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“Sanae,” you call her name softly.
She freezes in place, her hands clenched nervously in front of her chest. There’s definitely a look of fear in her face. Her eyes wide and pointed down at her feet, her lips pursed together tightly, and her body slightly hunched over, her shoulders shrunken in to make herself look as small as possible. The priestess, though she was smiling cheerfully and happily just a few moments ago, now is the perfect display of sheer child-like terror. Yes, the way she looks now reminds you of how she used to be, ten years ago...
“Do you really not know what happened?”
She gives no movement, no reply, still frozen. Only her eyes move, the pupils darting up for just a peek at your face before her gaze is firmly planted on the ground again. Slowly, she begins shaking her head. At first, slowly and shakily, picking up in speed until it becomes frantic. Continuing to shake her head, almost insanely, she backs away, her lips parting to let out a slurred murmur.
“N-no...” she says, shaking her head even now. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.”
What is the truth?
On that night, what happened to you... no, what happened to the boy named Hoshuu?
Your head leans back, and you find yourself staring up at the night sky.
“Yeah, I know!”
Riding along the road leading to the city, you work your legs furiously, pedaling as fast as they’ll allow you to, gliding across the pavement. Shifting your bike and turning along the lane, you continue to bike toward town, mindful of the time. The cold evening air smacks against your face as you speed along chilling your entire body, but this is nothing. Exhaling loudly, you look up at the cloudy sky overhead, seeing just a little part of the moon’s hidden face.
Cycling into town, you check your watch as you ride by one of the street lights: it’s 9:54 PM, which means you’d better hurry. You stop your bike just outside of the closest bakery, practically tossing it to the ground in your haste to get off it. The lights are still on, thankfully! Hastily, you pull the bakery doors open, hurrying inside, breathing hard from your frenzied pedaling.
“Excuse me!” you practically shout, coughing as you approach the store counter, where an elderly looking man stands. “You’re, you’re still selling, right?”
“We’re just about to close down,” the man says, not minding you a whole lot. “You should have come earlier.”
“W-wait, please,” you say desperately, placing both hands on the counter. “I need a cake. I really need it. I know it’s really late, but please!” You lift your hands and press the palms together in a begging gesture. “I’ll pay double the cake’s price, or whatever, so please, just let me buy one.”
The bakery owner turns his head, looking over you with weary eyes, and then he sighs. “...I suppose it would be bad for business to turn away such an eager customer. Alright, choose a cake, but don’t spend too much time deliberating over it.”
“Thanks, sir!” you say, grinning as you look down at the selection below the counter. You browse over them in haste, running a finger across the glass display. Eventually, your finger stops above a small cake, simple yet pretty in design, coated in chocolate icing over the top. “I’ll take this one. And, um, could I get something written on it, too?”
“You’re asking a lot,” the man says, though he passes a piece of paper and a pen to me anyway. “Write what you want written on it there. It’ll take a while, though.”
“Thank you,” you say, bowing your head in almost ecstatic joy. Snatching up the pen, you hold down the piece of paper with your thumb and forefingers as you write on it, etching ‘Happy birthday, Sanae’ onto the surface of the paper, sliding it and the pen back to the bakery owner once you’re done, “Here, sir.”
“Sanae?” the bakery owner mutters, looking at the page, “So you must be the kid...”
“Wait here a bit,” he says, bending down and removing the cake I selected from the display. He turns, and walks into a door behind the counter.
Stepping back, you look around the store while you wait, looking at all the bread and cakes over sale. A few minutes later, and the bakery owner returns, a pink packaged box in his hands, which he places on the counter. He tells you the price, and reaching inside for your wallet, you produce the bills and hand them over. You didn’t have to pay double the price after all. You take the pink package into your arms, turning around to leave the store.
“Hang in there, kid,” the bakery owner says after you.
The moment you step outside, you’re greeted by the sound of falling rain.
“Oh, crap,” you say, looking up at the sky.
A sudden downpour’s started in between you entering and leaving the bakery, heavy raindrops splashing against the ground. It was cloudy before, so you figured it might start raining, but you didn’t think it would be so thick so soon. Concerned for your packaged, you hold it underneath one arm, pulling your arm out of your jacket, switching the package to your other arm as you pull of your jacket entirely, wrapping it around the box. Shivering as you hold the bundle in your arm, you reach down and upright your bike, placing the bundle in the basket before swinging a leg over it to mount it.
Your teeth chatter as you begin biking out of the city, heading toward the shrine. The frigid rain’s already completely soaked your shirt and your jeans, leaving you feeling almost completely numb from the cold. You only hope that the rain won’t make it through the jacket and ruin the cake, because you won’t be able to get another one at this point!
“Why’d it start raining this much anyway...?” you bemoan to yourself, although most of it comes out in chatters from your teeth clattering together.
Cycling along the road, you turn your head to the side as a light approaches, coming from the headlights of a car. It speeds by on the lane next to you, nearly splashing water on you in the process. You turn your head forward again, looking ahead of the road. It won’t be too long ‘til you reach the shrine again, so as long as you don’t end up freezing to death along the way or something--
What was that?
What did you hear just now?
Die die die die die die die die DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE.
ALL OF YOU SHOULD JUST DIE.
The front wheel of your bike suddenly slips on the wet road, and you feel it spiraling out of control, the handles jerking to the left and right. Unable to stop the bike from leaning hard to one side even as it speeds along, you feel yourself falling from the seat, thrown to the ground, your bike sliding and skidding across the rain-splashed concrete. There’s a sudden, twisting pain in your ankle, and you wince in pain as you try to push yourself up. Ugh, did you twist it when you fell?
You look over to the bundle that’s fallen out of the bike’s basket. Biting your lip and ignoring the pain in your ankle, you limp your way over to it. Crouching down on the knee of your injured leg, you dig the package out from your jacket, your body hunched over it as you open the lid. As you feared, the cake is completely ruined from the fall. Damn it, why!? You feel your eyes growing hot with tears of frustration, as the raindrops continue to pour down around you...
Wiping your eyes with the back of your hand, you close the lid, picking up the package and standing up, leaning on your good leg. Even if it’s ruined, it should still be edible. You pick up your jacket and wrap it around the box again, into a bundle. Turning around, you begin limping toward your fallen bike to retrieve it and--
EVERYONE JUST DROP DEAD.
You turn around, looking behind. Immediately, you’re blinded by the headlights of a car, growing brighter and larger as it comes closer. You’re in the car lane. When your bike steered itself out of your control, it had entered the lane, and when you fell you were in the lane. Why didn’t you notice sooner?
The car slams its breaks, and tries to steer wildly to avoid you, but the rain has rendered its wheels useless, and it continues to barrel toward you even as it turns to its side.
You fly into the air.
Your body feels heavy as you lie on the ground. So heavy that you can’t move a single part of it, even an inch. So you lie there, on your back, looking up at the endless darkness of the night sky. There are usually stars there, but the rain clouds have blocked them all out. And is it just your imagination, or has the sky turned red? An endless stream of rain continues to fall down from the sky, red little droplets splashing against you and the ground. A rain of blood that continues to pour and pour and pour.
Breathing hurts. It hurts so much. With every gasp for breath you feel like thousands of blades are being stabbed into your chest. It hurts so much that you wish you could stop breathing, but you can’t seem to stop yourself from doing it at all. Against your will, your body continues to breathe and breathe and breathe and cause you so much pain.
Someone’s muttering, panicked and frightened, but you can’t make out the words over the sound of the raindrops. The voice is so distant, and the raindrops are so close, that it’s completely drowned out in the torrent.
The raindrops are growing distant now, too, and breathing doesn’t hurt anymore.
You can’t seem to think straight.
Is this dying?
It feels familiar.
Your body gives a sudden, involuntary spasm, and your head falls to its side, your mouth hanging open, still desperately gasping for air. Next to you, you see something glinting, reflecting what little moonlight is shining through the thick clouds. What is it? It’s a key. A key. Whose key? It must be your key. That’s right. The sound of a wind chime rings in your ears. That key is the proof that you have a home to return to.
Right... home. Gotta get home...
Weakly, you try to budge your fingers. Heavy. So heavy that it takes all of your strength to move your arm even a little. You try to lift it, to move your hand toward the key shining beside you. You reach out with your arm, as far as it’ll go, stretching even your fingers to try to reach it. Your body continues to breathe involuntarily, your gasps for breath becoming more and more frenzied with each passing second. With all of your effort, you reach out for the key again. Your fingers grasp at the key, dragging it back, succeeding. You grasp it tightly in your hand, the tightest that you can, so you don’t ever lose it.
Your body gives another convulsion, and your head faces up again, at the sky above. There’s someone standing above you. A child, muttering something to themselves, or maybe to you. Two other figures stand behind the child, looking down at you. A short one, and a tall one. Who... are they? You can’t seem to... figure it out.
The child crouches down, hugging their knees.
What is that... that child is muttering?
You can hear it, almost, even though the sound of the rain is still so loud.
“The path that never ends.
The child that walks that path,
How much more must he walk?
How much more must he suffer?
Longing for home, he sighs
If only, if only, I were I mother’s arms...”
You stop breathing.
It’s getting hard to keep your eyes open.
[ ] Close your eyes.