively. With what felt like the speed of light, it zoomed right over me, probably only an inch above my head; my heart raced like a rattling train inside my chest, the shortness of my breath resembling the sounds of a suffocating patient.

The owl’s anthropomorphic expression flashed within my memory, it’s eyes so black within the vastness of it’s snow-white face. What was that?!!! I tried to push it to the back of my mind. I abruptly sat up and looked around, still attempting to catch my breath. Yuki was gone, nowhere to be seen within my field of vision. How could she leave me so suddenly? Where did she go?!! I picked up my belongings in a fury and hurried home.


When I got there, the sky looked as if it was bleeding with it’s pink and purple hues. I entered through the backyard, walking into overgrown grass littered with yellow daisies. I was abruptly greeted by the five-year-old boy who lived in the same building, Yuki’s nephew.

He stretched out his short arms in an attempt to block my path, “Magic word first!!” he demanded, in all his bold childish idleness.

I let out a deep sigh “Please?”

He laughed “Correct!!” I rolled my eyes and zoomed past him.

I laid on the grass, staring at the soon-to-be-evening sky; wanting to delay the inevitable interaction with my father. The kid trudged through the thick grass in my direction with his stubby legs and did the exact same, throwing himself into the grass on his back as if it were a mattress.

He raised his finger to point towards the right “You know that big cherry blossom tree over there?”

“What about it” I asked.

“My mamma says the owl that comes here every night might totally be a…wait a sec…right! A ta-ta-ri-mokke!! Do you know what that is?!!” he said excitedly.

I frowned ”No” I answered, knowing full well he would want to explain irrespective of my response.

“Well! I heard grandma say it’s a yokai! You know, those spirits that possess animals or monsters, she said owls who visit often might have souls of children inside them! And they haunt their family homes. Isn't that so freaking cool!!?”

Why is this kid not creeped out “Yeah, I guess it’s cool” I said to appease him, there are still people who believe in that crap?

While pondering how strange this idle chat was, I got up to finally go inside.


It was 10pm. I was sitting on my window sill for the past two hours, skimming through Yuki’s diary. It mainly contained mundane descriptions of her daily routine as a fifteen-year-old kid in the countryside. I paused at a chapter titled “The Owl” no more than a page in length.

“It followed me everywhere I went” it started “At home, behind the school volleyball court, at the creak leading up to my grandmother’s, always watching me. Barn owls can only live for up to fifteen years they say, in the wild, and up to twenty in captivity…it's so short, why?…I wonder how old this one is.

Even though owls weren’t supposed to be awake in the daytime, it always watched me during volleybal practice, does that mean I’m special?! Being favoured by a wild owl sounds so fairytale-like. I found out that owls mate for life, can you believe it?! Maybe I was chosen to turn this owl into a human again, a bit like the story of The Princess and the Frog! Imagine! That would be funny... Come to think of it, even most humans don’t mate for life, do they?…oh, this reminds me of Isamu’s parents, they hate eachother, its so sad…he’s gonna leave me soon, what will I do then…”

I paused. She was venting about my parents’ relationship in her diary?? I felt a slight wave of embarrassment. I read on.

“Anyways, it grew on me so much that I really came to understand how beautiful these birds were, I cant’s believe I’ve lived fifteen years without ever appreciating them! Sometimes, I would see it at night outside my bedroom window, its hooting travelling through the cool air from the cherry blossom tree into my ears. I suppose it had an irregular sleeping schedule…was all that for my sake? I’d like to think so. I’ve seen it mid-air once, in the sky, gliding among the summer clouds with it’s wings fully outstretched. I wanted it to be mine…”

Suddenly, the memories started overflowing my mind like a waterfall. Yuki did have an owl that seemed to always be around her. It would often be there when we went to spend a few idle hours in the woods together. I was running after her, yelling her name over and over again as she continued to outrun me; why? Why was she running? my memory was failing me, it was slipping away!... Ahhh yes, the scene before that moment: I was staring right into her eyes, we were both standing there, speechless, countless portrait sketches were scattered on the floor between us, bad hand-writing could clearly be seen on the backs of some. Her gaze had slowly started to shape itself into a deep frown. I remembered the feeling of not being able to read it at the time, being too immature, too socially inept, too lacking in emotional intelligence as a fifteen-year-old boy, a simpleton. I remembered the multitude of portraits I had drawn of her, in all kinds of different situations and angles, all kinds of poses and states. Sometimes I would flip them over and scribble poems, love poems, I recalled, that’s what they were; pretentious, invasive, overly idealistic garbage, I had let my imagination go too far. She had read them. She knew. Going through them in my mind now, it was as if she was a character that came to life, I suppose that’s how I thought of her back then, my muse, my personal ornament? Was that what it was? Each sketch was incredibly detailed, every curve, every strand of hair, every crease within her skin. It was all recorded on the thin paper my mother had bought me while urging me to my calling.

In that moment, Yuki had stormed past me down the stairs and out into the wilderness, I followed her almost immediately. Her hair floated above her back as she ran with the brutal winter wind howling. My ears had felt like they were ready to fall off as I chased after her. I ran through the prickly bushes scraping my dry skin and through the soft berries staining my shirt. I remembered the slew of the emotions running through my fifteen-year-old self as he tried to make sense of them, desperate to detangle the knot that he had formed deep within himself, though the string was threatening to break before he managed to do so.

We had made it to the creek. It was one step behind her as she stood there catching her breath with clenched fists, their skin was red and damaged, her breath so visible in the winter air, her peachy lips so dry that they were slightly bloody, her cheeks bore a crimson hue from the unforgiving temperature. Neither of us was dressed for the winter weather that was assaulting us with all it’s might.

“Yuki please! Please dont run anymore” an awkward silence ensued, the tension had felt as thick and as dense as a cube of butter. Then, I blurted it out with my eyes shut, the inevitable “I-I like you!!” I shouted, raising my head to watch her reaction in all of my unashamed, ignorant and impatient anticipation.

She took one step backwards, inching towards the frozen river, her expression was blank “D-dont come any closer…leave me alone!” those words had made me feel a deep sense of shame for a split second, what did she mean?

“Yuki…what is it? Did I do something wrong? I-If…”

“So that’s how it was all along?” she asked despairingly “does it mean our friendship was never genuine…” she couldn’t look me in the eye. 

“What you mean? Of course it’s genuine!!” I said, completely clueless as to what she was feeling.

“Why did you do that” she asked, her hair framed her face and covered it in shadows as she kept her gaze glued to the ground.

“Do what…the sketches?” I asked, with all the audacious stupidity of a fifteen-year-old “T-they’re just sketches by the way, I meant to do you a lot of more justice than that! I promise I will make better art for you!” Within the endless abyss of his underdeveloped sense of self, all that child could think about was his own image, how he came across to her; his most valued possession.

Tears started dripping onto the snow as Yuki hung her head low “Is that all I am to you?!!” she shouted, clutching handfuls of her midi skirt’s fabric, her small fists shakily holding on, she sobbed. “I…thought we were true friends…” she managed.

The young boy only knew to be perplexed by her words. She suddenly turned around to start running again. “W-wait!!”

She trotted on, attempting to cross the frozen river, desperate to escape me. As I took my first step after her, a sudden cracking sound resonated across the earth. I noticed the ice starting to break below Yuki’s feet.

“Be careful!!” I screamed as loud as I could, she attempted to run faster before the ice completely gave way beneath her footsteps; but it was too late. Within a split second, half of her body was already submerged, before I could blink it, her arms and chest, then, the current carried her away as she tried to desperately stay afloat within the confines of a compound that was the source of all life on earth.

I couldn’t swim at the time, all I did was run along the river to ensure I didn’t lose sight of her. Every other sense was numb, only my vision stayed stead-fast as I ran, my eyes glued to what I could make out of her amongst the unforgiving glacial liquid, how could she bear it? Fear overwhelmed my mind and held it in shackles. She was gone, forever trapped in time within the year of her fifteenth birthday.

Her admirer, or rather spectator, couldn’t entertain the idea of permanently parting with her in his infantile mind. Somewhere, deep within, I had convinced myself that I was justified in my actions behind the excuse of being an artist; a barely sane, mentally-challenged elitist who thought his artistic creations were far above anything or anyone else. Far above any other individual sense of self or personal right, yes, my art was simply for the greater good.