Red Heart

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Chapter 3

Yuko Mori, a first year student at the local junior college, was in class listening intently to her professor’s lecture and scribbling down notes as fast as she could. Though the other students were on the verge of falling asleep thanks to their professor’s monotone voice, Yuko’s focus was unwavering as she soaked up the information she so hungrily craved.

“Mrs. Watanabe is a classic case,” said Professor Akimoto. “She has been collecting the local newspaper for the past thirty years. When asked why she doesn’t throw them away, she replies that it would make no sense to do so.”

After class Yuko traveled down the same hall she did every day. But today something about it was different. A bright green flyer was sticking out like a sore thumb amongst all the other pages of white. Yuko usually passed by without ever giving the bulletin board a second look, but the flyer was so bright that she felt compelled to see what it was. The flyer was a posting for a family in need of childcare for their daughter.

Hoping to someday work with children, Yuko decided it would be well worth her time to at least check things out. The prospect of earning a little extra spending money also helped to push Yuko in that direction.

The next day Yuko was invited to the Suzuki home to meet Mrs. Suzuki. The two took to the living room and conversed over cups of tea.

“We just need someone to watch Minami for a few hours every day,” said Mrs. Suzuki. “It would be a great help while I go out on interviews. And since we’re new to the area, it gives Minami the opportunity to make at least one new friend.”

“She doesn’t have any friends yet?” asked Yuko.

“Minami has always had difficulty making new friends. Which is why it was so difficult for us to make this move. I’m starting to worry about her. She spends so much time in her room these days. But the worst thing is, she . . .” Mrs. Suzuki was clearly hesitant to tell Yuko the full truth about her daughter.

“What is it? There’s nothing wrong with her, is there?”

“Well, it might be nothing, but she has an imaginary friend,” explained Mrs. Suzuki. “I don’t know if this is normal behavior or something I should be worried about.”

“It sounds perfectly normal to me,” said Yuko. “When I was younger my family moved quite a bit. I always felt so alone when we moved into a new house. I didn’t have any friends and everything was new and strange to me.”

“Do you think this might all just go away soon?”

“It’s hard to say. But for the time being I would let Minami have her friend. Imaginary friends can help provide comfort for a child in times of great stress. The family moving is the direct reason why your daughter has been acting this way. She also needs companionship.”

“Maybe I should spend more time with her. I do my best, but things are so busy these days that I don’t have much free time.”

“Children need friends their own age, or at least someone younger than their parents,” explained Yuko. “As long as Minami doesn’t start showing destructive behavior because of her friend, there really isn’t much to worry about.”

“You know so much about this,” said a clearly impressed Mrs. Suzuki.

“Thank you,” said Yuko. “I plan on becoming a child psychologist after I graduate from college. Just because someone is young doesn’t mean they can’t have grown up problems.”

“I think you could be a big help to Minami. If you want it, the job is yours.”

“Thank you very much,” said Yuko. “So . . . does Minami’s imaginary friend have a name?”

“Sayaka,” answered Mrs. Suzuki.

“Sayaka.”

“I’ve been wondering why she chose that name for her,” said Mrs. Suzuki. “Minami’s never had a friend with that name and there’s no one in our extended family named Sayaka. I guess she must have come up with it on her own.”

Later that night, Mrs. Suzuki had prepared dinner for the family. Her husband was still out drinking with his co-workers, but that never meant the ladies of the house would be waiting for him.

“Minami,” called Mrs. Suzuki from the kitchen. “Come down so you can have dinner.” There was no response from her daughter. Making her way to the stairs, she called out for her daughter again. “Minami, come down to eat.” Like before, there was no response. “Minami, is everything alright?”

Making her way up the stairs, Mrs. Suzuki’s breathing became heavy and her heart began beating rapidly. “Minami,” she said in a near whisper of a voice. Opening the door to her daughter’s room, Mrs. Suzuki found Minami holding a red crayon in her hand. Upon the wall was a heart drawn in the same shade as the crayon Minami was holding.

“What did you do?” asked Mrs. Suzuki.

“It wasn’t me,” claimed Minami. “Sayaka drew it.”

“Sayaka drew it?” asked Mrs. Suzuki.

“I told her not to, but she wouldn’t listen.”

An infuriated Mrs. Suzuki snatched the crayon away from her daughter, then proceeded to take the full box of crayons that was nearby. “Not only do you write on the walls, but you lie to me that you didn’t do it.”

“It wasn’t me,” said Minami, her eyes filling with tears.

“Let’s go,” demanded Mrs. Suzuki, grabbing her daughter by the arm. “After you eat dinner, you take your bath and go straight to bed, understand?”

Mrs. Suzuki was true to her word. After dinner, she bathed Minami and sent her off to bed. She then warned her daughter that if she heard any talking or saw that the light was on, then further punishment would be administered.

Minami and Sayaka were tucked in tightly under the covers. Still in a bad mood over what happened to her earlier that night, Minami was rolled over so that she was facing away from Sayaka. She hadn’t said a word to her since the lights went out.

“I’m sorry that I got you into trouble,” said Sayaka. “I just wanted to surprise you by making your room look better.”

Minami refused to give a reply.

“I like to draw hearts,” said Sayaka. “Don’t you? If I had enough crayons, I would cover every wall in the world with hearts. That way everyone would be happy all the time. No one can be angry when there’s so many hearts.”

Again, Minami refused to answer. And that pattern continued until Minami fell asleep.

Hours had passed and all was quiet throughout the house until a floorboard outside Minami's room creaked. It had failed to waken her on previous nights, but this night Minami’s sleep had been uneasy, so she awoke to a most disturbing event.

Someone began running their fingernails against her door, all the while breathing more than heavily enough to be heard. This was followed by someone turning the knob. “Give her to me,” said a woman’s voice.

Minami began shaking visibly. Her mouth was open but quivering so badly that she was unable to call out for help.

“It’s alright,” said Sayaka, embracing her friend. “She can’t hurt you as long as I’m here. I’ll never let her separate us.”

Before long, the knob stopped turning, the fingernails stopped scratching against the door, and the heavy breathing ceased. Things were once again safe for Minami, but the woman would be coming back every night until she got what she had come for.

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