Photo by gak
Hideaki was waiting at a bridge over a small brook. He was just about the same as before, with his geeky glasses and tousled hair, except his clothes looked crisper and he was wearing a red blazer and dark khakis. Trying to look official I guess? When we approached he looked up with surprise. Oh yeah. I sort’ve forgot to mention to him that I was bringing my posse of weirdos.
“Hi,” I said as I approached. My tone was subdued and this seemed to catch his attention too. “Sorry. I hope it was okay to bring my…my friends.” The last word felt like cotton in my mouth.
“You all right?” he asked, looking at me with concern.
“M’fine,” I mumbled, stepping back to allow better view of the others. I introduced each of the girls before turning to Kento. “And this is my half-brother, Kento.” I stepped closer to Hideaki and said under my breath. “He’s like me.”
Hideaki’s eyes widened as he looked at Kento. “You mean–?”
“Yes,” I said, with eyes squeezed shut. “I’d like to change our agreement. Instead of helping me you’ll be…you’ll be helping Kento. Okay?”
“Helping me with what?” Kento asked looking between us sharply.
Hideaki looked at me next, but in his surprise there was a hard edge to his eyes. “You haven’t told him?”
“I just found out, okay!?” I snapped. I huffed and gestured at him. “Look, you said this was for your project or whatever. Let’s just get that over with!”
“Help me with what?” Kento railed.
I gripped his shoulder. “I’ll explain later!”
“What is it exactly you intend to do, anyway?” Kiyomi butt in.
I glared at her. But before I could snap something out, Hideaki answered, “Well… I imagine Amaya told you an idea of what we’re studying? Today we’re just going to get some base readings and ask some questions to get an idea of her background.”
“What do you hope to use this study for?” Usagi asked next.
Hideaki pointed at the sky. “To trace and track the effects of energies we cannot see. Amaya is like a conduit, and through her we want to see what information we can gather.”
“Somehow I think we got the dummy version…” Carlin muttered in English.
When no more questions came, Hideaki pursed his lips. “It’s nice to meet you all. If you’ll just follow me this way?” he gestured for us to follow him. He took us through the park up toward the library, where we entered. Inside, he next led us to one of the conference rooms where another man sat with what looked like a lie detector machine. Kento tugged at my sleeve.
“Amaya,” he whined. “I thought we were going to play in the park?”
“Later, Kento. This is important,” I returned tiredly.
He pouted. I felt bad, but this really was important. He was a smart kid. Maybe he’d see that and understand?
There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so Kento had to sit in Carlin’s lap while Kiyomi stood like some sort of government spook by the door. Hideaki directed me into the seat near the guy with the machine. This other person was meticulously groomed to the point of looking severe, with light beige khakis and a tucked in green and blue plaid shirt. He had hard eyes and a thin mouth and smelled like pen ink.
“This is Watanabe, Mitsuo,” Hideaki said over me. “He’ll be checking your readings while I ask some basic questions.” Then he leaned down and murmured. “You sure you want everyone here to listen in?”
“Just what are you planning on asking me?” I returned, giving him a suspicious look.
But the man held up his hands and took his seat across from me.
Mitsuo shook my hand, turning my attention onto him. “Nice to meet you, Alastor-san. If you’ll forgive me…”
Hideaki picked up a clipboard from the table and watched as Mitsuo started hooking me up to the machine. I started to feel more and more like a proper guinea pig.
When Mitsuo finished his work with me, he flipped some switches on the machine and it came on, whirring. He then pulled some small black box from under the table and plugged a huge set of headphones into it, which he then put on. After fiddling with some knobs on the box, he turned to Hideaki and gave a thumbs up.
Clearing his throat, Hideaki started. “Amaya, how old are you?”
“Sixteen,” I replied, still staring at Mitsuo’s machines. They looked like stuff out of a fifties sci-fi flick.
“And when is your birthday?”
I blinked at Hideaki. He was scribbling on his clipboard. “November fifth.”
“Later I’ll need the exact time of your birth. It should say on your birth certificate. Can you get that for me?”
Hideaki smiled. “Great. Okay, for now, where were you born?”
“Here in Tokyo.”
“Were your parents together at the time?”
Hideaki repeated the question, and I stared at him. Was this really necessary?
“…They were together when I was born,” I mumbled.
He wrote this down. Next he asked, “When did you move to America?”
And on and on it went. He kept asking me weird things. Like what my favorite color was, when I first had a piece of chocolate, if I preferred cats to dogs. Then he asked the hard questions. Had I ever been bullied? Did I have run-ins with the law?
Had I ever been sexually abused?
It was about this time that everyone quietly excused themselves. Kiyomi and Usagi went first, taking Kento with them. Carlin went next. Then Haruko, though she lingered, one hand on the doorknob, her eyes searching for mine. I could feel her question in the air. Was it better for her to leave? Or stay?
I glared at my shoes, refusing to meet her gaze. I heard the door open and close. The sound of the door hinges squeaking sounded almost apologetic. I felt empty when I answered the rest of Hideaki’s questions.
When we were done, Mitsuo helped me to remove all the wires from his machine. Hideaki had a somber look on his face. While he kept up the clinical tone to his questions, it was clear in his face that some of my answers had been hard to hear.
“I know that wasn’t easy,” he said. “I appreciate you following through on this. It really means a lot.”
“Just help my brother,” I said stonily.
He gave a terse nod. “Right.”
He looked at Mitsuo. “I’m going to step out for a moment. It’s important.”
Mitsuo, man of few words, gave the slightest jerk of his head to indicate he’d heard Hideaki at all. Hideaki turned to me and gestured at the door.
“Please wait in the library. I’m going outside to find a quiet spot to commune,” he said.
I stood to leave, but Hideaki stopped me with a hand.
“Hold on, Amaya. I want you to understand that this may not work. In fact, even if we think we may have a lead, it could turn out to be a red herring. Are you prepared for that?”
I gave a weak shrug. “What choice do I have?”
He sighed and followed me out of the conference room. “I don’t know how long this will take. In the meantime, please wait inside. Your presence could interfere with my efforts.”
I watched him leave with a knot in my gut. What I didn’t say to Hideaki was this had to work. I didn’t know what else to do, otherwise. Spirits were possessing my little brother and I needed to protect him, fast.
Of course, as soon as Hideaki was out of sight, I heard a familiar chirpy voice in my head.
I groaned, burying my face in my hands.
Kishi, not now. PLEASE.
[I just wanted to make sure you didn’t forget our little deal! I found your friend, didn’t I?]
I know, Kishi. I know! But this isn’t as cut and dry, y’know? Your son is really angry with you! This is going to take time!
[Well find a way to make it work! If you think of double-crossing me–]
I won’t all right!? Get off my back!
[Geez, don’t be so rude! And to think I came all this way to tell you more about your little friend.]
Hayase…? What is it? Is she okay!?
[Oh she’s fine! She’s going to be executed tomorrow. Just thought you should know. Bye, girly! Remember our deal!]
My heart stilled in my chest and my legs felt weak. I went to lean on the door for support and stared off into space.
I almost envied Hideaki his ability to see spirits at will. It was getting too frustrating having them come and go like this, especially when I needed to speak with them.
A throat cleared behind me, and I turned to see Haruko giving me a cautious look of concern.
“Amaya?” she said, taking a tentative step toward me. “You look worried. Will Hideaki be able to help Kento-chan?”
“He’s outside right now, trying to see if he can commune with the local spirits,” I mumbled. I gave Haruko a pained look. “You know how I was worried about Hayase?”
“You mean your ghost friend?”
“Yeah. She’s…she’s going to be executed tomorrow.”
Haruko blinked at me. I stared back at her, waiting for this to sink in. When it was clear it wasn’t I grabbed her by the arm and hissed. “Haruko, did you hear me? Hayase is going to be executed! All because she helped us!”
She blushed and said carefully. “Amaya, I heard you. But… Isn’t Hayase a ghost? She’s already dead! How can she be executed?”
I opened my mouth before realizing I had nothing lined up to say.
Haruko stepped a little closer, her other hand slipping over mine. “And how did you learn this, anyway? Did Hideaki tell you?”
“N-no… Kishi did. Hideaki’s mom.”
Haruko’s eyebrows went high. “You mean the fallen kitsune?”
I bristled and pulled my hand away from her. “Look I know how it sounds, but Kishi was the one who took me to see Hayase! Right now, an old spirit by the name of Omoikane has her, and I’ve got to—” I broke off when I saw the look on Haruko’s face.
She had visibly paled.
“Haruko?” I gently shook her shoulder. “Hey! What is it?”
“Amaya, d-did you say O-Omoikane?”
“Yeah! I saw him when Kishi took me to see Hayase in the spirit world!”
Haruko literally swooned. I had to grab her to keep her from falling to the floor. “Haruko!?”
“Amaya,” she said breathlessly. “Do you not know who Omoikane is??”
When I shrugged helplessly, Haruko gave me a pained look. “Moh! Ama-chan you’re hopeless!”
“Haruko, will you just tell me what’s going on already?”
She closed her eyes as if pained by how ignorant I was. “In the Shinto faith, Omoikane is a god, Amaya! In fact, he’s the god of wisdom! If what you’re saying is true, then Hayase may be as good as doomed…and with good reason!”