Chapter 13 An Oblique Passing
The neighboring homes of Eiichi's street steadily eased themselves beyond the sides of his peripheral vision as he whipped forward at a steady jog, tote bag in hand. Thunderheads drifted close to the horizon in the distance, and the spring afternoon sun glared down through cool breezes. It had been a great Saturday.
Yesterday, everyone had met on the roof for lunch where Kotonoha proposed plans for a dinner party that weekend. Roka, Chie and Yuuki were all present and would be in attendance as well for the dinner, as shown by their unanimous decision in favor of the idea. Eiichi thought it was a little early to be scheduling a party so close to finals week, but Kotonoha assured him it would be a menial gathering in honor of their friends and that the real events wouldn't take place until after graduation.
The party would be held at Eiichi and Torio's house, and Torio had been ecstatic, hearing the news that Chie would be there. Kotonoha had been well aware this party would not be equivalent to the posh get-togethers she was accustomed to, but she still wanted to prepare an elegant enough meal for their special guests. She looked forward to it being practice in her culinary efforts and skills as a hostess.
It had been planned for this evening at six. However, after classes let out, he and Kotonoha met up and she had proposed a new route she discovered to Eiichi's house that she figured might be faster. He had severe doubts about this, and boasted that he knew all the routes in and out of his neighborhood like the back of his hand. This of course, sparked a spirit of competition between the two and they agreed on a race. Eiichi would take his original route while Kotonoha would take her proposed route.
Eiichi took three victorious clomps up to his front door, panting and sweating a little under his coat. He inserted the key to his door, confident Kotonoha would be knocking in another ten minutes and eating her words.
He shut the door behind him and could smell something cooking as well as hear someone busy in the kitchen.
"I win!" Kotonoha announced with simplicity.
"What the…" Eiichi kicked his shoes off and called back, "With time to spare apparently," he stepped into the living room and in front of the overlook.
There she was, apron over her uniform, kitchen knife in hand and not a visible note of exhaustion, while he stood panting with hands in his pockets.
"Well fuck me sideways…"
"Don't give me any ideas," seeing his state, she waved the knife, "Cheaters never prosper. A casual walk was the agreement."
"I just wanted to see how fast 'fast' really was. Apparently fast enough."
"Mhm, maybe you should use that ability of yours less and use your brain more. I'll show you the route tomorrow. Well Hun, as we agreed, the loser has to do whatever the winner wishes."
Damn, and he had been really looking forward to the cat ears, collar and maid outfit combo.
"Alright, so what do I owe you?" he shrugged.
Kotonoha was possibly the nicest girl that Eiichi ever had the pleasure of knowing, but in matters like this, she could be ruthless.
"Hmm…" she placed the tip of the blade close to her lips and tapped it a few times, giving him a once over, "Next time you have to wear ears…and you're taking me to a specialty shop, so you get to pick what kind…"
Okay, not so bad.
"…my idea…" he grumbled.
"I'm sorry sweetie, did you say something?"
"I said that was my idea…" with a defeated rolling of the eyes.
"Okay then, with a collar and leash…you must call me 'Master Koto', and…" she sighed, whimsically looking at the ceiling, "and because you cheated, I have something in mind that involves leather restraints, a blindfold, and a few special items you don't need to know about…" she rested the knife against her deviant, smiling lips.
"You're gonna' wear me out, aren't you…" allowing some of that fear to show.
"Mhm…" she nodded.
He took a breath, "Well…a bet's a bet. Anything for you, 'Master'…"
Her shoulders scrunched as she blushed and smiled at this.
Eiichi stepped forward, on his way into the kitchen to get a beer.
"Dear, would you turn the heat down to five on that burner for me?" she motioned with her head to the stove.
"Yes Master," he poked and she let out a poorly concealed giggle.
He stepped around the counter.
She must have been burning the candle at both ends with her little operation, there was something in the oven besides the fish she was cutting up, and it smelled great; a very warm, savory smell, but he couldn't pick out if it was beef or pork. She must have a multi course meal in mind.
On the stove there was a skillet on the front, right burner with a thin layer of oil in it, and next to the stove, minced herbs with sliced caps and onions. He proceeded with turning the dial.
"You're asking me to help you?" feeling inapt at this and peering at the back of her head.
Not only that, when she had called him 'hun', he thought of it as a minor addition to his punishment for cheating. Just an annoying sprinkle of frowardness he wasn't use to from her, but the 'dear' sounded really out of place. Maybe she was still rubbing it in, though it sounded more genuine than he would have liked.
"Well, I thought maybe it would be time for you to help out a little, until Torio gets home. This is going to be a big dinner anyways, so I want to make sure everything comes together nicely," she proceeded with working on the fish.
Eiichi leaned over the waste basket. It must have been the really fresh kind, like just caught that day, she was still busy with the gutting and filleting. It looked like she had been cutting beef or something as well, there was a rather colorful mix in there.
"Roka and Yuuki called earlier. They were really concerned with how to dress. I suppose I made it sound more elegant than I mean to."
"That's alright…" he smoothed up behind her, and with his hands on her shoulders, he closed his eyes and nuzzled his head next to hers.
She returned with a raising of the shoulder, nuzzling back.
He squeezed and whispered, "You just can't help it, Master…"
She giggled as he planted a kiss on her cheek, and then he was off to the fridge to grab his beer.
"I assured them, there's no need for fuss, we're all friends and it's really more casual. Oh yeah, sweetheart, while you're in there, could you check if we have chives?"
Okay, this had to stop sometime, it was getting to be a turnoff. Why couldn't they just stick with the originals? She was Koto and he was…whatever she wanted to call him. Anything but these passé, cheesy little pet names. Maybe it was some quirky phase she was going through, but if not, he would have to mention that he wasn't crazy about it, before he started getting used to it. Maybe it would hurt her feelings, and he might have to dote on her for a while, but she'd understand.
He recovered from leaning on the fridge handle and gave it a tug.
Gaping, fish like eyes stared back at him from a vacant face behind saran wrap. A disjointed mouth parted with thick trickling of dry blood over purple lips and ashen skin. The undeserving platform of its rest was one of Torio's dinner plates with vine decals on the rims, a still pool of blood covering its base. The saran wrap stretched over the crown of black hair, all the way down to where it had been tucked under the edges.
He thought he remembered seeing something like this in a movie, and the head would start talking in an giddy, out of place tone right about now, 'Hey there Kuzoka! Katsura! Wonder where Sekai is. Probably feeling a little light headed and couldn't make it. Oh well, looks like the gang's all here! Hey, Katsura's cooking sure has improved, something smells good!'
Thankfully it didn't. He fought to control his shallow breathing, and somehow managed to find his faltered bearings.
"Honeybun, you know better than to leave the fridge door open."
He whipped around.
Kotonoha was still at the counter, knife in hand and steadily at work. How could he have missed it before? There was more blood than normal for working with fish bought from the market. It was coated and dried on her hands, on the apron and the blade.
He lowered his vision. What he thought had been fish, was a forearm, cut and disconnected right at the elbow joint. The hairless, bottom end flesh had be dissected all the way up to the wrist and peeled to the sides, wide spread wings of skin curved up in a narrow V, exposing wet, red muscle tissue and bone.
Kotonoha continued, but didn't need the knife to separate one of the tendons. "These things are too stringy, you have to get rid of them first, they're really hard to chew…"
She tossed the flappy, glistening ligament into the waste basket.
"Stick with just muscle, that's what Torio always tells me," she shook the knife absently before getting back to it.
She looked, "Oh, I'm sorry dear, it's really a terrible thing. He spent his last days feeling very stressed and didn't work out much, so I'm sorry if it won't be as tender as you like. I'll try soaking it in wine for a bit and that should loosen it up. What would you like for seasoning?" she smiled at him.
This wasn't happening, this could not be happening, he was just imagining it.
He shut his eyes tight and opened them. The hand on the counter might as well have waved at him.
Eiichi flinched as Kotonoha's fists padded on the counter, the knife still in one.
She shook her head as if scolding the surgical display, "I forgot, this is his right hand, he probably used this the most. It's still sanitary, but it would be in poor taste if everyone knew. I know I wouldn't enjoy it. I should have thrown it out a long time ago. That's me, forgetting until the last minute…"
She grabbed the cleaver from the knife block.
'It will do…whatever I wish…'
One dainty hand held the open forearm in place while the other raised and fell with methodical precision.
'It is mine…'
The blade clapped against the cutting board and the hand popped off at the joint, off white cartilage with bone marrow slipping out. She picked it up by the thumb with two fingers, gingerly stepping over and dropping it into the waste basket.
"Not that edible anyways," she stepped over to the sink to wash her hands. "Hun, could you call everyone and tell them dinner will be a little late? The main course still needs a few more hours, I'm waiting for Torio to get back so he can help. Oh, and could you go out and pick up a few things, we need more beverages and horderves. I left the list on the refrigerator for you."
He loved her with all his heart, but she was sick, she needed help.
Keeping his eyes on her, he backed slowly out of the kitchen. When he was clear, he made a running dash for the front door, wondering if his heavy feet would be able to carry him fast enough. He had to find Torio and tell him.
He could still hear her voice from the kitchen, "Hun?"
He flattened himself against the door, remembering the inconvenience that he had to pull on it to get out. He twisted the knob and looked back, she had not followed him. He flung the door open and bolted out into the night.
He made it to the street much faster than expected. It was crazy how fast he got there, like his tiny front yard and the sidewalk had not been there, and his front door sat right at the edge of an empty street.
He stopped running and looked down. This wasn't his street. He wasn't even in his neighborhood. He looked up and saw the neighbor's houses had been replaced with a park. He turned around. His house had disappeared, replaced with a row of higher quality houses.
Where was he?
"Help me!" a scream erupted up the road from him.
In a river of black pavement and orange light, he could see a dark figure hunched over something, lengthy shadows stretching from the lamplight.
"Somebody help me, please!" he knew that voice.
He sprinted over to it, and the closer he got, the more familiar things became.
It was a girl, hunched over a body lying in the street. The body, he knew who it was.
A pink parka and black, shoulder length hair, crowned over with a quirky antennae, spread out on the cold pavement, a dark pool beneath it, caking into the strands. A pale face, that once knew the humorous pleasures of joy and friendship, now motionless, staring back with empty eyes and breathless lips.
A painted knife lay in the street nearby.
The girl sitting on her trembled, her long black hair draped over her coat and shielded her face, clouds of mist wafted between her locks with wet, strained breathing. Hands shaking with the cold, she reached forward and touched the cold face, shuddering as she ran her fingers around its eyes and cheek.
"Sekai…" was her broken whisper.
She released a sob that strained into a wretch, before whimpering while struggling to get up. She backed away and turned to another object that he had not noticed before.
On the sidewalk behind her, lay another motionless mass. A young man with black flecked hair, his head facing up, vacant blue eyes to the stars above. No mist escaped between his lips, a lifeless hand over a rip behind the opening of his coat. A broad stain of blood had spread itself all the way from his front, flowing down his side where it collected underneath him on the sidewalk.
When she scooped him up, his head hung limp over her arm, his hand falling off his broken body, not bothering to embrace her, no longer needing the protection and reassurance of her love.
"Eiichi…no, no, oh God…" her voice spiraled out of control. She cradled his head and nestled it with hers, placing her forehead on his, "Please come back…please come back…"
She rocked, the empty shell in her arms.
"Koto…" he was right here. Could she see that was not him?
He could touch her, if he could just touch her.
He reached out…
It was dark. He struggled, he couldn't see her anymore, where was she?
He reached, but there was nothing for him to grasp.
Suddenly, he felt like he was being lifted up, shadows of the past floated by.
The vision had escaped him, but he could still remember. Where had it gone?
He wasn't being lifted up, he was being lifted out. Something was shaking him, and he could feel pain again.
An oblique passing, he realized he was lying on his left shoulder, he could feel pressure. The one pointing up was the one being shaken.
It was still dark, "Koto…"
The smooth motions continued, he could feel his head being moved too. He recognized the sensation. It was worry, and fear, from a mind he knew better than any.
He could feel his pillow underneath his ear, the blanket and sheets over his bareness. His eyes flitted open and he found himself staring upon the rest of his pillow, the empty space next to where he slept. The shaking stopped.
He shifted his head and looked up.
"AH!" his hand shot forward to protect himself, his back hit against the wall next to his bed.
Sparkling clouds of silvery blues and yellows faded from his stressed vision, the face that stared at him with perplexed worry was not what it had been a moment ago.
Kotonoha knelt on the bed with one knee, the other foot on the floor for support, one hand clutching the covers over her chest while the other reached out to him, now retracting, slowly.
There was a dim, blue light showing through the blinds of his window, revealing the pale emerging shades, just before dawn.
His breathing hissed in short bursts and he tried to calm himself.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry Koto…" a hand to his face, "I'm so sorry…"
"You just had a nightmare Eiichi…" she smoothed over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You're burning up…"
"I didn't mean to…"
"You…you kept saying my name in your sleep…and something about a saw…"
He hadn't noticed it before, but her voice was very raspy. He looked up and saw glossy trails running from the corners of her eyes.
"You've been crying…" he reached.
Her eyes lowered as she leaned in to his hand. She scooted closer to him, and he took her in his arms so she was seated between his legs as he cradled her, a hand to his chest, her hair nuzzling against his cheek. He wanted to just wrap her up tight and stay this way, keeping each other in a warm, safe place.
She whispered to him, as if someone was listening, even now, "Sometimes…I still see her face…" she trembled, and he held her tighter, "between my hands…and I can't…"
His eyes stung as she shook in his embrace, the tears rolled all the way down to her hair.
He had noticed this in her and was scared of when this day would come. It had been bothering her just as his own memories were. Sometimes when she saw him, she was just grateful he was vertical and breathing.
"I dream that I lose you…that I was not fast enough…and I don't know what to do…"
He didn't answer with some lengthy, insightful explanation about post-traumatic stress symptoms and the pathological effects of killing a friend. He just held her, rocking her gently like she did him, and tried to absorb every painful ounce of that fear as he could.
"I know…I was there…"
"You were?" she didn't lift her head.
"Yes…" he smoothed her shoulder, "Remember that time on the roof, when I first showed you?"
He felt her head nod against him.
"I think it works the same way with dreams…you held me, and I reached out to you…"
She clung to him as tight as she could, bracing through a silent wave. He could feel her tears against his skin.
"I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere…"
"I can't hide anything from you, can I?" she joked through a sob.
He kissed her on the head, "I'm sorry…"
"No…" she sniffled, "if anything happens, I won't have to tell you about it. I'm worried about you though. How will you dream if I'm always next to you?"
What he remembered of his own recollection made him shiver, "For now, I'd rather have your dreams…"
They held each other close in the dawning light, both wanting to sleep just as they were, in each other's comfort.
"I'll give Dr. Andrews a call, I haven't talked with him in a few years," he said.
"Yes, he would want to know about this, he can help us. Because it involves my ability, he'd want to know about what I've told you, and everything that happened."
Holding her close, he rocked, stroking her arm, "It's gonna' be okay…we're gonna' be fine…"
"Why were you so frightened…of me…"
He squeezed her arm and hissed a breath in through his cold nostrils.
"My dream is of losing you too…" he whispered back, "but in a different way…"
He held his pause for a long time, and she sensed that he did not want to continue. She stroked his chest more, urging him on.
"I will always love you…always…" she said.
He breathed, feeling her head lift against his chest, "Before I tell you, I want you to know…that I know you would never harm another human being, unless you had a good reason. Kotonoha, you are everything to me. You are strong, but I loved you even when you were at your weakest. I also want you to know, that even after what I saw, I still loved you." He gently nuzzled his cheek against her hair and closed his eyes, "Remember when I had my seizure…"