Chapter 9:

Prologue 2: Forgotten Girl Part 1

Between Life and Death

As planned, May 16th was the day I had told my mom I would be inviting Shizuka and Yuuko to the house, using the guise of a "study group" as cover for my real intention. I wanted to try out what Claire had told us about making others able to see Yuuko. I told my mom about Yuuko—her appearance, her personality and that she was a niece of Mrs. Satou's who had come to live with. And when the time came for Yuuko and my mom to meet, to my surprise Yuuko greeted me with a smile, something that made her feel relieved. After all, it must feel good to know that others could be made to see you.Bookmark here

And so, after I had walked Yuuko home and said goodbye to Shizuka, I returned home. But before my hand had completely turned the doorknob, a chilly voice call from behind me.Bookmark here

"Good, you're still awake."Bookmark here

The unexpected voice made me jump and goosebumps formed all across my skin. If I hadn't recognized who the voice came from, my survival instinct would have kicked in and I would have run the door over in an effort to escape a potential mugging. Luckily, it was someone I knew. Though, if I wasn't a friend of theirs, I'd be faced with a much bigger problem compared to a mugger.Bookmark here

"I bet you scared me on purpose, Claire." Judging by her personality, it was well within what I imagined her doing. She might be a vampire but she behaved more like an annoying yokai. But I've got to give credit where credit is doing. I mean, I couldn’t even hear her footsteps.Bookmark here

"I couldn’t help it. It was just so dark and quiet; the atmosphere was perfect," she said with a laugh, her fangs poking out from beneath her lips.Bookmark here

"But more importantly, how the hell did you find me? I never gave you my address. So did you follow me?" I accused.Bookmark here

"Nope. I just followed your scent."Bookmark here

She what?!Bookmark here

"You don't need to get so bashful. You don't smell bad. In fact, you smell like honeysuckle."Bookmark here

Though it comforted me knowing I didn't stink, could she not do that? Like, how many people are okay with others smelling them. It's just weird. And as for the honeysuckle smell, I use my mom's shampoo. Bookmark here

"Never do that again," I demanded. Bookmark here

"Well, it's not like I can just turn off my sense of smell. It's just a lot more sensitive than a human's."Bookmark here

I didn't think of it in that way. I guess I really couldn't just ask her to stop using her senses. Even so. "Then don't track me down by my next. Just call me next time. Isn’t that why you gave me your phone number?"Bookmark here

"My cell phone's battery is dead, and this was urgent," she said matter of factly.Bookmark here

"Okay? What's so important that you had to track me down like a bloodhound?"Bookmark here

"It's something from around two months ago. Something involving a girl named Nina Suzuhara."Bookmark here

When I heard Claire utter that name, I let my keys fall to the ground. Bookmark here

×     ×     ×Bookmark here

The name Nina Suzuhara was one that almost everybody in our school knew. And given the event that is associated with that name, it's no wonder why the name became so infamous. I was never friends with Suzuhara—only ever speaking to her a few dozen times. We were merely acquainted due to being in the same class. Even so, after the incident, her name was one that couldn't be forgotten. One that should never be forgotten. And yet, it wasn't until Claire mentioned it that I remembered all about her.Bookmark here

To explain it better, it's probably best to go back to the day it all happened—a few days before my diagnosis. A day that could have possibly gone another route. And I felt I was partially to blame. Maybe that's one reason I suppressed the memory—to lock away the guilt. Bookmark here

Anyway, I remember it being toward the very end of the school year. Bookmark here

On Wednesday afternoon, the Suzuhara household had been waiting for the missing member of their family. Suzuhara's father always arrived home a bit after 5 pm, and so she and her mother often prepared dinner together as they waited for his arrival. An hour had passed from when he usually arrived home, and when the food got cold after another hour, they both began to worry. Bookmark here

For those two hours, all they did was wait, barely touching their with the television only serving as background noise. Then suddenly an obnoxious ringing coming from the kitchen counter cut through the stillness. Both of them jumped a bit in their chairs before Suzuhara's mother went to pick up the phone. Suzuhara couldn't have possibly known who was speaking on the other like, but that's exactly what made her worry. Bookmark here

When a few seconds had passed, she looked up from her plate and caught sight of her mother's hand shooting up to cover her mouth in an attempt to stifle a shriek, something was ultimately futile because her cries were still plain to hear. When Suzuhara saw her mother's eyes filled with tears, her mind raced through the most dreadful of speculations and jumped out of her chair. She walked toward her mother who could no longer control her sobbing and whose knees seemed ready to give out. It wasn't until she put the phone down that Suzuhara was able to see her mother's eyes head on—those pained, grieving eyes, as she told me later on. The kind of eyes only seen in a person who has lost everything. It was at that moment Suzuhara realized what had happened. Bookmark here

Her mother took a step forward and embraced her down. She held her cheek against hers, Suzuhara's own cheek being dampened by her mother's tears. Her mother hesitantly whispered into her ear what she had already deciphered and her eyes moistened as well. She couldn’t say how long they held each other like that but eventually, they had to come apart. Bookmark here

They arrived at the police station a half hour later where more tears were shed as the both of them made the confirmation. When they returned back, they wanted nothing more than to escape their grief. And so, as the day ended, arm in arm they let their exhaustion and tears carry them to sleep.Bookmark here

The funeral was held the following Saturday. Suzuhara's mother was friends with Shizuka's family, so they ended up attending. Shizuka also asked me to come since we were in the same class as Suzuhara. From what I can remember, the two of us were the only ones from her class there other than her best friend. That's not to say the people in our class were insensitive. It was just a small funeral consisting of family and friends, like many others.Bookmark here

The next day, a Sunday, I saw Suzuhara sitting on a bench in the park. We were near the outskirts of town, a quiet neighborhood. As far as I knew, this was a park mostly used by mothers when their children want to go out and play. But Suzuhara chose the bench furthest away from the play area and underneath a tree's shadow. Bookmark here

I was initially planning on walking by without attracting attention, but when we made eye contact, I felt like I needed to at least check up on her. I didn't particularly think she should be left alone, so I sat with her on the bench for a while. Bookmark here

That was when she told me about her father's cause of death, something didn't think of asking Shizuka while we were at the funeral. Suzuhara also told me how her mother was doing, that she had fallen into a depression, something that's to be expected when a loved one dies. She slept longer than usual, hardly ate, and hardly spoke. She spent the majority of the day in her room sometimes crying and sometimes sitting in silence. Suzuhara felt just like her mother did, but she didn’t feel like she could approach her. Sometimes she stood by her bedroom door and watched her as she lay still in bed. As much as she wanted to hug her mother, Suzuhara couldn't help but feel like she wanted to be left alone. And so, not being able to remain in a house where her mother had closed herself off as well as being full of memories of her father, Suzuhara ended up wandering into the park.Bookmark here

All I told her then was that now that her father was gone, it was more important than ever that she and her mother stayed together. I think I remember her at least seeming a bit happier after I said that. And with that, we both went our separate ways.Bookmark here

The next day, a Monday, Suzuhara didn’t show up to school. It was understandable given what had happened to her family. But even so, her friends could get a hold of her through her phone or social media. Regardless, it wasn’t something that people pondered on. On Tuesday, the same thing happened and Suzuhara was nowhere to be found. Chatter about how this must be a hard time for her became a common topic in the classroom between the people who knew her. Still, even though her friends couldn’t manage to get a response from her, no one thought much of it.Bookmark here

It wasn’t until Wednesday that we had received an update on the situation. Two of Suzuhara’s friends visited her home to see how she was handling the situation. They knocked and waited at the door for several minutes before Suzuhara’s mother greeted them in a miserable state. That’s when they found out that Nina Suzuhara had been missing ever since Sunday.Bookmark here

The moment I heard that in class the next day, I instantly got chills. Not because I was especially close to her, but because if she had disappeared on Sunday, that meant that I was possibly the last person to have seen her. From what I could put together, Suzuhara left her home without telling her mother. It wasn’t until around 8 pm that her mother realized that she was gone, but Suzuhara never came back. She filed a missing person’s report soon afterward.Bookmark here

I don’t think anyone could pay attention in class that day. In my case, it was all I could think about seeing as I saw Suzuhara the day she disappeared. So the entire time I was in class, all I could think about was what to do with that information. In the end, I got Suzuhara’s address from Shizuka and headed there after school. When I told Mrs. Suzuhara that I could have been the last person to have seen her daughter, she walked with me to the police precinct where I shared my information. Bookmark here

Going off of the direction Suzuhara would have walked in, the police were able to find two CCTV recordings featuring her. The first video just showed her walking down the street while the second one held the answer to Suzuhara's disappearance. Just barely visible, the video showed two men dragging her into a car and driving away. It was a hard thing to see, and even more so for Mrs. Suzuhara who had no one that could help ease her pain. Bookmark here

With a new lead, the police put more resources into the search for Suzuhara. It continued into the next week. There were missing person’s flyers on every street corner, on some convenience store window, the story even reached the local with ads placed on the newspaper. I kept pretty up to date on the whole situation until the Wednesday of the week next came around and I suddenly passed out in the living room. Bookmark here

I was taken to the hospital where they diagnosed me with a terminal blood disease, one with no pain and relatively few symptoms. A merciful disease is what the doctor called, one which had a 98% mortality rate amongst the 256 known cases. There was no guaranteed recovery, no guaranteed treatment, just a life expectancy of around eight months. Bookmark here

Around that time I don't think I paid much attention to anything. Be told that you die soon tends to do that sort of thing. I didn’t pay attention in class, and so I doubt I kept myself updated on Suzuhara's situation. I just remember being in a daze, and Suzuhara completely left my mind. But maybe that was when the search for Suzuhara ended because I haven't heard anything about it since those weeks. Bookmark here

For all I knew, Suzuhara could have been declared dead. Bookmark here

×     ×     ×Bookmark here

"So you’re saying that Suzuhara is still alive?!" Bookmark here

"I can't be certain until I confirm it but there is a high probability."Bookmark here

Claire and I were now in my room since she told me it would be better if we continued the conversation in here. I didn't question her much but when I asked how she planned to get into my room without noticing her, Claire just told me to open my window when I reached my room. When I did, she leaped into my room—which is on the second floor, mind you—in a single bound. Sometimes I just forget she's a vampire. Bookmark here

"Is that what has been keeping you busy all this time?" Bookmark here

"Yeah. I've been searching through every piece of information trying to figure out what had happened to her."Bookmark here

"And guessing you found her."Bookmark here

"It's more accurate to say that I found out where she was taken. As to whether she's alive or dead...I can't really give you an answer."Bookmark here

I still remember when I first learned of Suzuhara's disappearance. I was at my desk and the conversation we had at the park came to mind. I remember balling my fist because I was certain I had been the last one to see. I spent the rest of that day thinking that I should have walked her home, even if the sun had still been out that day. Bookmark here

Just like then, all I could feel now was guilt.Bookmark here

"Then let's go look for her," I told Claire as I locked eyes with her. Bookmark here

"Sorry, but you can't."Bookmark here

"And why not?!" I demanded, taking one step forward. If I had spoken any louder, my parents would have gotten suspicious. I even bit my lip so hard that it started to bleed. Bookmark here

"We would be going to a place even I would be wary of. I wouldn't want to be responsible for your death."Bookmark here

"You know, you told me once that you didn’t care much for humans. What now? You seem to have gotten soft on me. First Suzuhara and now me. Don't tell you going to start caring for us?"Bookmark here

"When I said that, I meant that I didn't care what humans did with their lives. This is different."Bookmark here

"How so?"Bookmark here

"If something were to happen to you my watch, I would have then become responsible for ruining the lives of two people."Bookmark here

Two people? If the second is referring to me, then was the first Suzuhara? If so, in what way did Claire ruin her life?Bookmark here

"Regardless, just because you feel guilty doesn't mean you can just throw away your life," Claire said before I could ask any questions.Bookmark here

"Does it matter?! I won't have a life in eight m—!"Bookmark here

But before I could finish, Claire dashed toward me, put her finger to my lips, and shh'd me just as I was starting to hear footsteps approaching my bedroom door. Bookmark here

"Yuuta? Who are you talking to?" Even though I warned myself beforehand, I ended up talking too loudly and my mom overheard. Bookmark here

"No one. I'm just thinking out loud." I tried to come up with an answer quickly so that she wouldn't feel the need to open my door. "I'll be going to sleep soon."Bookmark here

"Okay. Then I won't disturb you. Goodnight." Bookmark here

With that, her footsteps faded away. And after waiting in silence for a few seconds, Claire removed her finger from my lips and stepped back. Bookmark here

Then, with a concerned gaze, she asked "Are you sure? I can't guarantee your safety."Bookmark here

"As long as we can save Suzuhara." Bookmark here

It was a simple decision. Something I felt I had to do. Bookmark here

Claire looked me in the eyes as if she were studying me, then waved her index finger in the air. It was the same finger she had brought to my lips but it was now smeared with a bit of blood. Bookmark here

"I came here knowing the outcome more or less. If that's your decision, so be it."Bookmark here

And with a coquettish grin, she brought her finger to her mouth, her fangs just barely visible from behind her rose-tinged lips, and licked it clean. Bookmark here

"It tastes bitter, just like coffee."Bookmark here

Her words didn't leave my mind for the rest of the night.Bookmark here

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