Black Swan Wonderland


Halo Twenty-Two: Puzzle:

Mikado found Noriko standing alone in a playground. She was stood near the swings staring out into space. Something was about her felt off. He started taking slower steps towards her.

“Ishikawa?” Mikado asked. The girl turned her head. Mikado hesitated at first. He could see nothing in her eyes. Her face reminded him of a crudely stitched together rag doll. A small smile spread across her face.

“Mikado-kun!” Noriko said. The tadpole boy took a step back.

“Are you… Ishikawa?” he asked. They both stood in silence for a moment. Noriko only had on a long white nightgown. She didn’t have any shoes on her feet. Her vacant stare put him off. It was then he noticed her arms.

“Are you… cutting again?” he asked. The tadpole paused. This whole set up felt familiar. Same location and same dialogue. Noriko looked down at her arms. She saw the fresh cuts all over the skin. Mikado also noticed the cuts were on her legs too. The girl didn’t say anything.

“Ishikawa, what is going on here? Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. There was no emotion in her voice. Mikado didn’t look so convinced.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked. Noriko shook her head. Was she high or under a spell? Mikado didn’t like the answer to either one. He slowly walked over to her.

“Let’s get you home, okay?” the tadpole said. Mikado reached out for her arm but she pulled away.

“I have a riddle for you,” Noriko said out of the blue. The tadpole gave her a strange look.

“What are you talking about?” he asked. That calm look on her face gave him the creeps. Noriko acted like she didn’t hear him.

“I was out walking earlier today when I heard a woman scream loudly,” she began. “This startled me. So I ran to the place where I heard the scream come from. And I saw a woman sitting on the ground in front of a large iron block about two meters in length and two meters in width and very thick.”

“Okay, where are you going with this?” Mikado asked.

“I tried talking to the woman but she was just too stunned to talk,” Noriko went on. “A man dressed in construction worker’s clothes came up to me and explained what happened. It seemed like the iron had been dropped to the ground while they were working. Thankfully, it looked like nobody got hurt. The woman had just fallen over due to shock. But I must admit I felt shivers run through me as I looked at the large metal block on top of the red tiles.”

“What are you talking about?” the tadpole boy asked?”

“I went home after that but in the late afternoon before the sunset I visited the scene of the accident again. The block was still there probably due to its very heavy weight and the fact that they couldn’t move it yet,” the girl said in the same rhythm as before. “The area was cordoned off with a security guard standing in front of it. The woman who I had seen earlier was still there. I went over to talk to her what happened. ‘Earlier must have been quite shocking.’” Mikado waved his hand in front of her face.

“Are you listening to me?” he asked. Her face came within inches of his.

“The woman replied, ‘Yes, I was quite shocked especially when I heard the scream,’” Noriko said in a low voice. Mikado narrowed his eyes as it clicked in his brain.

“Did the person behind her get crushed to death?” he asked.

“Ding-ding!” Noriko chirped. What was with the sudden mood swing? One moment she had no emotion on her face and now she perked up.

“Right, I am taking you home right now,” Mikado said. He grabbed her by the sleeve and started dragging her along. Noriko didn’t offer up any resistance.

Mikado led the unstable girl down the street. He couldn’t help but to feel like something was off about this situation. Not just with Noriko either. The tadpole boy looked over his shoulder.

“What happened to you?” he asked. She looked at him with no emotion.

“What were you doing out here?” Mikado asked again. She didn’t speak. Still, he couldn’t give up.

“You know, we’ve all been worried about you,” he said. “You haven’t been out of your apartment. You haven’t been answering any of our calling. Are you okay?” His ear caught her mumbling something under her breath.

“I have another riddle for you.”

“Come on,” Mikado said. “We don’t have time for that.”

“I found an ancient book on black magic,” she spoke again. “It explains how to put a curse on someone. This is what was written in the instructions if you follow these steps exactly the curse will be placed on the person of your choosing. However if you make even one small mistake, the curse will be placed on you instead. So be careful. Do you still wish to proceed?” Her voice is so soft that the tadpole boy had to stop and listen.

“Of course I do,” Noriko said. “I have an enemy. There is someone who I hate with all my heart. Someone I wish would die horribly. I want to place a curse on this person. That’s why I searched for this book. I want this curse to work so I will follow the steps exactly.” Where was all of this coming from? It didn’t make sense for her to come out here just to tell many pointless riddles. Mikado couldn’t figure out what was going on here.

“Step one: Close your eyes and imagine your enemy. That’s simple. I couldn’t forget their face even if I wanted to. Okay what’s next?” Noriko said. The way she spoke had no emotion again. Mikado might as well have been dragging around a robotic doll. He had some theories running around in his head. Was she under a spell or something?

“Are you sure you are okay?” Mikado asked. He reached forward and touched her on the forehead. Noriko didn’t even bother to move.

“Step two: Imagine the curse you wish to place on your enemy and what it will do to them. I want this person to suffer the worst kind of pain imaginable I want them to be suffering so much they will wish they were dead. Alright, what’s the final step?” she said as he drew back his hand. Maybe Mikado should try and call Masaomi or Anri for help.

“Step three: open your eyes,” Noriko said with a monotone voice. Mikado froze as he stared at the unsound girl.

“You opened your eyes to read the second step and now you are cursed,” he asked. Noriko broke into a huge grin.

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” she said. The whiplash in moods was jarring. This had to be a manic phase that she was in. But Noriko didn’t exhibit any of the signs of being as such. She wasn’t talking too fast. She seemed to be giving off low energy. Noriko wasn’t putting up much of a fight in being dragged home.

“I am taking you home,” Mikado repeated. “We are going home, okay?” Suddenly, Noriko sat down on the ground.

“What are you doing?” the tadpole boy asked. She kept grinning at him.

“I want to stay on the ground,” Noriko said.

“No, we have to go home,” Mikado said.

“Nope,” she said. The tadpole boy frowned.

“Quit playing around,” he said. “I am getting you home.” He reached forward to try and pull her but Noriko just sat back down.

“Come on,” Mikado said. “I have to get you home. You are clearly not okay.”

“Another one!” she shouted.

“No,” Mikado said.

“Yes,” Noriko said.

“I have to get you back home,” he said again. “Please quit playing around.” She puffed up her cheeks.

“Another one!” she snapped. Mikado threw back his head and groaned.

“Fine,” he said. Noriko had a brief smile on her face before she spoke.

“There was a group of eight college students who all belonged to the Mountain Climbing Club,” the unstable girl said. “One day during the winter, they decided to climb the tallest mountain in the area. During the ascent, the weather took a turn for the worse. They ran into trouble and were stranded near the top for two weeks. Eventually, a rescue team managed to reach them.” The whole time, Mikado looked around. There wasn’t anyone in sight. He didn’t know if this was a good or a bad thing. He didn’t have an explanation for why his friend was sitting on the ground in her nightgown covered in cuts. Have would that even be explained away?

Uh… yeah. I found my friend standing around in the playground. No, I don’t know how she got all of those cuts on her arms and legs or why she’s wearing a nightgown. She is refusing to go home and is now sitting on the ground, telling me creepy riddles.

That wasn’t going to fly.

“There were only seven survivors. They were airlifted to a nearby hospital. After a few days, six of them made a full recovery,” Noriko spoke up. She stretched her neck from side to side. Mikado was almost tempted to sit down on the ground with her. He quickly shook his head.

No! I can’t give into her mania. You have to get her home. Just humor her long enough to get her home. The tadpole boy tried not to focus on how much Noriko smiled the whole time.

“But the seventh survivor was so traumatized by the experience that he lost his mind and was put into a mental hospital,” she went on. “The police questioned the remaining six about what happened in the two weeks that they were stranded on the mountain. They also asked what happened to the missing climber. Each survivor told the same story. They all said that he just wandered off and never came back.” Mikado was about to speak when Noriko held up her hand.

“Hang on, let me finish,” she said. The tadpole boy was thrown off-guard with this response. Up until now, this unstable girl would just ramble on without a reaction. Could the manic be kicking in?

“Then they went to the mental hospital to question the seventh survivor but they couldn’t get any sense out of him. When they asked him what happened to the missing eighth climber, he just kept banging his head against the padded walls and repeating over and over the number eight,” she finished.

“The other six climbers ate the last the guy, right?” Mikado asked. Noriko’s smiled widened into a grin.

“Pin-pon! Pin pon!” she shouted.

“Okay, get up,” the founder of the Dollars said. “You promised.” He took hold of wrists and pulled her to her feet. Noriko didn’t even resist.

“No more playing around, okay?” he asked.

“Okay!” she said aloud. Mikado was not convinced at all. He wished that he had Masaomi or Anri to help him drag her along. The boy wished that he had pulled out his phone and called when he had the chance. If they stopped for another riddle, Mikado decided to pull out his phone and make the call. Suddenly, he felt Noriko stop in place. The founder of the Dollars turned his head.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I have another riddle,” she said. Mikado sighed and dropped his shoulders. He just gave up at this point.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s hard being a father,” Noriko said. “I recently found out that my son is psychic. He has this habit of pointing at people’s faces. Sometimes my wife and I realized that whenever are some points of somebody like that it means they’re going to die.” She had her eyes down as she spoke. Her voice was lowered as well.

“Ishikawa?” Mikado asked. The thought of possession crossed his mind. Looked like he was going to have to call Masaomi or Anri for help on this.

“Within three days last year, he pointed at his grandfather. Three days later, his grandfather died of a heart attack,” she went on. “A few months, ago he pointed at a picture of a famous actress in a magazine. Three days later and she was killed in a car accident. Today, when I went to turn on the TV. My son was pointing at the screen. When I turned it on, the prime minister was giving a speech. I can’t believe the prime minister is going to die but my son is never wrong.”

“The father is going to die?” the tadpole boy asked. The unstable girl perked up.

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” she said. At this point, Mikado decided to make the call.

“Stay right here,” he said. Noriko watched as he pulled out his phone. She tilted her head.

“Hello?” Mikado asked. “Are you still awake?” He breathed out in relief.

“Oh good,” he said. “I found her. It’s kind of hard to explain.” The tadpole boy glanced up at Noriko for a moment. She was staring up at the sky, lost in her head.

“I don’t think she’s right in the head,” Mikado whispered. “I can’t figure out what’s wrong. She has cuts all over her arms and legs.” The founder of the Dollars nodded.

“I am trying to take her home, but…” he said. The boy struggled to put his plight into words.

“It’s a little bit more difficult than I thought,” the tadpole admitted. “She keeps stalling for some reason with strange riddles. I know, it’s just weird. I am kind of at a disadvantage. Can you help us out? Thank you so much! Oh, where are we? Uh…” Mikado happened to look up in in to notice that Noriko was nowhere in sight.

“Huh?” he asked. The person on the other line started asking him if he was still there.

“Uh… yeah, yeah,” Mikado was quick to say. “Listen, I am going to call you right back.” He hung up without saying a word. The tadpole boy looked around.

“Where did Ishikawa go?” he asked. That sinking feeling started to creep up into Mikado’s head as he started to picture the worst.

“I just hope that I can find her first,” he said to himself. The tadpole boy vanished from the street in a flash.

By chance, Mikado tracked Noriko down at Higurashi Ikebukoro Central Park. He had no idea how she got this far without him noticing in a short amount of time. She was about to walk up to the fountain.

“Ishikawa!” Mikado shouted. The girl paused with her back turned to him.

“You found me,” she said.

“This is not a game,” he said. “I am taking you home right now.”

“Another one,” Noriko said.

“I’m serious,” Mikado said. “We are going home right now.” He reached for her arm but she pulled away.

“A few years ago, a rich old man was found in the study of his own home with a gunshot wound to his head,” she said aloud. “The police arrived at his home and the butler answered the door. The police then asked to see the body and the butler led them upstairs to the old man’s study. The old man was sitting slumped over his desk. There was a pool of blood around his head in his right hand was a pistol and in his left a tape recorder.” Noriko didn’t turn around as she spoke. Mikado slipped his hand into his pockets.

“Ishikawa, this is enough,” he said. “We are going home now.”

“After dusting the gun for fingerprints, they only found the fingerprints of the old man on it,” she said over him. The tadpole boy closed his mouth. She was really going to do this, wasn’t she?

“One of the policemen pressed the play button on the tape recorder,” Noriko added. “They heard the old man’s voice saying, ‘My name is Sero Ichiro I’m lonely and unhappy so I’ve decided to leave this cruel world. I’m sorry may God have mercy on my soul.’ A few seconds later they heard the sound of a gunshot.” She braced herself for the next part.

“As soon as the policeman heard this message, he knew it wasn’t suicide it was murder,” the girl said. Mikado frowned.

“So who rewound the tape to the beginning?” he asked. Noriko turned around and grinned.

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” she said.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Mikado said. “We’re going home now. No more games.” He tried to grab onto her arm but Noriko pulled away.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Food,” she said. The boy narrowed his eyes.

“So… you’re hungry now?” he asked. Noriko nodded her head up and down.

“Fine,” Mikado said. “After that, I am taking you home.” She didn’t say a word. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her along. This wasn’t working. If he tried to call for back-up, she would just run off again. It’s almost as if Noriko didn’t want to go home. She kept her eyes down as they walked down the street. Mikado looked over his shoulder.

“Why don’t you want to go home, Ishikawa?” he asked. She didn’t look up.

“Is somebody in your apartment that you don’t want there?” the founder of the Dollars tried again. Noriko shook her head. Another thought crossed Mikado’s mind.

“Are you trying to tell me something?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said in a small voice.

“What’s the matter?” the tadpole boy asked. Noriko raised her head.

“Can I tell you another one?” she asked in monotone voice. Mikado sighed and dropped his shoulders.

“Just as long as we keep going,” he said.

“There were two young girls named Aya and Maya who are identical twins,” Noriko said. “They lived with their parents and their older brother in a large mansion on the edge of town. Everybody was jealous of the girls because their father was rich and he bought them everything they wanted.” Why did she dodge his question? Something didn’t feel right. Why were they doing this?

“One night, the girls were kidnapped,” she said. “When they awoke, they found themselves blindfolded and tied to chairs. The girls were extremely frightened and they began to cry. Suddenly Maya heard a high-pitched voice whispering into her ear It was the kidnapper.” They stopped at the crosswalk light. Mikado turned his head. Noriko kept her eyes to the ground. He wasn’t going to let her out of his sight. So far, there were still no people around. The empty streets gave him chills.

“‘I have contacted your parents and I’m demanding 103,538¥ ransom if you try to escape, I will kill Aya.’,” Noriko said in a low growl. Mikado whipped his head around. She had a serious, cold look on her face.

“Then Aya heard the kidnapper whisper into her ear, ‘I’ve contacted your parents and I’m demanding 103,538¥ ransom. If you try to escape, I will kill Maya.’,” the girl said. She had an intense stare locked on him. Mikado gulped.

“Their brother is the kidnapper,” he said. Noriko perked up.

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” she said.

“Right…” was all Mikado said. He pulled her across the crosswalk.

They arrived at Russia Sushi. The plan was supposed to be simple. Get her something to eat, listen whatever puzzle she throws at him, answer her, and then get her home. Sounds easy enough, right?

Mikado and Noriko sat in a booth together. He already ordered for the both of them. While they waited, Mikado figured that he would be the first one to speak.

“Do you have another riddle?” he asked. Noriko raised her hand up in the air. Simon came over to their booth.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“Could I have a pen, please?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said. Simon disappeared into the back. When he came back, he had a pen in his hand.

“Thank you,” she said. Simon returned to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Noriko picked up a napkin and started writing on it.

“I can still remember playing saga to on the Gameboy when I was young,” she said. “In America and Europe they, called it Fighting Fantasy Legend - it really was a great game and I had many hours of fun trying to complete it. However, something happened when I was ten years old that caused me to stop playing it altogether.” Her eyes never left her napkin. Mikado tried to look at what she was writing.

“Don’t,” she said. The boy quickly sat back.

“Thank you,” Noriko said. She traced in the letters with darker ink.

“I broke my leg during a game of soccer and it was a really bad fracture so I had to spend three days in the hospital,” she said. “There were three other people in the hospital ward with me: an old man, an old woman, and a young girl around the same age as me. I lay there bored out of my mind in this cold uncomfortable hospital bed. There was absolutely nothing to do. Luckily when my mother came to visit, she brought my Gameboy to keep me entertained.” Mikado took the liberty to glance around. There was no one else around. So far, he had seen anyone else around. By now, something seemed off about tonight. Why haven’t they seen anyone around? Mikado stared her Noriko as she kept writing on the napkin.

Could she being doing this? But how?

“The young girl in the bed next to mine was very pale and sickly. She had dark circles under her eyes,” the girl said. “That evening, her mother came to visit. As well she brought some kind of drinks and snacks for the girl. I overheard her talking to one of the nurses and from what I could make out, the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the girl. She had some type of mystery illness and they were still doing tests. I spent most of my time playing Fighting Fantasy on my Gameboy. At one point, I glanced up and I noticed the girl staring at me. Her eyes were very sad. When she saw me looking at her, her cheeks went red.” Her hands seemed to move along with her mouth. She seemed to be mumbling loud enough for only Mikado to hear her. His mind went back to what she said earlier. What was she trying to tell him?

“What were you trying to tell me earlier?” the tadpole boy asked. Once again, his question went ignored.

“‘Do you want to play?’ I asked, holding up my Gameboy. ‘You can borrow it if you like.’ The girl’s eyes lit up and she smiled,” Noriko said again. “‘Okay, I’d like that,’ she said. I told her that my name was Reata and she told me that hers was Sayaka. I couldn’t get out of bed, but I managed to toss the Gameboy over to her. She didn’t understand the game so I had to teach her how to play.

“Over the next couple of days, we became very friendly. Time just flew by as we talked about school, the movies that we both liked, and our favorite bands. Before I even knew it, the time had come for me to go home. My parents arrived and they helped me into a wheelchair. As we’re leaving, I noticed that Sayaka was crying. I said, ‘Don’t be sad as soon as I’m able to walk again. I’ll come and visit you.’ Her face seemed to brighten up. ‘You promise?’ she said. ‘I promise.’ I handed her my Gameboy. ‘Here’s something to play with until you see me again.’ I told her.” By now, Simon came over to their booth with their food.

“Here you go,” he said. He set down their sushi and walked off.

“Yay!” Noriko cheered. She picked up a piece of sushi and started eating. Mikado watched her do so.

“So what happens next?” he asked. Noriko looked up at him while chewing. She swallowed and picked up the pen again.

“A week later I was on crutches and I decided to go back to the hospital to visit Sayaka,” she said, writing on her napkin again. “My parents drove me to the hospital, but when I got to the ward there was no sign of her. The old man and the old woman was still there but Sayaka’s bed was empty. Her name wasn’t even on the door maybe. She’s been discharged already I thought. I went to the nurse’s desk and I asked what happened to see Sayaka. ‘I’m sorry Sayaka is gone,’ said the nurse gone. ‘Where?’ I asked. The nurse had tears in her eyes. ‘She’s gone to another place.’ I may have been young, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew what she really meant. She didn’t need to sugarcoat it for me. I was stunned.” Mikado could feel Simon and Dennis watching them. They had the same thought in mind.

What is she talking about?

Mikado shifted his focus back to Noriko and her riddle.

“Sayaka was dead. I just stood there balancing on my crutches unable to move,” she said as she finished up with her writing. “The nurse then said, ‘She wanted you to have this.’ She held out my Gameboy and I took it without uttering a word. Then with my heart full of sadness, I turned and I hobbled down the corridor. That night, I didn’t feel like eating anything. I just lay in my bedroom with the lights off thinking about Sayaka. My heart was aching. After a while, I turned on the Gameboy but I was too sad to play it. The game reminded me too much of her. Then I opened up the saved game and I realized that the names of the players had been changed.” Noriko looked up when at Mikado’s tray.

“Huh? You’re not going to eat that?” she asked.

“No, not really hungry,” he said.

“Oh,” was all Noriko said. She picked up a piece of sushi and shoved it into her mouth without a thought. While she was chewing, Mikado happened to look down and notice what she had written on her napkin.

“xHelpx xMyx xMomx xIsx xPoisoningx xMex,” he read aloud. The boy lifted his head. Noriko covered her mouth as if to hide her smile.

“Oh come on, that’s not fair,” Mikado said. “You just gave me the answer.” The girl swallowed the last piece of chewed-up sushi.

“Sorry,” she said, sounding like a little baby. She gave him little puppy dog eyes as an extra measure. Mikado sighed and shook his head. He picked up a piece of sushi and ate it.

After that impromptu dinner, Mikado and Noriko stood outside of Russia Sushi. The tadpole boy tried to keep calm.

“Okay, I am taking you home,” he said. “Look at me. Look at me.” Mikado took her by her cheeks and turned her face towards him.

“I am taking you home,” the founder of the Dollars said. “No more playing around. Don’t run off on me. We are going straight home. Do you understand me?”

“Yes!” she chirped. Mikado took a breath.

“Right,” he said. “In fact…” Mikado crouched down in front of her.

“Climb on,” he said. Noriko looked confused at first.

“Why?” she asked.

“Just climb,” Mikado said, fighting not to show her how stressed he was. Noriko walked up and climbed onto his back. The tadpole boy held her in place. He ran the risk of increasing her desires but that didn’t matter right now. At least she wouldn’t be able to run off that easily.

They walked down the street. The silence made Mikado rather nervous. Where did everyone go at this time of night? Something wasn’t right. The tadpole boy couldn’t even sense any ghosts or demons around.

This is not good.

“I have another riddle,” Noriko said on his back. Mikado began to relax.

“Okay, let’s hear it,” he said.

“One day when I was six years old, my little sister would not stop crying,” Noriko said. “It annoyed me so much that I killed her and I threw her body down the well. The next day when I peered down into the well her body had disappeared.” Mikado made a face at that.

“That’s kind of dark,” he said.

“When I was twelve, I got into an argument with my best friend over something stupid,” she went on. “He made me so angry that I killed him and I threw his body down the well too. the next day when I checked the well his body was also gone.” For a second there, Mikado thought he saw a wave of fog surrounding them. He blinked and it vanished. The only thing keeping him together was Noriko’s annoying and creepy riddles.

“When I was eighteen years old, my girlfriend got pregnant,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a father. So I killed her and I threw her body down the well. The next day when I looked down the well it had disappeared.”

“That’s just horrible,” Mikado cut in. “I don’t think I want to hear the rest of this one.” By now, he knew that he might as well be talking to himself.

“When I was twenty-four, I worked in an office and my boss was an asshole,” Noriko said. “I couldn’t take it anymore so I killed him and I threw his body down the well. The next day when I went to check, his body had disappeared.” Mikado noticed that the fog was coming back. No, it wasn’t his imagination after all. Something inside of him told him that something was coming.

“When I was thirty, my mother got sick and was bedridden,” the unstable girl added. “I didn’t want to take care of her so I killed her and I threw her body down the well. The next day when I looked into the well, her body was still there. I checked the well every day after that but her body never disappears.” Mikado froze.

“The mother was the one who’s been getting rid of all those bodies?” he asked. “But that she’s dead, she can’t move the bodies anymore.”

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” she said. Mikado winced at her shouting in his ear. When he looked around, he noticed that something was off.

“When did we get back to the playground?” he asked. Sure enough, he found himself standing in from of the swing that Noriko was standing in front of. Did they just walk around in a big circle? Mikado turned his head.

“Did you do this?” he asked. She didn’t answer him.

“How are you doing this?” the tadpole boy asked. Instead of an answer is another riddle.

“There was a young woman who lived alone,” Noriko started up again. “One night, she was getting ready for bed. She went into the bathroom to wash her face. She turned on the tap and the water came gushing out. She splashed some water on her face and then took some liquid soap and massaged it into her skin. Just then, she thought she heard something. It sounded like footsteps. The soap was still on her face so she couldn’t open her eyes. She fumbled for the tap and turned it on. The water came gushing out. She rinsed off her face, dried it with a towel, and looked around.”

“Stop this,” he said. “How are you doing all of this?” Noriko leaned in close to his ear.

“The bathroom was empty. Nobody else was there,” she whispered.

“But there had to be,” Mikado said, blinking. “Why else would she need to turn the water on again?”

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” Noriko said. The tadpole boy frowned. When will this end? Why did she keep doing this? How did they end up going back to the park?

“Enough of this,” he spoke up. “I am taking you home. No more no tricks and no more games.” Noriko didn’t argue this time as Mikado went down the right direction this.

“I have another,” she said instead. The tadpole boy rolled his eyes but said nothing.

“A man was working in his toolshed when his son came in crying,” Noriko said. “The father asked him what was wrong. ‘Dad, I was playing marbles with some of the other boys at school. One of them stuffed a ball bearing in my ear and it won’t come out.’ ‘Don’t worry, son,’ said the father. ’I’m sure I have something here that will get it out.” Mikado tried to see if he could feel anything this time. Nothing. No fog and he could hear sounds of the city late at night.

Still, Mikado had his questions for Noriko. Can she really warp time and confuse directions? But that didn’t make any sense. Why would a mere normal have the power to do that? It wasn’t like Noriko was going to answer him anyway.

“The father’s favorite hobbies were science and Warcraft,” she went on. “His workshop was filled with all manner of contraptions, gizmos, and inventions. He gazed around his tool shed and he settled on a super-strong electromagnet this machine. ‘Here is a magnet,’ he told his son. ‘The ball bearing is made of metal, right?’ The son nodded his head. ‘Yes, right, so when I turn on this machine it will yank the ball bearing out.’ The man placed his son’s ear up against the magnet. He flicked the switch and there was a loud clang. His son crumpled to the floor, killed instantly.” She leaned down to his ear again.

“How did the son die?” the unstable girl asked. Mikado could see her apartment a few feet from the parking lot. He stood up straighter.

“The father got the wrong ear,” the tadpole boy said.

“Pi-pon! Pi-pon!” Noriko said. They made it to the stairs of her apartment.

“Do you want me to carry you up the stairs?” Mikado asked. The girl shook her head.

“Do you want me to put you down?” he asked. She didn’t speak as she lowered her eyes. The founder of the Dollars lowered himself down to let Noriko stand on her own two feet. She started to walk towards her stairs but froze. Mikado tilted his head.

“What’s the wrong?” he asked. Noriko had her back turned to her. She lifted her chin.

“I have a story to tell you,” she said. Mikado’s face dropped.

“You can’t be serious,” he said.

“No, listen!” Noriko shouted. The founder of the Dollars grew quiet.

“There was once a man and a woman,” she said in a trembling voice. “They were once so happy together. They had son shortly after they got married. To the woman, this was all she wanted. But one day, the little boy died. The woman couldn’t take the guilt and sorrow knowing that she had a hand in her baby’s death. Her husband didn’t know what to do as the woman started to go further down a downward spiral. He ended up taking her away to the worse place in the world. Since then, they have been chasing each other in an endless war that neither know how to stop.” Mikado looked so confused.

“I don’t get this one,” he said.

“That woman was me,” Noriko said in a low voice.

“Huh?” Mikado asked.

“Haven’t you noticed why I have been doing this all night?” she asked. “I was trying to keep you safe. They were trying to kill you tonight. You saw the fog, didn’t you?” The tadpole boy’s eyes widened.

“That was a warning,” she said. “This is all my fault. I let my baby die and now this is my punishment.” Noriko turned around at that point. She had tears running down her cheeks. Her eyes looked so dead and empty. The color drained from Mikado’s face.

“Are you… Ishikawa?” he asked.

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