The demon traveled to the west to find the vortex where North meets South. A thick piece of paper lay with its front up to reveal the riddle that formed icily within the center of the painted paper. Flakes of pure white frost covered the corners of the paper as the lines of poetic verse moved up to uncover new clues in short order. A hand, covered in iron, was clenched the paper while the demon’s eyes burned with white fire. The words and images moved to prevent memorization.
The demon was frustrated enough to scream… even with the angel half of his personality. The paper and its’ creator held secrets greedily to avoid the eyes of anyone who sought them. An angel had made the papers up but now no one could decode them. They were rumored to be a gateway across time but no one could decode even a portion of the secrets on the papers to be sure.
It was a warm Friday in March when the second of the five pages would be found by a human – not an angel or a demon. The human girl had no idea that this day would be different than any other. She was unaware that her life was about to change forever.
“What is this?” A short, dark-haired girl asked as she looked at her locker partner inquisitively. She removed the brightly painted piece of paper from the bottom of the locker.
“How should I know?” Asked the blond-haired girl that was now standing a good foot above the short girl. The blond shrugged and turned to leave, waving off the question as she walked through the hall. The blond hurried to class but the dark-haired girl stayed where she was, studying the piece of paper.
The sheet was decorated with pictures and beautiful calligraphy text. Both the images and the words began to move as the girl watched in wonder. Her eyes never left the page as her heart raced and her interest peaked. A few of the diminishing number of students in the hall stopped to glance over the girl’s shoulder but they quickly lost interest. The girl was left to herself to ponder this strange thing happening before her.
The girl’s mind was moving at a mile a minute when a flash caught her eye. Three girls ran from the gym and down the abandoned hall. The dark-haired girl exchanged glances with the runners.
“Hurry, Sakura! You don’t want to be marked late again,” one of the girls shouted over to the dark-haired girl, in a desperate attempt to warn Sakura while running to her own class.
Sakura nodded but continued to stare at the pictures without moving as much as a muscle. She really couldn’t take her eyes off of it – The pictures and the moving words were hypnotizing her. Both the words and the pictures seemed to move at an alarming rate.
“It’s like a story,” Sakura whispered in a breathy voice as the words caught in the back of her throat – she was so excited! She was about to record the images with the camera on her lime green cell phone when the final bell for class chimed. Sakura jumped up and ran to her math class.
“Late again, Miss Pilletera? This is the second time this week.” The tall math teacher spoke in deep tones that did not seem to match his thin body. The man’s back was ridged and his chest was puffed. His overwhelming forbearance intimidated many students. Sakura was one of those intimidated students. Still, she did her best not to let the nervousness show in her face or voice.
“It won’t happen again, Mr. Gavvy.”
“Be sure that it doesn’t,” he ordered in his deep tone. “I would hate to send a student to detention for such a minor offense.”
Sakura quickly found her seat and took out her notebook. Her hand was inches away from the pocket that held the mysterious paper and the cell phone that was strategically placed to record the constant movement on the paper. Sakura felt like it took all her strength to ignore the pull of her inquisitive nature that begged her to gaze into the pocket. She could not afford to get distracted in Gavvy’s class.
He was not always a mean teacher but he would not tolerate even working on another class’ assignments in his course classroom. To him, failure to work on his specific assignments meant one thing – which he did not give out enough work to keep everyone busy. If he saw one student working on another class’ work, the whole class would get pages and pages of extra work.
Sakura knew that if Gavvy saw her reach into her bag – even if it was just to bring out a sheet of paper – Gavvy would send whatever she took out to the office and give the whole class a week’s worth of homework.
Avoid looking at the images now and you can see it for hours after class, Sakura reasoned with herself. She tried to imagine what would happen in the story that was forming on the paper. The last time she had looked at the paper, the images were moving fast. Sakura only saw a few seconds last time she looked at the paper but it was enough to catch a glimpse of the story.
She saw a man in green – Sakura decided to name him Robin because he reminded her of Robin Hood. Robin was about to charge at a moving purple spot. Sakura began to imagine the purple blob turning into a monstrous dragon that the heroic Robin had to defeat to defend his village… but this dragon was not a normal, fire-breathing dragon. It was a riddle dragon! Robin had to defeat it with a riddle. Sakura was trying to come up with a riddle that was hard enough to stump the dragon and save the town when her joyful reverie was interrupted by Mr. Gavvy’s deep voice.
“Sakura, why don’t you show your classmates how to complete number thirty-seven on the white board so that everyone can check their work before our pop quiz?” Mr. Gavvy’s command was met with a chorus of groans.
“I’m not sure I did it right,” Sakura answered after a hush of confusion.
“You would be sure if you were paying attention and listening.” He paused to let the words sink in and quickly continued. “Garret, would you please repeat the answer to the class for those who were not listening.”
Garret flipped through his notebook until he found the answer he was looking for. “Three hundred seventy times pi,” he answered in a loud voice that boomed against the walls for a full minute.
Sakura felt her face go red with embarrassment. He must think I’m either deft or so stupid that I cannot even understand without a good shout…Each step Sakura took toward the blackboard made her face turn a darker shade of red as she continued to think of all the eyes following her.
She moved her hand towards the pen and began to write out the problem in handwriting that was swirling and sharp at the same time. She underlined the answer that matched Garret’s after taking up half the white board to show her work. Sakura breathed a sigh of relief when she was finished and quickly turned and walked back to her desk.
“Obviously, Miss Pilletera got the right answer,” Mr. Gavvy smiled at Sakura as he turned to the class and continued. “Can anyone tell me what Sakura did wrong?” Sakura’s face went blank as the class fell silent. “Does anyone see where she made her mistake?”
“She did get the correct answer…” began Sue as three other girls in the front row nodded with confused expressions.
“She got it right out of luck. Look at her original work and tell me where she messed up,” commanded the teacher in the stern voice that always seemed to make Sakura’s blood boil over in her veins.
Sakura saw Mr. Gavvy flip through his teacher’s edition textbook. Who was he to call her out when he did not know the answer himself? Sakura watched the seconds tick away slowly before Garret moved to the front of the classroom and began to erase her work to replace it with his. He seemed to redo her problem in record time. Sakura struggled to hide her amazement.
Just survive for another fifteen minutes – then you can go home, get away from Mr. Gavvy and watch that video for the phone, she tried to comfort herself with this thought even though the world seemed to be trying to get on her nerves all day. It seemed to take an eternity for the bell to ring. Sakura knew that she had been waiting for the bell to chime for longer than fifteen minutes…
She began to loose hope and leaned over her math paper when the bell finally sounded. She grabbed her books, crammed them into her backpack and ran to the door. One thought rang supreme in her mind: she could finally watch that video! She smiled happily until Mr. Gavvy stopped her.
“Sakura, I need to speak with you.” Sakura hesitantly turned to her teacher as if he were speaking a foreign language with a purple tongue. Weather he noticed her strange look or not, he continued. “You are a smart girl and a good student but you seem to struggle with math. I would be able to offer you some extra credit if you join the math club.”
Sakura nodded her head in thanks and smiles. Her math grade isn’t that bad, maybe a C minus at the lowest, but Sakura also knew that her parents want her math grade to be closer to be B. So, even though she really just wanted to leave, she decided to avoid the long talk that her parents would have to have with her and turned to her teacher again. “When does the club meet?”
“The club cannot meet often. Most of the club members are also part of the chess and geography clubs. We meet the second Tuesday of each month.”
Sakura breathed a sigh of relief – the club only met once a month. That left plenty of time for all of her hobbies. The less time she spent on math the better! Sakura quickly agreed to join the club latter that month and ran into the hall.
The halls were even more crowded than normal because today was a Friday. Every student in the school wanted to get out of school quickly so that they could enjoy the weekend. Sakura could go home and watch her video. Without a second thought, Sakura left the school and got on the bus.
Her neighbor, Rosa smiled at her when Sakura moved to sit down on the seat next to her. “Ready for the weekend?” The girls talked about their plans and gossiped about their other neighbors until the bus stopped on their street. They were always the last to get on and the first to get off.
“I have a few grumpy teachers but at least they never give homework over the weekend,” Sakura confided in her neighbor.
“Well, enjoy your weekend without any work!” Rosa and Sakura waved goodbye as they crossed the streets to their homes.
Rosa’s mother opened the door and hugged her daughter every afternoon… Sakura’s family was different. There was no mother in the doorway. The driveway was so empty that the lack of substance opened a void in the pit of her stomach. Dad’s still at the office, she thought to herself. “Let’s go see where Mom went off to…”Sakura’s thoughts became words.
She opened the door and walked into the kitchen. A pink post-it was taped to the refrigerator. Sakura leaned forward to read it:
Had to go get
Grandpa’s tickets. See you
Around six o’clock.
Sakura’s mother’s notes were always the same: “Had to get this or that… See you around six.” The woman seemed to never be around from about 3 o’clock to six. Why did it always seem to take three hours to get a prescription, or a few last minute dinner items?
Sakura had asked her mother that question years ago – about the time she had gotten old enough to realize that most people did not need three hours to run simple errands. “I can walk the three blocks to the store faster than that,” the child Sakura had bragged.
“I try to optimize my time outside of the house by running all my errands at once.”
“Why does the note just list one errand?”
“I don’t always know all the errands I will need to run so I just put down first one. I don’t want to bore everyone with a long list of errands I need to run plus… It just takes too much time to write it all down.” Her mother believed that she had provided a good answer for the child and she quickly walked away.
The whole thing seemed secretive. Anyone could tell that the statement was a lie. She seemed to say it as a second thought – like it was never really in her head or in her heart – like the truth was that she wanted to avoid Sakura at all costs. Sakura did not let any of this bother her. She distracted herself by continually giving herself new things to do. If her hands were moving, her mind never seemed to dwell on any of the sorrowful things that threatened to consume her. She was able to keep her mind off the bad things by keeping them on the flavor of the week or month.
But now – now she had something real. It constantly changed and moved so that her interest in it could last forever. Sakura ran to the seclusion of her room, locked the door and carefully took out the phone and the paper. The image was still moving and she did not want to miss one second of movement!
Sakura quickly switched on her web cam to record as much as possible. Not one moment of the paper’s movement would be lost now. The moving paper was like a giant puzzle that beckoned for her to find a solution. She smiled to herself as she pressed the “play” button.
Sakura’s breath came in shallow gulps and gasps. It seemed like she could never really get enough air but the adrenaline that flowed through her veins hid the fact from her exhausted body. She couldn’t breathe because she could not believe what she was seeing. A map of strange words appeared in the background as words moved up the surface of the paper as if it was a TV.
The Truth that Rests Against
The Ruler went Down
Because he couldn’t remember
To never let go of his Hand
Or his shiny Saber.
They both dropped with a clang
The sound made the wind shake
He knew he was to Blame
He waited in the sun and Baked
To show his followers that he would do the same
Without Saber or Hand…
She went on to read about the Emperor who could not loose even though he had nothing. No sword, no honor, or even a group of followers. The people had abandoned him when he humiliated himself by loosing the saber and hand. Usually, the saber is any ruler’s greatest, most coveted possession. This Emperor is not so different from the other rulers. The saber had been passed down to him from generations past. Oil paintings adorned the walls and each painting held not only a past emperor but also a jeweled saber – the same saber that this young emperor had just lost. Servants whispered that he was too young and naive to sit upon the throne as ruler.
The young ruler did all he could to stop these rumors of course. He started by killing the man who was spreading the rumors: the distinguished captain of the guard – The image that accompanied this section was so realistic and violent that Sakura actually had to close her eyes. All the pictures were drawn in a hieroglyphic style but they still seemed realistic in a way that was hard to explain.
It was like those cartoons of people with purple faces drinking blood: It is obvious that the people in the images are not real but it still seems too gross and it sickens everyone who sees it. Sakura could not help but be slightly nauseous but curiosity drove her to want to see more. She cautiously cracked open her eyes.
New words were appearing but they continued to tell the story of the fictional emperor who had lost his prized saber. The young, implosive ruler turned into a good, just emperor. The land began to prosper, as everything the emperor touched seemed to. He was truly blessed and his blessing transferred to the land he ruled. The empire’s treasury seemed to grow as treaties were signed and warriors were brought home. The commoners rejoiced as the emperor’s luck seemed to rub off on everyone who was near him. Everyone quickly forgot the whole ordeal with the saber and the violent mistakes the emperor had made in his youth. Unfortunately, the emperor’s luck was about to run out.
The Empress had recently announced that she was with child and all the kingdoms in the empire were still rejoicing the good fortune. They feasted even as the Empress labored, believing that the prophecy that the wise woman read from the stones would be true and that the emperor would soon have a son as an heir for the land. No one would have guessed what would really happen next: The Empress died giving birth to the child and the little boy was too weak to even eat. The baby boy did not live a day. The emperor found himself alone and angry once more.
Sakura had to stop at this point because her eyes filled with tears. She paused the cell phone video there and began to unpack her school bag. She placed her things on her desk. Sakura usually tried to read ahead in her textbooks over the weekend but she was not able to even open a book before a noise came from outside. She jumped when she heard a car door slam. Her mother was home. It must be six…
Sakura walked down to the kitchen. Her mother usually comes home carrying an armful of groceries. The door squeaked open as Sakura’s mother, Ann walked into the room. Once again, her arms were full of over flowing grocery bags. The bags fell over as Ann set them on the counter. Sakura moved to pick them up and her mother seemed to actually notice that she was there.
“How was school, Sakura?”
“It was OK,” she tried to explain. “I got a new project.”
“A real project or one of your fake ones?”
Sakura blushed with embarrassment. “None of them are fake,” she mumbled.
“Speak up, Sakura!”
“It is not a school project yet.” Ann looked at Sakura suspiciously with thousands of questions in her eyes. “I’m going to use it for my video assignment in Communications class,” Sakura tried to explain further but her mother seemed to be preoccupied.
“Oh, what a good idea! You should try to use all your projects in your schoolwork. It will be easier for you to get into college. That way, you won’t have to do so many extra assignments.” Sakura nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Her mother just didn’t understand her. She hated these forced conversations and had to stop herself from breathing a sigh of relief when her father walked in.
“How was work, dear?” Ann asked her husband.
“What a day!” Brad started. “Osmann sent me seven emails in one hour because he needed help with pricing. He should have been done with that project weeks ago!”
Brad was the head of a large financing firm. His company handled the finances and savings of dozens of other companies. The companies paid Brad a lot of money to save them even more money. Sakura knew that her father tried to make it sound more complicated than that but money for money was basically what his company boiled down to. She zoned out as her father continued to explain how three of his employees could not write a simple excel presentation for a perspective client.
“Sakura, help me finish making dinner,” Ann ordered.
“What are we making?”
“Lasagna. It’s your father’s favorite and he has had a hard day.”
Sakura and her mother moved to the stove and began to make the rich pasta. Sakura boiled water and chopped up the cheese while Ann prepared the meat and added spices to sauces. Ann hummed while she worked because she hated silence. Sakura used the time to think. She had a faraway look in her eyes that could only be matched in severity to her mother’s look of concentration.
The lasagna was made in what seemed like seconds to Sakura. Still, Brad breathed a sighed “finally” when Ann announced that dinner was ready. Brad always wanted things to be done on a moment’s notice. He wants things now, if not sooner.
Sakura found the habit annoying but her mother chastised her:
“At least your father channels what would otherwise be an annoyance to make him a great businessman.” Sakura always had to sigh in defeat when her mother said this. She was right: the habit did give him an edge but that did not make it any less annoying when he was at home.
Both her parents, like the king, seemed to prosper at everything that they did. They both made money at the jobs they had chosen even though they had both taken “the road less traveled” in their careers. Brad owned his own business even though he could have made just as much money in an average financial adviser position without having to spend so much time at the office. Her mother ran a business online. Her business sent package all over the world and was very popular in Asia. Sakura admired her parents’ courage and determination but she never wanted to be like them.
Sure, they were successful but they seemed to be disconnected from the rest of the world. Sakura doubted that either one of her parents could say the name of the current president or even Sakura’s school because neither one of them knew it. Brad could list the current balances of all his clients’ accounts and Ann could list all the shipping methods available on her site… Sakura’s parents could have wonderful memories when they wanted to but they were so busy remembering the things that they needed to know for work that they never seemed to stop and think about remembering the things that mattered to Sakura.
Sakura tried to push these memories away as she and her parents ate. Maybe I’m the one messing things up, thought Sakura. Maybe things would be better if I acted like they were better. I need to stop expecting the worst in people… Especially my parents:
She thought back to when she was five. Sakura’s parents had taken her to the beach that year. It was just the three of them and she had loved the trip for one reason: Her parents were hers and hers alone. They did not go into work or check their emails. Sakura could tell that they liked it too: They smiled constantly and actually laughed every now and then – which they NEVER did at home. It seemed like it had literally been years since they smiled.
Sakura tried to push all her memories away… They seemed too painful now. That was why Sakura always had some kind of project because she always needed some kind of distraction. The thought of discovering something new and enveloping her mind into something whole-heartedly brought her comfort. So, she thought of that now. Sakura thought of her new project that awaited her in her room. A cold feeling traveled down and tingled back up. Anxiousness rose up inside of her because she wanted nothing more than to watch the rest. She could not hold the mix of joy and worry inside of her for long. Sakura quickly excused herself and ran upstairs to her room.