My eyes strained as the light filtered through the room. My body ached, and my limbs felt heavy. I turned my head, letting the cool tile floor press against my cheek. I noticed someone kneeling beside me.
“Good morning.” A strange woman greeted me. “How are you feeling?”
I propped myself up on my elbows. Pain spread throughout my skull. I pressed the bridge of my nose with my forefinger and thumb, hoping to alleviate the pain. I tried my best to get a good look at the woman in front of me, but I couldn’t make out any of her facial features. Her figure is a silhouetted against the sun’s rays, attempting to focus on her only worsens my pain.
“I’m fine. Where am I?”
“You’re in District 60. You look like you took quite a hit on the head. Are you sure you’re all right?”
I felt the top of my head. My fingers skimmed over a small lump on my head. I winced as the slightest touch spreads pain across the top of my skull.
What the hell?
“Yes, I’m positive.” I lied. “ Where is District 60? What country are we in?”
“Oh my,” the woman mumbled as she stood up from beside me. “You’re new around here then. That would explain things.”
The woman stood up, and made her way over to the kitchen. A rustic-looking kitchen. The counters and the table were made purely of wood. She walked to the ice box, grabbed a metal kettle, then walked over to the box stove. She poured the water inside the container into the kettle. She set the kettle on the stove, twisted one of the knobs on its side. A flame sparked underneath it.
“Now, if I may ask. What is your name?”
“My name is Kirie.” That seemed to be the only thing I remembered at the time. Everything else was a blank. If I tried to conjure up the memories, it only made the pain in my head spread further across my skull.
“Hello, Kirie. My name is Vera. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
The kettle behind her howled. She took two cups from a cupboard above her, and poured the hot water from the kettle into them. She placed a tea bag into each before carefully walking it over into the living area.
“This may be a little hard to swallow,” she said as she set the cups down on the hand crafted wooden table. She pushed one of them towards me on the other side.
She sat down on a tattered old couch. The blue cushions were lumpy, and there were tears on the side, as if a cat used it as a scratching post. I crawled over to the opposite side of the table, waiting for her to further explain.
I studied the room around her. It was bland. A single window illuminated the small room. A fireplace sat parallel from the couch, with a flame that was barely able to heat the space in front of it.
“How should I put this?”
She blew the steam away from her tea as she sipped at it.
It was easier to see now that the light was out of Vera’s view. She had blonde hair, pinned up into a white ribbon, with a couple loose strands hanging at the side of her head. She wore a grey dress, with stains along the skirt and sleeves frayed at the ends. Her eyes were brown, and soft, like the eyes of a caring mother.
She set the cup down, and took in a deep breath. “Kirie, just like the rest of us here in the Districts, you have passed on from your previous life.”
I sat there, dumbfounded. “You’re saying, I’m dead?” My lips curled. A laugh exploded from my lips.
It’s a ridiculous thought. I’m dead? Yeah right.
Vera nodded her head.
“Then where’s the giant pearly gates? Where’s the roads made of gold? And, more importantly, where are our wings?” I laughed harder the more I heard myself talk.
“It’s true. It’s not like the Heaven you read about in the Bible. The Districts are where souls go once they die, and we live our lives like we would on Earth,” she explained. “I saw you unconscious out on the streets and brought you back home to make sure you will be alright.”
The serious look in Vera’s eyes told me that what she was saying wasn't a joke.
I sat there as silence filled the room, and panic filled my throat.
I really died. How could this have happened?
“Well, Kirie, since you don’t have a place to stay, you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you like.” She was very polite, I appreciated her hospitality.
“Thank you.” I stood up slowly, stretching. I needed to get away and be by myself for a little while, to clear my head.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need some fresh air.”
“Why don’t you change out of those clothes first, those are filthy. I have some old clothes that might fit you.”
Vera collected our cups, and placed them in the sink. She disappeared into one of the rooms on the right, and came back out moments later with a small stack of clean clothes.
I walked down the short hall, turning into the bathroom on the right. It was a small bathroom, not much more than a toilet, and a bathtub. Not much more elbow room than that.
I changed out of my old, dirty clothes, and wiped the dirt that clung to my cold skin. I ran my fingers all over my body. Every inch is ice cold. It was a new feeling, one I wasn't too fond of adjusting to. I slipped on a yellow tank top, and threw on a pair of khaki shorts.
The light blinded me as I took my first step outside. To my surprise, my feet touched a the cool earth. I oddly expected to step on pavement. My eyes adjusted to the brightness outside. I watched two children across the dirt path play tag. I smiled, but it quickly disappeared once I remembered that everyone in the District is dead. That thought made it hard to look at the children without picturing how they might have died. My body shuddered.
I tried my hardest to remember what happened before I appeared here. All I could remember is feeling someone's hands on me. They were warm, and the warmth spread through me body as I was enveloped in darkness. After that, I appeared in front of Vera.
“Hey, you must be new here,” said a voice from behind.
I jumped in my seat, and turned my head to a girl with long black curls. One hand rested on her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun, while the other hand held onto a basket. I nodded in her direction, and returned my gaze to the children playing across the way.
“Well hey there! Welcome to District 60!”
I smiled her way, but said nothing more.
“My name’s Mary.” She sat down beside me, dropping the basket in front of her and held out her hand. She wasn't going to go away, so the only option was to give in. I shook her hand.
“Yep. Never heard that name ’round here before. So, what brings you to the Districts? Someone kill ya? or ya kill yourself?”
She was very direct about the question, which threw me off.
“Uh, I’m not sure.”
“Really? That’s weird,” Mary said.
Weirder than dying and just ending up here?
“What do you mean?”
“Well, everyone who comes to the Districts knows how they died. Like me, I fell off’a cliff and busted my head.”
I found it weird how she talked about how she had died so calmly. It’s as if she just said, it’s a warm day out.
“Everyone here knows how they died?” I asked.
“Yep! See them little kids over there playin’ tag? They died in a house fire when they was three.” The more she talked, the more I felt uneasy being around her, and everyone else for that matter.
She finally stood up, and picked the basket back up.
“Hey, why don’t you come with me to the market? The people I live with gave me money to go get groceries. I can tell you all about this District on the way.” Before I could answer, Mary grabbed my wrist, and pulled me forward.
Mary kept going on and on about how everyone knows how they have died. When she wasn't talking about that, she questioned me about everything and anything. I sighed, and tried to answer everything I knew to the best of my abilities.
The market was full of stands with merchants selling different things. One side of the market, had fruits, vegetables and other foods for sale, while the other side sold miscellaneous items.
I walked up and down the aisles, browsing everything that was set out. Countless merchants were shouting, trying to get my attention to make me a deal. It was hard for me to focus on browsing. All that wandered about in my mind is the fact that I was dead, and that everyone else in the Districts were dead, and they were aware of that.
I came up to a small stand. Not much was there to sell, mostly handmade jewelry. A small basket rested in the middle of the stand. A necklace sat inside of it, along with a couple other small trinkets. It was a simple necklace. Not much more than a black string with a metal symbol tied to it. But for some reason it caught my eye.
“Hey Kirie, watch’ya lookin’ at?” Mary asked, startling me once again.
“Nothing, just looking around,”
“Well, I got all the things I needed to get, and I have a little extra money. Why don’t ya pick somethin’ out for yourself?”
“That’s really nice, but I couldn’t let you do that.”
“I won’t take no for an answer, get it!”
She didn't give me the chance to protest, pulling out a crumpled dollar and change out from her pocket. The woman behind the stand allowed me to pick out any piece of jewelry from the stand. Mary motioned for me to take something. I insisted that I didn't need it, but Mary refused, making me take the necklace.
I held it in my hands for a moment, looking at the symbol. Taking a closer look at it, it seemed familiar to me. I didn't know why, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen it before.
My head felt heavy, and a pressure started to settle on the sides of my skull. It felt like someone had their hands on my head, and using all of their strength to squeeze it. A dizziness also started to flush over me. A fuzzy darkness crept in from the corner of my eyes. All sounds drown out around me, and I slowly felt like I was losing consciousness.
“Here, I want you to have this,” a man said, handing over a small red box with a white, sparkled ribbon sitting on top.
“Dad, you don’t have to get me anything,” The girl said, taking the box.
“Of course I do! Next month my baby girl is going off to college! This will be the last birthday I can have with my little girl for a while. Now go ahead, open it!”
He sat there in anticipation, waiting for his daughter to open the present.
The girl looked down at it, and admired the wrapped package for a moment. She smiled at how pretty her father made the present look. She carefully opened the box, making sure not to mess up the ribbon on top. She pulled out a necklace, with a symbol hanging from the string. She looked back at the man, her face lit up with happiness. Her father smiled back at her.
“That symbol means ‘serenity’ in Japanese,” he said. “I saw it at the store the other day and thought you’d like it.”
The father took the necklace from her, and hung it around her neck. He lightly brushed her hair to the side, as he clipped the necklace chain together. She turned around, moving her hair out of the way. The necklace sat on her chest, with the Japanese kanji faced out.
“You look beautiful.” He smiled, proud of the effort he put into the gift.
She embraced him in a long hug, muttering the words ‘I love you’ into his shoulder.
The sound of the merchants shouting deals, and other voices filtered back into my ears. The pain that enveloped my head subsided. I began to regain my vision, as the darkness slithered out of my eyes. Mary’s voice rang in my ears.
“Hello, Earth to Kirie!” she shouted.
“Oh, sorry. I zoned out a little bit,” I said, holding my hand to my head.
“More than a little, we weren’t even in the same universe for a moment there. You alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I just got a little distracted.”
“Well, alright then. Let’s go, I’ve got everythin’ I need.”
We walked out of the market center, I offered to carry the bags that didn't fit inside the basket. It was the least I could do in exchange for the necklace. I didn't have any money.
The entire way back all Mary talked about was the District, but I wasn't listening at all. I couldn’t care less. My concern was mostly around what I had just seen when I was unconscious. Was I even unconscious?
It wasn't just me disconnecting from reality I found alarming, I didn't understand what, or why I saw what I did while I was disconnected. The man with the necklace seemed familiar to me, but it was hard to put a finger on who exactly he is. I touched the necklace that hangs on my chest, I realized that it was the exact one that I had just seen my vision. Even more questions flooded my mind.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn't realize that Mary stopped to talk to a couple of kids. She grabbed my arm, and pulled me close.
“This is Kirie. She’s new to the District. Kirie, this is Noah and Anna.”
“Hi,” Noah said shyly.
He looked to be about twelve. His hair was black, and very disheveled . He was a skinny boy, a little too skinny. His rib cage showed every time he took in a breath. He didn't wear a shirt, only a pair of black shorts.
A little girl hid behind him. She looked no more than five years old.
“This is my sister, Anna.” He waved his hand in the direction of the little girl.
The girl slowly came out from behind the boy. She wore a little blue dress with a few stains scattered about. Small rips and tears lied around the skirt of her dress from playing too rough. Her hair was red, and perfectly matched her olive toned skin. A blue bow was clipped to the side of her head to match her dress. She kept her eyes on the ground as she waved to me.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“So, you’re new here?” Noah asked.
“Yeah, Mary gave me a tour through the market area.”
“Maybe tomorrow all of us can give you a tour through the whole district.”
“Yeah! That sounds like fun! Don’t ya think, Kirie?” Mary exclaimed.
I gave a simple nod. Might as well get to know the area, since I’ll be here a while.
“We’ll see you guys tomorrow then! See ya!” Noah waved as he walked away with Anna.
They walked the rest of the way home, Mary talked the entire way, as usual. I learned more about her than I wanted. I learned about Mary’s favorite foods, what she liked to do for fun, and her District crushes.
I also learned she lived with two other people. It used to be three, but one was murdered by demons. She then mentioned that just outside of each district was where the demons liked to lurk. They feed on the souls that wandered outside of the boundaries, and then retreat back to Hell until their next feeding. They tend to stay out of the District though, and they stay away from groups of people bigger than two.
It made my skin crawl knowing how close the walls are to Hell, and that demons could come to this world whenever they please. With no protection, we were all like sitting ducks.
We reached Mary’s house, just in time. The sun sank in the sky, and the moon began to rise. I realized Mary’s house was directly behind mine. I helped Mary unpack the food she had bought at the market, then waved her goodbye.
I walked back into the house. A much needed rest awaits me.
Vera had dinner ready for me when I walked in the door. I thanked her for the food as Vera asked about my day. I explained I had met a friend in the District and that she had bought a necklace for me.
“Well, isn’t that a sweet thing to do. It’s nice that you’ve already made friends in the Disrtict, but it’s getting late. It’s nice to see you’re adjusting to life here so quickly,” Vera said, as she finished up washing dishes.
I helped put the dishes away in the cupboard. Vera was nice enough to set out clothes for me to sleep in. I thanked Vera for the fresh clothes, and got in bed. I took off the necklace from around my neck, and set it on the nightstand beside the bed.
All night long I kept tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. I couldn't keep the thoughts of everything that happened today out of my mind. Between me ending up here, to the vision I had at the market. I turned over to the night stand, and held up the necklace.
“Just like the one in the vision,” I mumbled.
I held the necklace to my chest. I felt like there was a connection between the necklace, and the vision I had, but I couldn't figure out what exactly.
She felt pressure push on her from all sides. She pushed up with her arms and legs, but she couldn't get any leverage.
The more she struggled, the lower she sank. Her lungs burned for air. She yearned for oxygen. She gave in, and opened her mouth to breathe. Cold water invaded her lungs. She tried to fight and swim to the surface, but she had no more energy left.
Her chest ached, and her head pounded. It felt as if something burst within her chest. Bubbles escaped her mouth, and she let out the last bit of air in her. Her vision started to fade, until there was nothing.