There’s a narrow border of bright autumn flowers outside the community centre and that’s where it lands, from nowhere, with a little puff of dusty soil.
Shiina stops, the key to her bike lock in one hand and her baton swinging from the other, and she stares up at the sky: but it’s wide and blue and empty of everything except for a single vanishing contrail, and the aeroplane leading it. “Huh,” she says, thoughtfully, and picks her way across the flowerbed to investigate.
In the shadows of a fat purplish hydrangea bush she finds a notebook. It’s skinny, and unused, and it’s lying rumpled open in the dirt. She flips through, looking for a name, or an address, or any sort of clue to what this perfectly nice little notebook might have been doing falling out of the sky at a bit after eleven on a sunny Sunday morning in September, but there’s nothing at all – nothing but white characters on the black cover, and inside the cover, too, but it’s not in Japanese and heck if Shiina knows the first thing about languages!
She tucks the notebook into her backpack, between her towel and her water bottle, and hurries on into baton class. Her daddy can read some English – she’ll show him, later, and she bets if they put their heads together they’ll be able to work out what’s what.
“Aw, c’mon, you know I’ll be fine!”
“I know. I do know. Listen – I’ll be home tomorrow, though. Okay? I definitely will.”
The phone’s tucked between her cheek and her shoulder. She’s chopping turnip, a saucepan bubbling on the stove and the radio turned down low on the shelf above her. “You’re such a worrier, Daddy – you should take up a sport. You should take up baton! – I’ll teach you, okay? When you’re home.”
He laughs. “All right. Sounds good. Love you, Shiina.”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
She turns up the radio and chops vegetables to the rhythm of the chart music, sings along to advertisement jingles, dances her way between the oven and the sink and practises her softshoe shuffle, her jive, her hopscotch, skidding across the tiles as the pan on the stove bubbles quietly away. The apartment always feels a bit empty when she knows her daddy can’t make it back home so she makes herself louder to fill it; there aren’t an awful lot of things Shiina’s any good at, but she can make a home feel homely, even when she’s all on her own, and feeling sort of lonely. She taps an egg against the ceramic rim of a mixing bowl, taps it again, and she’s about to crack it when –
– and she jumps so badly that it shatters on the countertop. Yolk splatters down her apron. The whites drip to the floor.
Shiina whirls around, her whisk defensively upraised. There is a great big monster standing in the doorway of the kitchen, skin as dead and white as bone, slouch-shouldered and grinning. Its grin is a distorted skeletal leer, spread all the way across its face.
Alright? it says.
Shiina hurls herself towards it and smacks it with the whisk, right in the middle of its skinny monster belly. “Get out! This is my house, this is mine and my daddy’s house and we don’t want monsters! Get out! Get out!”
I’m not a monster, says the monster, I’m a death god. There’s a big difference. The difference is mainly that death gods exist.
Shiina hits it again, as high as she can reach, across the collarbones, where its black leather shirt is stitched onto its white monster skin. Her heart is swelling hotly up with anger. “Go away!”
Would if I could, kid, but you’ve got my Death Note.
“I do not,” says Shiina. “I don’t even know what one of those is. But I know what this is, and it’s – it’s breaking and entering, is what it is, and that’s illegal, Mister Monster! Get out!”
You picked up a notebook, right? Dropped out the sky? Total mystery, don’t know where it came from, don’t know whose it is?
“I’m gonna call the police on you,” says Shiina, but she doesn’t move. She doesn’t even hit the monster again. She glowers up at it, suspiciously, and it grins back down. “If it is yours,” she says, after a moment, “then I’ll give it you back. But you gotta say sorry, and you gotta promise you won’t come back, and you gotta leave me and my daddy alone – okay?”
Kid, I don’t want it back. That notebook’s yours now. That’s what I’m tryna tell –
“If it’s yours then it’s yours, Mister Monster, and anything else is stealing.” Shiina waves an airy hand; the monster raises its feet up from the floor and floats slowly backwards, out of the doorway, to let her through. It’s far too big to fit in their narrow little hallway. Its shoulders are ever so hunched. “I will give it you back, but just gimme a minute to copy out my homework first!”
“I sort of started doing my sums in it,” Shiina tells the monster, launching herself straight through to the living room, “and catch me doing those twice! Or –” seizing up her backpack from the couch, “– maybe, if you don’t mind, Mister Monster –” upending it on the desk, already littered with pencil shavings and little worn-off pills of eraser and highlighter pens lying uncapped, “– I could just tear out the page I’m working on? It’d save me copying all that up again, you see!”
Hang on, says the monster. It raises one great taloned hand. The hand is black, and leathery in the palm, and though it’s got what looks like four fingers and a thumb those fingers and that thumb are too long, and they taper to terrible points, and they curl like they’ve got more knuckles inside than Shiina can understand: so she doesn’t bother trying. She flips the notebook open to its first page, the date printed untidily in the top right corner, her sums lined up beneath, and chews thoughtfully on the end of the closest pencil. You’ve been doing your homework in the Death Note?
“Sure!” says Shiina. “I dropped my last arithmetic book in a puddle. I was pretty excited to find a new one, just like that!”
Humans are always a surprising species, says the monster, floating beside the television, its huge, bulging eyes bewildered. Tamai Shiina, that notebook’s yours, now. Yours for as long as you live.
“Do you mean it?” says Shiina.
The monster dips its head – and then, moments later, jerks it back up with a whoof! of surprise as Shiina hurls herself right into it, wraps her arms round that skinny monster belly and squeezes.
“Thank you, Mister Monster! Thank you very much! I’m gonna be in junior high come April, so I dunno about all this ‘long as I live’ business, but you can bet your butt I’m gonna have the snappiest looking arithmetic book in class till then!”
Shiina, says the monster, Shiina –
She allows herself to be disengaged from the hug. “Say, do monsters like turnip?”
Shiina, do you understand the power of the Death Note?
“Power?” says Shiina, and she wrinkles her nose. “I’ve definitely not got much power at arithmetic. Sports and cooking, that’s me!”
No, begins the monster, but Shiina’s already towing it back to the kitchen, her hand wrapped as far round its wrist as her fingers can stretch.
“C’mon – you can stay for supper, if you like! Promise you’ll help with the dishes afterward?”
You get my Note and this is how you use it.
“I did say you could have it back,” says Shiina, who is carefully plotting out a graph, calculator and ruler and problem sheet on the desk beside her.
Ain’t how it works. The monster swings upside down, presses its great clawed feet to her bedroom ceiling. Ughhhh – I’m bored, I’m so bored.
“Me too.” The sign for long division turns into a skatepark. She bites her tongue between her teeth and adds in little skating stick figures, somersaulting off the equals sign, and a cheering stick figure crowd, and a very smiley sunshine in the corner, underneath the last problem she tried to work her way through; and then Shiina stops doodling, and studies the page. “Hey,” says Shiina, after a moment, “d’you wanna come cycling?”
The new girl at baton class is taller than Shiina and older than Shiina, but most of the people in the world are taller and older than Shiina and it barely even registers. Her hair is dark, and her eyes are dark, and her skin is the sickly off-white of someone who definitely doesn’t get enough healthy exercise outdoors; when she tentatively accepts the baton Shiina’s holding out to her, her hands are thin and fragile. She stands knock-kneed, and she even sits knock-kneed, and she perches on the bench looking for all the world like one of the strange, brittle matchstick sculptures Shiina’s granddaddy creates and sets inside glass bottles.
And she won’t fight. She won’t fight, not even a little.
“D’you fancy walking to class together next week?” says Shiina, later, in the locker room.
“Um,” says Akira.
Shiina shucks off her gym shorts, hops around on the spot, wrestles to drag her cargo shorts on instead. “I mean, I dunno where you live, but I can cycle miles and not get tired, so even if you live hours and hours away I bet I could give you a lift here on my bike! Would you like that? Have you got a safety helmet?”
“I – I, um,” says Akira, and then her voice falters too quietly to hear.
Shiina stops hopping. “Pardon?”
“I… don’t live far,” she mumbles. She’s standing with her hands wound tightly together and her head bowed, her eyes hidden by the shineless black veil of her hair.
A shake of the head.
“Well darn, Akira, that’s awesome! Here, look, I’ll write down my number for you, okay? You give me a ring before next week, or – wait, you write down your address too, here, have some paper, borrow my pen! – and I’ll definitely come by, we can arrive together, we can do that skid up in front of the doors like in films, you know the one, when gravel goes everywhere, I’ll practise on my bike before next week –”
Shiina whips around and Akira is clutching at her own throat, pen and paper in her other hand; her stare is wide and fixed with horror and Shiina looks up to follow it: her monster, floating near the ceiling of the locker room, looking about as apologetic as a monster with a bone-carved leer for a face can look.
“You can see him?” says Shiina, in astonishment.
Akira whimpers again, and drops the scrap of paper Shiina gave her to write on. Her fingers are trembling against her exercise pants.
“Wait,” says Shiina, a beat too late, because Akira’s turned to fumble the door of the locker room blindly open, her arm pressed across her eyes, “Akira, wait, it’s okay, he’s not a – Akira! He’s a good guy! He lives with me – Akira! I promise he won’t hurt you!”
“Don’t follow me!” Akira screams, and Shiina skids to a startled halt, barefoot, on the smooth laminate floorboards of the entrance hall. The front door swings open; the front door swings shut.
Other people can see me if they touch the Death Note, says her monster, floating through the wall from the locker room. Shoulda told you that, probably.
“You darn well should have! Hang on, wait there, I’ll be a sec –”
Shiina ducks back into the locker room. The piece of paper torn from her arithmetic book has fluttered underneath a bench, but there’s writing on it – Akira must have written her address and looked up to give it back to Shiina and – bam, she got a faceful of monster, and Shiina’s monster isn’t exactly the sweetest-looking sort of monster so it’s no wonder Akira panicked! She tucks the paper in her pocket, and slips on her shoes, and scoops her backpack from her locker.
Livened things up a bit though, didn’t it, says her monster, bobbing in the entrance hall.
“Mister Monster,” says Shiina, and she shoves back the front door. The air outside is hot and dry and she takes a deep breath, and hurries down the sidewalk to her bike, chained up against a lamppost. “Mister Monster, we are going to go to Akira’s house right now, and you are going to say sorry to her. And then you are going to go and wait outside, and I am going to say sorry to her. And then you’re gonna tell me all about when you’re invisible and when you’re not invisible, so I can make sure no one else has to see your big ugly mug appearing out of nowhere all of a sudden.”
Rude, says her monster.
“You scaring poor Akira like that was rude!” says Shiina, and her monster makes a sort of grumbling noise that she hears in the very back of her skull but it doesn’t say a word, probably because it knows full well that Shiina’s got it right. She pushes off and freewheels a little way, her hair brushed back by the wind. Her monster glides along above her, its leathery, feathery wings spread wide, no shadow falling.
It’s a tower block apartment, cramped and dark with a washing line strung inside the bathroom, from the shower rail to the top of the mirror. When Shiina slips in to splash her face with water and wash the dust of the city off her there are faded whites pegged up above her, dripping on the tiles.
The lady who lets her in has fine dark hair streaked chalkily with grey, and miserable lines dug beneath her eyes. “End of the hall,” she says, when Shiina asks, and Shiina bows in thanks and hurries on.
She knocks. The door stays shut. “Akira?” she whispers, though her mum can almost definitely hear anything she says through the narrow walls. “It’s me – Shiina, from baton class? I wanted to say sorry for – well, for earlier, you know what I mean. Can I come in?”
The door stays shut. Shiina waits.
“It’s not with me any more – the, uh – you know. It’s outside. I told it to wait. It does what I say, see, it’s not – but I mean, if you don’t come out, I just want you to know that I’m really really sorry, Akira – and you can bet I made sure the you-know-what is sorry too!” She scuffs her toes against the carpet. There are sounds of movement inside the room. “Um. That’s it, I guess. You shouldn’t stop coming to baton, though! We wouldn’t have to be together, if you – if you didn’t want to be partners with me again, cos you could ask Sensei, and that’d be okay, I wouldn’t mind, I’d understand you gotta –”
The door inches open.
“Akira?” says Shiina, when Akira says nothing.
“Tamai-san,” says Akira, though it’s hardly louder than her unsteady breathing, and she pulls the door open a little wider and lets Shiina inside.
The shutters at her window are latched tight. The thin curtain across them is drawn. There’s no lightbulb in the socket but there’s a lamp on the desk that casts a puddle of sickly-pale light across the bare carpet, and when Akira kneels in the gloom Shiina plops down beside her.
“It’s because of my arithmetic book,” Shiina explains, after a moment of silence, because she may as well.
Akira kneads the fabric of her summer dress. She doesn’t look up.
“It’s haunted – well, it’s sort of haunted,” amends Shiina, trying to keep her voice down low, though it’s an awful struggle to do. “It’s kinda complicated and I don’t really get it, but my monster – the big ugly guy you saw! – he owns it, or he lives in it, or – well, I don’t exactly get it, but he’s not a bad guy! I’m the one in charge, if you know what I –”
“All gods of death are bad,” says Akira.
“A god of death!” Shiina scrambles onto her knees in excitement and remembers moments later she’s trying to be secretive, so she hushes her voice to a noisy whisper and says, delighted, “That’s it, Akira, that’s what he says! My monster! You’re ever so clever to know that!”
“Um,” says Akira. She gives the sliding door of her wardrobe a bashful look. “It’s not, um, it’s – not. Clever. It’s… just, um…”
The sentence trails vaguely away.
“Pardon?” says Shiina, without thinking, and Akira ducks her head back down at once and kneads her dress up tighter. “Oh, me and my big mouth – I’m sorry, Akira! You haven’t gotta tell me anything you don’t want to! Don’t worry about it, alright?”
“It’s okay,” says Akira, in a mumble so low Shiina thinks for a moment she’s imagined it; but then she uncurls her fists, and lays her hands flat, and smoothes out the hem of her dress. “It’s – um. All Death Notes are… owned by gods of death.”
“Why does everyone keep – I mean,” says Shiina, hurriedly, biting her sentence short, “sorry, Akira. You can go on!”
Akira is staring at her. Her dark hair is in her eyes but her eyes are wide, and though the room is dim and what little light there is only lights her from behind, a narrow corona of blinding white around her head – though it’s ever so dim, it seems to Shiina that Akira’s looking sort of scared.
Shiina looks behind her. There’s nothing there. “Akira?” she says, hesitantly.
“Don’t you care?”
“That I – I’ve…”
Shiina holds her breath and waits, with the same fragile stillness her daddy taught her to use with the wild deer in the forests outside of town, to save startling them back into the deep dark thickets; and Akira twists her hands into each other, and stares at the carpet, and when she looks back up a good few minutes later her eyebrows are pulled in, and her expression is determined.
“That I know about your Death Note.”
“Well,” says Shiina, after a moment, “the thing is – my monster keeps saying that, and it sure does sound all mysterious and everything, but I personally don’t really see what the fuss is.”
Akira’s staring again.
“It just sounds a bit dramatic,” Shiina explains, helpfully. “I mean, all I do is practise my arithmetic in it. Does that mean you’ve got one too?”
“Do you,” says Akira, and stops, and takes a deep breath. “Do you – um, really not know? What it… does?”
“What it does?” says Shiina. “Well, it’s a notebook, isn’t it? Mine sure doesn’t do a whole lot!”
Akira stares some more. Then she nods, once, jerkily, and scrambles to her feet. She slides back her wardrobe door and pushes aside a blanket, and a spare pillow, and pulls out a plain shoebox from beneath a small stack of ringbinders, and from inside the shoebox she fishes out a notebook.
“That’s it?” says Shiina. “Your one, I mean?”
It’s just like Shiina’s, really – black, with white writing on the front – but this one is singed round the edges, big fiery bites taken from the cover and the top few pages.
“Please don’t –!”
Shiina jerks her hand away.
“I mean,” says Akira, who is back to twisting furiously at the hem of her dress, “Tamai-san – if you… I w-would feel – I’m sorry, I’m – sorry. I’m very sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no,” says Shiina, hurriedly, “no, no – I’m sorry. I should have asked! You’ve probably got a monster with it too, haven’t you?”
Akira nods, and then she nods again, like it’s more herself she’s trying to convince than Shiina.
“Well,” says Shiina, and then after that she’s not quite sure what to say, because the notebook is just sitting there, on the carpet, singed all round its edges, and Akira is looking down at it with the most awfully hunted, haunted stare. “Does it – what does your one do?”
“It,” says Akira. “It,” she whispers. “It,” she says, again, after a moment, in a mumble that’s hardly even said aloud, and Shiina leans toward her and cups her ear, “kills people.”
Shiina rears back. “It never!”
“Um,” says Akira. She wraps the fingers of one hand around the skinny wrist of her other and squeezes. Then she nods.
“It kills people?” Shiina hisses, staring down in horror at the charred little notebook, lying so inoffensively between them on the floor.
“A name,” says Akira. “You. Put in, um… a name… and they – they. Die. Yours too.”
Huge-eyed, Shiina stares a moment longer. It sounds almost too silly to be true, but if there’s anything at all that she’s learned in eleven years on Planet Earth – apart from how to steam rice to perfection, and how to hit a real curveball in batting practice, and how to wrap her hair up in a towel after bathing just like the ladies do on television – if she’s learned anything, it’s that’s nothing’s too silly, and that often the silliest things are also the truest things, like treefrogs with patterns on their backs like huge eyes to frighten away the birds who’d eat them otherwise.
“People just die?” she whispers, and Akira dips her head. “But that’s awful! That’s horrible! How d’you find out, Akira?”
Akira’s head is still bowed. One fine dark swathe of hair has come loose from behind her ear and it hangs down beside her cheek: which is pale, nearly greyish in the gloom. She doesn’t reply.
“Did your monster tell you?”
Slowly, Akira nods.
“Mine doesn’t tell me anything. Mine didn’t even tell me other people could accidentally see it, can you believe that? It’s ever so unhelpful – but,” says Shiina, remembering very suddenly the gravity of the situation, and shuffling forward on her knees to lay a hand comfortingly down on the carpet beside Akira’s foot, “there’s probably things adults can do about it. I bet if you told your mum and dad they’d know just what to –”
“I don’t – don’t have…”
“A father,” says Akira. “He’s dead.”
“Aw, heck,” says Shiina. “I’m really sorry, Akira.”
Akira shuts her eyes. For a moment her face screws up, like chewing lemons. “It… doesn’t matter.”
“Well – maybe,” says Shiina, “if we told the police –”
A metallic clatter sounds from the room beside Akira’s, saucepans in a sink, and water starts to run. The pipes creak. “No,” says Akira. “If you… if it’s, um. Okay, Tamai-san…”
“It’s Shiina,” chides Shiina.
“Um,” says Akira, and in the five full minutes of coaxing it takes to get Shiina’s first name from her she develops a quite furious blush.
Shiina’s monster floats in through the wall of Akira’s bedroom a little while later, and it takes one look at her half-charred notebook and whistles, impressed, as well as it can whistle without proper human lips. Bet that hurt, didn’t it?
Akira doesn’t look up.
You own a Death Note and you try to destroy it, you get destroyed along with it. Says so in the rules. Musta been some screwed up kind of day you were having, huh?
“Akira!” says Shiina, in horror, but Akira’s still not looking up. If anything, she’s looking even further down – curling in on herself like a forest fern that can’t stand to be touched, flinching in its leaves when it sees the light – and Shiina stops herself from speaking and thinks, just in case she goes and says something awful, just to be safe: for if Akira tried to destroy her notebook, and if Akira knew that destroying her notebook would destroy her, then that means – well, what it means is something very grave indeed, and Shiina feels a pang of terrible sorrow go all the way through her heart at the thought. “You say sorry to Akira! You say sorry right now, Mister Monster, do you hear me?”
It fusses, and it dithers, but Shiina doesn’t let her glare drop and eventually her monster bobs up to the ceiling and grumbles an apology.
Akira doesn’t unfurl herself, but she doesn’t furl in further.
“I’m sorry, too,” Shiina says, and sits down beside her, carefully not too close.
Whatever it is that the two of them have found themselves mixed up in here, Shiina’s not afraid. Shiina doesn’t do afraid, not really, because she knows that the world is a good place and that people are kind, when you get right down to it. But what she is is angry: angry for Akira, and for whatever these monsters – these gods of death – have done to Akira’s life, and she chews at the knuckle of her thumb and stares down at the carpet as she thinks about it, intently, harder than she’s ever thought about anything before.
Akira stays beside her. Every now and again Shiina feels a little like she’s being watched; when she glances to the side and smiles, reassuringly, Akira turns a dusky shade of embarrassment and looks hurriedly away.
Hey, begins Shiina’s monster.
“Shush,” orders Shiina, and it rolls its great bulbous eyes, but it does. It might be haunting a notebook invented just for murders but it does what Shiina tells it, if she tells it sternly enough, and right now that’s just about the only thing she can think of that it’s got going for it.
“Mister Monster,” she says, at length, and it dips down toward her, leering its skeletal leer. “I don’t want you living with me and my daddy any more.”
I live where my Death Note lives, Tamai Shiina.
“Then you can just have your stupid old Death Note back, can’t you!”
“Your big old, stupid old – wait,” says Shiina. “Wait, Mister Monster – you’ll just take it back? If I tell you to?”
“And then you’ll go away?” she says, in disbelief, sitting up straighter.
There’s a bit more to it than that, says her monster, and for the first time the vacancy of its grin begins to unsettle her, fixed in bare bone, unreadable and changeless. But sure. Basically. All you gotta do is forfeit.
Shiina looks at it a moment longer. It continues to grin.
She turns to Akira. “D’your monster ever say anything to you about this?”
“I don’t,” mumbles Akira, but she’s looking at Shiina, nervously, from beneath her bangs. “My… god. Of death. We… don’t, um…”
“Don’t talk?” says Shiina, sympathetically. “Don’t hang out? Kicked it out the house? I know how you feel, I wish mine’d –”
“– get the message – huh?”
Akira’s twisting her hands between each other again, her grip so tight her bony knuckles are stretched pale. “It’s… still here,” she says.
“It is?” says Shiina, and Akira nods. “Well, heck! How about you call it in? It can’t be less use than mine is, after all – I bet yours’d tell us about, um. About…”
“No,” says Akira, “it’s – um. It’s here…”
“Here?” says Shiina, and Akira nods once more. “You mean – it’s here? Right here?” Nodding. “With us? Right now?” Still nodding. Shiina looks about her, at the bare walls and the unmade bed, bare desk and an open wardrobe, no mess, no clutter, nothing in the waste bin at all, the latched shutters and the gloomy light, and she looks at her monster floating above them, and she looks at Akira kneeling beside her, and then she looks around again: but the room is empty of secondary monsters, as far as she can see them, and she can hardly imagine where a secondary monster might even fit, in this dark, cramped little bedroom. “Has it been here this whole time?”
The thought isn’t very comfortable.
“Spooky!” says Shiina, after a moment.
Akira doesn’t smile, exactly, but there’s a little twitch beside her mouth that she hurriedly covers up; and the fact that Shiina really is feeling a bit uneasy blows right away on the wind as soon as she sees it. “D’you think – it’s okay if you don’t, though, Akira! – but do you think, maybe, I could have a bit of a chat with your monster?”
“Um,” says Akira.
“And then maybe we could see about kicking them both out,” says Shiina, “right out – back to wherever gods of death go when they’re not just lazing around being rude to humans and eating all the fruit in the house! And then we can have a nice time at baton class, and we’ll know they won’t be watching us, and we’ll know no one’s getting killed. But only,” she adds, hastily, “only if you don’t mind, Akira! It’s no problem if you –”
“Um,” says Akira, again, and then in one jerky movement she grabs up her notebook from the carpet and holds it out to Shiina.
“You sure?” says Shiina.
She gets another jerky nod in return; and so, respectfully, Shiina takes it.
Two things happen at once. The first is the appearance of a monster like wet cement dripped into a sock and squeezed, clay-white, distorted and bulging, with a mouth like torn stitches across the lower portion of its misshapen round head, floating upside down with its face barely inches from Shiina’s. The second, and by far the more startling, is the hot blush that spreads across Akira’s cheeks the instant Shiina’s fingers brush hers in the handover.
Boo, says the new monster, but Shiina ignores it.
“We’re gonna sort it out. Okay, Akira? I promise we’re gonna get this straight!”
“Okay,” says Akira, softly, after a moment. Shiina’s startled again to hear her voice; she rallies, and beams, and Akira’s eyes go wide and her blush comes back full force.
Tamai Shiina, says the new monster. Sakura Akira. If you’re gonna make such a production out of seeing me in the first place, you may as well pay me some attention once you can, right?
“We’re busy, Mister Monster,” scolds Shiina.
She’s always like this, says Shiina’s monster, ruefully, and Shiina ignores that too.
“I don’t think it’s fair you’ve got to live with a murder notebook,” she says. Akira is wide-eyed and looking very intently at the carpet. Shiina turns her hand so it’s palm-up and resting on her knee, just in case Akira wants the comfort of it, just in case Akira doesn’t know how to ask for the comfort of it. “Or a god of death. Especially the god of death, in fact. I mean, mine’s pretty bad, but yours – sheesh!”
Another of those little twitches beside her mouth. Not a smile yet, but maybe a smile one day. Shiina thinks she’d like to see that.
“We’re gonna get rid of all this gross stuff. Send it back to Hell or wherever – we’ll just get rid of it! Bye-bye, death gods, so long, murder books! Okay, Akira?”
Akira’s fingers dig into the fabric of her skirt. Then, ever so uncertainly, they uncurl; and she lays her hand over Shiina’s.
She reacts like Shiina’s electric, like the shock of the contact’s travelled straight up her hand to her wrist to her arm to her brain and electrified her all the way down, and she holds her hand there in Shiina’s like she can hardly believe it’s connected to her, quivering gently with electric nerves.
Shiina’s still smiling happily when she pulls her own notebook from her backpack and scoops it up with Akira’s, and attempts, one-handed, to readjust her grip; and when she fumbles, and drops them both, and the scorched, ash-blackened cover of Akira’s flops open onto a front page equally scorched, equally blackened, with a child’s clumsy kanji at the very top – Sakura Daiki, struck out once and started again, the second time correctly – her smile doesn’t fade, but it sticks, immobile, against her face.
“Ahh,” says Akira, although it’s more of a single, soft exhale. She has grown utterly still beside Shiina.
Shiina looks at Akira’s writing, and she thinks about Akira’s family name, and she thinks about Akira’s family; and then she thinks about Akira, and she closes the notebook, and she picks it back up.
“We want to forfeit these, Mister Monster. How do we do it?”
Deigning to come talk to me now, are you?
“I don’t know what that word means,” says Shiina, and her voice is almost, almost ever so steady. “We just wanna get rid of them.”
To forfeit a Death Note is to lose all memories of use of the Death Note. Akira’s grip on Shiina’s hand tightens to hear that, so Shiina keeps her mouth shut about the fact this means she’s gonna have to do all her arithmetic again before school on Monday, and they complete the forfeit, right there, sitting together on the floor of Akira’s bleak and gloomy room.
There’s a feeling like falling, dizzily, upwards; like a vacuum growing very strong in the middle of Shiina’s mind. This is how it feels to forget my sums, she thinks, in giddy bemusement –
– and then Shiina opens her eyes, and she is holding hands with the new girl from baton class, and they are sitting together on the floor of her bleak and gloomy room, alone.
Shiina beams round at Akira. Hesitantly, Akira smiles back.
“D’you mind if I get one of those windows open?” Shiina says, because boy, is it stuffy in here, and boy, would it not hurt to let a little light in!
Akira’s still smiling, a very small smile, a very shy smile. “You’re welcome, Tamai-san.”
“It’s Shiina,” says Shiina, already up, bounding to the shutters. “C’mon, Akira! Shiina! Shi-i-iina!”
It takes a little while for Akira to work up the nerve for it, but she does; and it takes Shiina a little while to prise loose the latch on the shutters, as stiffly jammed in place as though they’ve not been opened for years, but she does: and the light floods in.