“Attention passengers: we will be running behind schedule as the track switch system has been tampered with. Plan to arrive an hour behind the posted time. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
The train’s audio system went silent and a loud groan swept throughout the car. Mothers shushed fussing children while workers called their families to alert them of the situation. The elderly grumbled about how transportation was worse than ‘back in the day’ and for the youth to quit complaining.
Minato Arisato simply scratched the back of his neck and checked the time on his old MP3 player. It was almost eight in the evening.
“Great,” he thought to himself, “looks like we’ll get there tomorrow at this rate.”
He swore on the grave of his ancestors that he was the most unlucky boy in the world.
Movement from the corner of his eye forced him to look down. A girl with red headphones around her neck and a messy ponytail stretched an arm annoyingly into his space. It was an obviously fake gesture to mess with Minato.
Out of irritation, he slapped her arm away, catching her by surprise and causing her to yip like a scared puppy.
“Hey! It’s too cramped and I’m TIRED!” she whined, slapping him back. “We’ve been at this all day and I just want a shower already.”
Minato rolled his eyes and readjusted his backpack. “At least you don’t have to stand for six hours on a crowded train that is now running an hour behind-” He paused then frowned as he noticed something sticking out of her purse: a chocolate bar and a package of gum.
“When did you have time to get candy?” he asked, now thoroughly irked.
The girl shrugged and dug into the bag on her lap. It indeed was a bar of chocolate, already opened and halfway finished. She broke off a square and offered it to him. “Brother dearest, where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Minato quirked an eyebrow but accepted the square. “Did you steal it?” He popped it into his mouth, savoring the sweetness on his tongue. “Not that I’m complaining, but should I be worried about getting arrested on our first night back?”
She shook her head, producing a Cheshire grin. “Remember when I had to use the bathroom at our last stop?” The russet-haired girl opened her purse further to reveal an assortment of gum, taffy, and other goodies. “A nice woman was selling them with her daughter so I bought a few things. They were surprisingly cheap. It must’ve been for a fundraiser or something.”
That sounded like something Minako Arisato would say. Doing one thing only to be distracted by the nearest person that could quench her sweet tooth.
This was all at the expense of their shared funds.
Minato held out his hand expectantly. “You do know that money is for emergencies only, right? What would God think if he knew you used that money to buy unnecessary things?”
Minako scoffed but handed over the rest of the chocolate bar to him. She replaced it with a stick of mint gum. “First off, you don’t believe in the same God as I do. Secondly, my God is cool with me enjoying all the candy I want as long as I say my prayers at night.” With all the smugness in the world, she flipped the treat into her mouth. “This is why you should become a Christian. Life is so much cooler on the path of the righteous.”
Minato groaned. “You sound like a ‘born again’ crackpot.” He leaned against the door of the train as it finally began to move. “Older but none the wiser.”
“What can I say?” Minako said between chews. “You’re just mad that I found food while you were waiting around for nothin’ to happen.” Her face suddenly dropped as a man nearby started talking loudly with someone else.
Minato listened in to their conversation as well.
“I just got a text from Ojima. Apparently, a boy just suddenly jumped in front of the train and he saw it all happen while he was heading home. They’re almost done clearing his body out so we should get moving any minute now. He said the kid didn’t even hesitate, barely showed a lick of emotion.”
The man’s companion gasped. “How terrible! Teenagers these days are acting up. It must be the winter blues.”
Minako frowned and turned on her iPod. “Bless the poor soul. I pray he found a sliver of peace.” She glanced over at Minato. “If you need me, tap on my shoulder. There's a song from Yumi calling my name.”
Without ceremony, she put on her headphones and ignored Minato for the rest of their ride.
Her brother felt a pang of frustration at her words. As the more serious of the two siblings, Minato found it quite tiresome dealing with the most childish seventeen-year-old in the world. Of all the people that ever lived, out of the century’s of human history, he had to be born two years behind the most annoying and outgoing girl to curse the face of the planet.
The only perk of sticking with her was the constant sense of adventure and undying optimism that she seemed to have endless reserves of. Not to mention her superpower of finding the best candy at the lowest price. Legend has it, she was able to clean out a convenience store with a single five Yen coin.
So maybe it wasn’t all bad.
Minato let it slide, for now, nibbling piece by piece off the chocolate bar as he turned his music up. He opted to watch as the train picked up speed to hopefully make up for the lost time.
Time never waits. It delivers all equally to the same end.
Just then, a blue butterfly caught his eye.
The tiny insect flew close the train right next to Minato’s window. It had an almost unearthly glow in the dying light of the day. If he looked hard enough, it was almost as if the tiny thing was leaving behind a trail of stardust.
As the train picked up speed, the butterfly somehow kept pace. Minato watched in wonder as it beat its delicate wings and easily stayed dutifully by the window.
How could something so tiny be so quick?
You two, who wish to safeguard the future, however limited it may be. . .
Just as mysteriously as the butterfly came, it soon couldn’t stay its course. It fluttered away, leaving behind its trail of blue sparks. Then there was nothing, almost as if it vanished into thin air.
Minato was awestruck for a moment before concluding that the whole experience was his mind playing tricks on him. After all, he felt exhausted from the trip and just heard bad news.
He needed some sleep to forget this dreadful day.
You both will be given one year; go forth without falter, with your hearts as your guide. . .
Minato stretched as Minako and he exited the terminal. After seven hours of waiting patiently, their tedious ride had come to an end.
They were finally back in Iwatodai.
Despite the fact it was almost midnight, Minako bounced ahead of him to get past the gates. “We finally made, albeit two hours behind schedule. Next time, let’s just get a taxi.”
Minato sighed and shook his head. “It’s less expensive to take the train. We could’ve taken a cab if you didn’t drain our money for sweets. You’ll just have to stick it out next time we have to move.”
He felt a stab of pain at his own words.
There always seemed to be another destination for the two of them.
“Until then, let’s just focus on getting through this next school year.” He wondered if Minako noticed his change in attitude. Even if she did, she continued forward and left it alone.
Barely a soul was commuting this late at night. The only people that were around happened to be staff: janitorial teams, maintenance crew, and conductors. The two siblings were the odd ones out since it was a school night. Minato wouldn’t be shocked if the two were caught by a patrol car and questioned later on about breaking curfew.
On second thought, it would be a free ride to the dorm if the cops were nice.
He contemplated for a moment if setting a controlled fire would get the attention of the authorities without landing the siblings in jail.
Minato shook his head. Now he was starting to sound like Minako.
Speaking of the girl, she had pulled out a pamphlet with directions written in the blanks spaces. “If my math is correct, which it probably is,” she thought aloud, “we only have to walk a few blocks to get there. Interesting fact: they strategically built the dorms near the train station so students have an easier time commuting back and forth.”
“Let’s get going then.” Minato took the pamphlet from her to read her messy directions. “Did you have to write everything in another language? Now you're just showing off.”
Of course, she would write everything in English just to watch him suffer and stumble through his lousy translation.
He thought he heard her gearing up to scold him for taking the pamphlet away, but the winded lecture never came.
That was strange. Minako never backed down when someone took something from her or questioned her methods of doing things.
The younger Arisato turned around. “Cat got your t-?”
Minako was paused mid-stride and looking up at the station clock. For a moment, she seemed dazed.
Minato glanced at the time and knew right away what was going on.
All of a sudden, the lights in the station went out. The soft rumbling of trains had come to a standstill and left the siblings in an eerie silence. Even the screens of their MP3s had turned off as if they had lost power in one fell swoop. Puddles of water had become a rich red color, resembling blood. Whether or not it was the real thing, Minato never wanted to know.
The creepiest addition had to be the coffins. They stood vigilantly and at attention in place of people. Each one was as terrifying as the very thing they were supposed to contain.
It never failed to send a shiver down Minato’s spine.
He just wanted to get to the dorms and sleep the lifelike nightmare away.
Minako shook herself out of her funk and threw on her usual grin. “This is nothing, we’ve been through this before. Let’s just crack on.” She looked over at her brother. “Ya’ got a candle we can use?”
Minato nodded and quickly retrieved the requested item from his backpack. There was no point dwelling on what he already knew. They had places to be.
His sister had dug under her candy stash and procured a lighter. He went into his own backpack and searched for an unused candle. The two had been through this before: every night for the past ten years. This Transformation that left the air still and dead that only the siblings seemed to experience had been a consistent occurrence. Why it happened to them, how it happened in the first place, those questions were never able to be answered. It simply was what is was.
At first, they had thought it was some horrible dream, but they soon realized just how real their situation was.
From then on, the two always came prepared. Electronics, even battery powered ones, seemed useless during this time. Primitive means of light were the only source of comforts, such as candles and torches. Unfortunately, it would be awkward to carry the latter around, so they stuck with the lighter of the two.
Once their candle was lit, the two made their way to the dorm. Minako had regained control of the map, being the only one who was gifted in the ways of foreign language. She carefully directed them through the winding streets, being careful to hop over the strange puddles and maneuver around closed coffins.
The moon hung menacingly overhead amongst the curtain of green sky.
Minato had hypothesized at one point or another that the world was sick during this time. Although it was simply a childish thought, it gave him something to turn around in his head while he walked. It was better than counting the number of coffins they walked past like a crazy person. Thankfully, it was nearing the end of winter. Not many coffins were out this late at night with a chill still folding the city into a freezing embrace.
Heck, if Minato had a choice, he would be playing video games on his laptop or downloading illegal music to study to.
“Looks like we’re almost there,” Minako said. She pointed to a building that was two blocks down the sidewalk. “It should be that one, with the lights in the window.” The shades were drawn, but a faint light peeked out from behind the heavy fabric.
That was strange; electricity was always out during the dark hour.
Minato and Minako walked in silence the rest of the way. Minato could tell that his sister was wary of the light in the window as well. She had put away the directions and began to fiddle with the strap of her purse.
When they finally climbed the short flight of stairs to a pair of heavy looking doors, they paused to regard one another. Minato saw the familiar twinkle in his sister’s eyes as she reached for the handle first. “There’s no point in standing out in the open like a bunch of featherless chickens.” she pushed open the door and light poured out, inviting them in. “Besides, maybe we’re worrying over nothing.”
The offer was more than enticing.
Even still, Minato felt more than a little suspicious about the whole situation.
"Are you sure this isn't sket-"
A loud screech filled the air.
Both the siblings jumped at the noise before making their final decision.
“Into the spooky building, it is!” Minako yelped.
Minato lightly shoved his sister and practically leaped inside with his suitcase in tow. He tripped over his own feet and went tumbling onto a plush entry carpet. Minako didn’t even protest at his rudeness.
Minato heard her slam the door shut behind them. He groaned before sitting up from his fall. “Note to self: don’t go outside ever again.”
“Ditto-” Minako chimed in breathlessly, leaning against the door like a human barricade. “I don’t remember hounds of hell last time we were outside during one of these nights. Do you?”
Her brother shook his head. “Whatever that was, I hope we never see it for as long as we live.” He stood off and brushed off his pants. “Although, I’ll valiantly sacrifice you to preserve my life. You shall have a hero’s death.”
Minako huffed at his proclamation. “Whatever nerd. At least I didn’t trip over my own ego while coming in the door.”
“-You’re both late. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
The siblings ceased their bickering at the interruption of gentle voice.
Both looked over at a wooden reception desk to see a boy in prison styled pajamas. His head was propped up in his hands as he leaned over. He had an amused expression on his face, obviously enjoying the banter between the teens.
Minato shoved his hands in his pockets. The child could also be smiling at the fact he had tripped in his hurry to get inside.
The boy motioned for them to come closer, snapping his fingers. A red book that they hadn’t noticed before opened. A black pen rested beside it. “Now, if you wish to proceed, please sign your names there.”
There was a beat of silence before Minako stepped up first. It wasn’t as if he was going to take initiative, that wasn’t his style. Minato had to be the youngest at some point and let his thick-headed sister bite-the-bullet for once.
Minako finished reading, but she didn’t pick up the pen right away. “This doesn’t make any sense, why would we need to sign this if we aren’t staying at the dorm for long?”
Once again, the boy was cryptic with his words. He waved her off. “Don’t worry, all it says is that you’ll accept full responsibility for your actions.” The boy shrugged. “You know, the usual stuff.”
Minako hesitated but soon had the pen in her hand. “That doesn’t answer my question, but. . . it must be a mandatory thing for all students, I guess.” She quickly signed before tossing the utensil over to Minato. “You’re up, nerd.”
Minato easily caught the pen and took his turn. He barely skimmed over the contract and went straight to the signature space at the bottom. There was no point in rereading something that had already been laid out very clearly. Right under Minako’s overzealous cursive, he printed his own name. It was plain, but it got the job down.
Once he was finished, he closed the book. When he looked up to hand it back to the boy, he had disappeared.
Minako tapped him on the shoulder. She pointed to their right where the boy was waiting with his hand outstretched, the same unsettling smile plastered on his face. His pajamas looked much more worn out, with the ends of the pant legs frayed with feet and fingers caked in dirt.
Minato considered throwing the contract away but something compelled him to finish the exchange.
The boy took the book and held on to it as if it were his favorite teddy bear. “No one can escape time. It delivers all to the same end.” He looked Minako in the eye and then Minato. His stare was just as unsettling as his grin. The boy raised the book to obscure his face. “You can’t plug your ears or cover your eyes.”
“How ironic.” Minato thought to himself. If he wasn’t so disturbed, he might’ve whispered the joke to his traveling companion. If he was brave enough, he could’ve said it straight to this boy’s face.
The boy removed the book and clutched it to his chest.
“And so it begins."
He backed away into the shadows. They swallowed him whole.
"This shall be interesting. . .”
As if he never existed, he disappeared.
Minako hummed to herself. “Well. . . that happened.” She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot, a habit when she was deep in thought. “I wonder if he’s a student playing a prank on us. Kids are pretty weird nowadays.”
Minato said nothing. If the boy was a student who lived in the dorm, why would he look like he hadn’t been taken care of in months? Sure, it could just be a dedicated prankster looking to haze the new kids.
Still, the entire situation seemed a little too strange to just be an elaborate joke.
A new voice called to them, this time commanding and loud, causing Minato to have an out-of-body experience for the second time that night. Minako had gasped and knocked over her suitcase.
Standing as if she were about to attack the two was a girl in a school uniform. She looked to be about his age, maybe even Minako’s if he was being honest with his gut feeling. A pink sweater was thrown over to account for the winter weather that still clung to the city. Strapped to her thigh was a weapon of some kind, but Minato couldn’t tell what from the distance and low lighting.
Before they could explain themselves, she reached for the weapon.
Minako panicked and stepped up with her hands in the air. “H-hey! Let’s just take it easy! There’s no need for violence!”
The girl didn’t listen and soon had her hand on the holster. Minato felt his take heart take a swan dive into his stomach, shriveling up into nothing. Tonight just really wasn’t his night. He braced himself for whatever pain he may feel before his death.
At least he lived an adequate life.
“Takeba! Stand down!”
Minako’s ramblings about angels and demons came true in that one second in time. Another girl came down the same stairs, sporting a scowl and a hand on her hip. She was definitely older than Minato with a mature face and eyes that could cut diamonds. If the first girl had commanded his attention, this one made you a slave to her will.
Whether that was a good or bad thing, it was still up in the air.
Minako was the first to break her stiff position with a deep breath. “Oh thank God.”
For the second time that night, Minato considered converting from Shinto. The lights came back on and the soft whirl of an A/C system provided some decent white noise. At last, they had pulled through another hardship and were home free.
The older girl stepped forward, scarlet hair swishing as she made her approach. “I didn't think you two would arrive so late.” She extended a hand to Minako first when she reached them. “My name is Mitsuru Kirijo. I'm one of the students who live in this dorm.”
Minako, ever the spokesman for the siblings, gladly accepted the gesture. “It’s a pleasure to meet you! My name is Minako Arisato, the older sibling.” She motioned to Minato who still remained quite to anyone other than her. “The nerd to my right is Minato. He’s about a year younger than me and the silent type. Don’t get mad if he ignores you while listening to songs he downloaded illegally.”
Minato sent her a harsh glare before extending his hand. There was no satisfaction in fighting with the girl who still read tween manga and fangirled about it. “What she said, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” When Mitsuru took his hand, Minato knew that he was in the clear. One bullet dodged, one to go.
The first girl lowered her guard, but only enough to appear friendly. “Um, who are they?”
Mitsuru once again frowned before crossing her arms, obviously annoyed. “They are transfer students. It was a last minute decision to assign them here.” She flipped her hair out of her face. “They'll eventually be moved to a room in the boys' and girls’ dorms.”
Living with a girl all his life, Minato knew what the hair-flip and arms cross combination meant: the two were at odds with each other. Their brief stay was bound to be unpleasant with a pair of angry teens acting all haughty like girls tend to do.
Despite picking up on the body language, the brunette pursed her lips and bore through it. This time, she looked more concerned, lowering her voice as if the new students weren’t in the room at all. “Is it okay for them to stay here? You know. . .” she trailed off, leaving the siblings confused beyond their years.
Were all the students at this school this weird?
Mitsuru looked them both up and down. Finally, she gave them both a smile before turning back to her partner. “I guess we’ll see.”
Minako took matters into her own hands to help dispel some of the lingering awkwardness. “Well, we know Mitsuru’s name, but what about you?”
The once tense girl straightened up but gave an award-winning smile. “My name is Yukari Takeba, but there’s no need to be formal with me. Yukari will do just fine.” She turned to Minato. “You’re a junior too, right?”
Minato was stunned for a moment but nodded slowly in response. No need to talk when you could just use your head, literally.
“Well, I guess you and I will be seeing each other often.”
Mitsuru then stepped in to address them both. “Before Yukari takes you up to your rooms, do either of you have any lingering questions? I have business to attend to tomorrow morning and afternoon. You won’t be seeing me for a while.”
Minato pondered asking about the gun but thought against it. For all he knew, they were for self-defense and that was that. Asking would only stir up trouble.
Minako immediately piped up. “Is this a girls dorm? From what I can tell, that seems to be the case.”
Mitsuru shook her head. “Unlike the other buildings, this one's co-ed. It's not your typical dorm, though. I'll explain it to you later when I get a chance.” She turned away from the rest of the group and ascended the stairs. “Takeba, please show them to their rooms. Anything that was sent ahead will be there.”
Without another word, she left. The heels on her boots clicked with every step she took.
Yukari cleared her throat and motioned to the stairs. “You both must be exhausted. Follow me and please don’t fall behind. I got lost my first time here and I don’t want a repeat.”
Minako giggled at the comment, picking up her meager belongings and making the climb. Minato followed close behind, sparing the lounge area a quick glance before continuing on his way.
Once he reached the second floor, Yukari stationed Minako to wait at the next flight of stairs. It must lead to the girls’ section of the dorm. She noticed her brother and mouthed a “good night”. He nodded and went to the end of the rows of doors. By the time he was beside Yukari, the door was open.
“This is it. Pretty easy to remember, huh?” she asked, shifting her weight uneasily on the balls of her feet. The gun-toting girl couldn’t even look him in the eye when she continued to speak. “You know. . . since it's right at the end of the hall.”
Gone was the earlier bravado, now replaced with silence. Not surprising, considering Minako was always the one to talk people’s ears off. Talking to him after she was done was like getting a slap in the face.
“Oh yeah,” Yukari perked up and handed him his room key, “make sure you don't lose your key, or you'll never hear the end of it...” She clasped her hands behind her back. “So, any questions?”
Minato thought for a moment before the boy in the strange pajamas popped back into his head. “That contract we signed, what was it for?”
Yukari was taken aback at his question. “Huh, what contract?”
She didn’t know about the boy or the contract.
What sort of God sent him this crazy day?
“Nevermind, forget it.” he quickly reflected further questions. “Don’t let me hold you up.”
The sooner his head was on a pillow, the better the mood he would be in. No amount of chocolate could replace the energy a good night's sleep gave. He would never understand those who drank coffee to get a boost for the day.
Yukari nodded, but she still remained. “Before I forget, you didn’t see anything. . . strange walking here from the station? Anything that seemed out of place?”
Minato paused, not even through the threshold of the door. What did it take for a person to get some shut eye around here?
One part of him screamed to just slam the door in her face, but another part of him screamed louder to humor the poor girl.
“Yeah...” he answered simply.
No point in beating around the bush.
Yukari was wide-eyed before finally starting to back away. “I see, I'm sure you still have other questions, but let's save them for later?” She quickly excused herself to escort Minako to the next floor. “Good night, Minato.”
Minato didn’t stay to watch her leave. He walked straight into his room, not even bothering to take in the scenery. His suitcase was stockpiled by the door and was officially made a problem for tomorrow. He shrugged his pea coat off and flung it on the floor. Deciding that changing into sleep attire was a waste of time, so he shucked off his jeans and was left in his boxers and t-shirt.
Just as he predicted, when his head hit the pillow, he felt sleep pull him into a haze. It had been a day to forget. After all, he would just repeat the same routine after the year was over.
Minato never planted his roots for very long.
April 6th, 2009
The first night is always the most difficult when we move. I’ve learned how to coop with the drastic change of scene, but Minato always seems to fall into bitter sleep.
Who could blame him? We are constantly on the move. I bet I’ve seen half the country by the time I turned eleven. Travelling is awesome and all, but it gets tedious having to adjust to a different place every school year.
We met a few new people today. A senior named Mitsuru Kirijo and a junior named Yukari Takeba. Both seem like they have a bit of beef with one another, but I’m sure I could easily get along with them individually.
After all, we’re only there until the school moves us into proper dormitories.
Ah. . . better get some sleep instead of writing. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Minako Arisato (17)