To Live Darkly

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"Cherry-POP!"

The auditorium was full of people. In one area, parents—in groups or as couples—waited impatiently. Some made use of the multitudes of chairs and couches arranged for their use while others stood. Some chatted in groups while others waited quietly. Nearly all had gone to the concessions area and were now drinking canned coffee, ramune or one of a dozen other choices.

About the only choice he recognized was the ramune. He liked the cherry flavor. Well, okay, it wasn’t his favorite, but it was Kaa-chan’s favorite so that made it his, too. They had come over to the concessions area together to get something to drink before he had to go in for the test. Soon it would be his turn and then his parents would move over to the seating area with the other parents, to wait.

“How about we share one between us and then I can hold it for you while you’re inside?” his Kaa-chan asked.

“Okay, but you don’t have to wait for me. You can have some while I’m gone.”

“Thank you, sweet-heart!” and she gave him a kiss on the forehead before turning to the bottle of cherry flavored ramune she’d bought. “Are you ready?” she asked.

“Ready,” he replied, his excitement so infectious that other children were watching and holding their breaths.

And with that his okaa-san broke the bead that sealed the bottle and together they announced, “Cherry-POP!”

There were many giggles and a few cheers from around their area of the auditorium. It wasn’t quite as cushy as the area for those parents whose children were already inside being tested, but that was alright. This section had an actual playground set up for the children who were waiting to be called in, and the benches set aside for the parents weren’t uncomfortable.

He sat quietly between Kaa-chan and Tou-chan—sipping the cherry soda—and waited. Eventually it would be his turn. He’d been told what to expect so he wasn’t scared, just nervous in the way that children are nervous and shy about new things.

Finally, they called for him. Kaa-chan gave him a big hug and Tou-chan told him to do his best, then off he went.

An hour later he was led back out and went to wrap his arms around Kaa-chan while Tou-chan stepped to the side with the man who’d come out with him. Once they were all back together Tou-chan said they should go out to dinner.

The rest of that evening was spent telling his parents all about the test.

On the drive to the restaraunt he told them about how he’d been given a book and crayons and asked to color certain pictures with certain colors. And how after that they let him draw whatever he wanted using any color he liked.

Over dinner he told them all the questions he’d been asked about numbers and letters and how the people seemed happy that he was good at those. He threw his arms around Kaa-chan, kissed her cheek, and let her know that he told them he was good at numbers and letters because Kaa-chan had taught him.

On the way home he told them how for the rest of the test all they really did was play they way the people asked them to, but that a couple of the boys didn’t understand. He had explained it to one of the boys and then they had played together.

His Tou-chan carried him to bed that night and told him he had done very well. He even told Kaa-chan, “It seems that we have a little genius on our hands.”

Kaa-chan tucked him in and said, “Tomorrow we’ll do something very special while Tou-chan’s at work.”

Later, when he got up to go to the bathroom, he heard them talking.

“It’s too soon. He’s not even six yet,” said Kaa-chan, worriedly.

But Tou-chan said, “It’ll be fine. He’s already at the eight year level. Besides, you’re going to have to cut those apron strings eventually.”

That didn’t really make any sense to him because he knew that if Kaa-chan cut the strings off her apron, it wouldn’t fit right.

But Tou-chan said that there was a whole month before school and they would make the best of it. This seemed to make Kaa-chan feel better so he went back to bed and waited to fall asleep. “The sooner you do the sooner tomorrow will come,” Kaa-chan always told him.

The next day, while Tou-chan was at work, they went down to the craft district and Kaa-chan bought lots of pretty little crystal beads, along with feathers and fancy, sparkling colored thread. And to his delight, they had their ramune soda while they were out. This time he did the countdown before she broke the seal. “Cherry-POP!”

At home once more Kaa-chan spread their newly acquired treasures on the table then took a moment to draw a picture of what she intended for them to make. It was round with all the little sparkly pieces hanging by the pretty threads. Kaa-chan called it a Dream Catcher, something that would catch his nightmares and keep them away from him so that he would only ever have good dreams.

They were just finishing up when Tou-chan came home. He sat and listened in rapt attention to the tale of the day’s adventures and in the end he helped finish the dream catcher. At bedtime that night they all went upstairs and he was tucked in by Kaa-chan while Tou-chan hung the dream catcher from the curtain rod above his window.

The next morning when he woke up, just after the sun had risen, he was treated to a spectacular sight! The sun was shining through all the pretty crystal beads and making beautiful rainbows and colored sparkles on the walls and ceiling. He decided to stay in bed just a bit longer.

Kaa-chan came in she asked, “Why are you being a lazy-bones this morning?” All he could do was point. Kaa-chan came over and laid down next to him, tucking him up close to her and laying his head on her shoulder. They stayed that way until Tou-chan came to see what had happened to them.

He, too, was surprised by the beautiful colors spread around the room and decided to sit in the bed side chair for a while to admire the view with them. Eventually Tou-chan’s stomache growled so loudly they could all hear it and Kaa-chan said, “That’s it then my lovely boys; time for breakfast.”

Their long lie in bed and the late breakfast after was the beginning of the first day of a week long vacation.

They went to the beach and rented a two bedroom cabin right on the water’s edge. Tou-chan had even brought and hung his dream catcher for him.

They played in the water and built sand castles every morning. In the afternoons, when it got too hot to be on the beach, they went further inland to the amusement park or the ball field to play. And throughout the whole week they had all the seafood and ramune they could stand.

Tou-chan preferred the orange flavor but he never said “pop” with his. He seemed to understand that this was a ritual between Kaa-chan and her “special boy”. Only they did the count down with their ramune. Only she would hit the bead in just the right way to make that sound as they both announced, “Cherry POP!”

At the end of a fun but exhausting week, they came home to a message from someone representing a special school program who was hoping for an interview with them.

“How would you like to go to school with children as smart as you are?” They’d asked him. “You’d have the chance to learn all sorts of fun things.”

He didn’t want to go since the school was in Tokyo and he wanted to stay with Kaa-chan and Tou-chan but his parents had thought they should at least go have a look.

“We can decide after we see this place,” they said

They had returned the call and the next day, all dressed up in their finest clothes, they had left for Tokyo.

On their arrival they had been met by a woman and two men in suits who led them into an office. Kaa-chan and Tou-chan sat in the two seats available and he sat in her lap.

One of the men asked if he would step over to the desk to have a look at something and so he had slid down and left his Kaa-chan’s side.

There was a sound; pfft, followed by another. He turned to see the stains on his parents’ clothes, like the day Kaa-chan had spilled her ramune on her kimono. A deep red stain running down her blouse. But their was one on Tou-chan’s shirt as well and he didn’t drink cherry ramune. He liked orange. Shouldn’t the stain be orange?

He moved toward them but the man pulled him back.

He was afraid. Kaa-chan and Tou-chan weren’t sitting up straight in their chairs. They always sat up straight. They were always telling him to sit up straight. But now they weren’t and he didn’t understand. He was scared.

Then there was a sting at the back of his neck, like a bee, and...

Kaijin awoke with a start, a silent scream reverberating through his chest. He watched the moonlight spangle across his ceiling from the crystal dream catcher he’d made for himself, and attempted to calm his breathing.

He’d been trying to remember his past for months, through meditation and self-hypnosis mostly. And here it had come back to him in his dreams.

All of it.

The end of his first life in all it’s gory detail, he thought, as a sudden lurch in his stomach sent him running for the bathroom. All except that one thing he wanted most of all, he nearly cried as his stomach heaved.

His name.

Not the one he’d had in that place; 815, or the one he’d chosen for himself after their escape; Kaijin.

He realized with near soul crushing finality that he would never know his true name, that it was gone forever.

And what he had instead was the last thing he’d ever wanted. That final—now unforgettable—scene of his parents slumping in their chairs, and the knowledge that; whether it be for business or survival, never again would he be able to pull the trigger without seeing that stain on his mothers blouse and thinking...

“Cherry-POP!“

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