• “I saw a dinosaur!” A small mouth widened into a grin, revealing a missing tooth and pushing round cheeks up into a young girl’s eyes. Her finger jabbed onto the paper below her.

    Hayashi Junko (Hayashi, of course, being her surname, and Junko her given) lay on her stomach as her elbows supported her. Covering her eyes was a thin fringe of hair that had evaded the pink, sparkling hair bands from which two black fountains of hair sprayed out. From behind the strands, she surveyed the kingdom created through crayons that was spread beneath her.

    Beside her sat her eldest sister Noriko. Junko chattered away enthusiastically, while Noriko responded with equal eagerness. Behind them, the serenity of the scene was shattered by a panicking teenage girl.

    “What about this one?” She asked in desperation, sporting an orange dress and matching shoes, her long hair in a messily styled ponytail.

    Noriko and Junko both turned their attention to her.

    “You look funny!” Junko squealed in delight. The teenager took a sharp breath.

    “I think you look fine.” Noriko commented, having to raise her voice as the teenager exclaimed “I’m not wearing this!” and retreated towards her room.

    “Kokoro!” her older sister tried to call after her, but a door slammed before the third syllable.

    Noriko groaned as her head smacked into her palms.

    “That was designer, you know.” She told the pig-tailed toddler, whose face scrunched up in confusion before beginning a search for the purple crayon.

    In her room, the teenager was frantically searching through her wardrobe. Remnants of other outfits littered her normally clean floor. Her hand fell upon a dress and she almost skipped it in her frenzied shuffle, but hesitated. It was strapless and would fall slightly above her knees, since she had grown a bit recently. Her parents had stressed that at no time other than the New Year’s party for which it was purchased would they let her wear that dress. She grinned deviously, taking it into her arms and laying it reverently on her bed. Her parents were in a different country.

    Looking at the clothes strewn upon the floor, she began searching with fervor for her red sash.

    “What are you drawing?” Noriko asked Junko, who had found the crayon she was looking for and was working on a new masterpiece.

    “A boy,” was the simple reply.

    Noriko examined the drawing more closely, and felt a bit worried.

    “Where is the boy?” She asked, trying to keep her tone even and to convince herself that she was being paranoid.

    “In a tunnel. He was on a motorcycle but then it crashed because that car,” the girl jabbed at a menacingly large jumble of blue and black, “hit him.”

    During this explanation, another sibling, Hana, had entered the room. She was around ten, and was looking disturbed. Noriko looked at her helplessly, before donning a mask of normalcy.

    “ Hey, Hana. Is Noboru here yet?”

    “No… Kasumi and I were hungry,” she responded, referring to her twin, and walked beyond the pair to the kitchen, still obviously frightened.

    Kokoro sprinted past her, causing Hana to jump against the wall dramatically. The teenager normally would have laughed, but her mind was clouded with anxiety. She leapt in front of Noriko and held her arms out, with a pleading expression distorting her face.

    Her older sister looked her over, raising an eyebrow at the white sneakers dressing her feet.

    “The shoes are in my bag. I don’t want to lose them on the way there.”

    “Let me see them.”

    Kokoro sighed heavily. Opening her moderately sized purse, she pulled out a pair of strappy heels.

    “Mmm…” Noriko made a face of indecision. Kokoro sighed again, knowing that Noriko was having the ‘she looks good in that and I don’t want boys looking at her but she is fifteen’ debate. “You couldn’t walk very well in those.”

    “It’s at Miyako’s cousin’s apartment!” she whined. “I won’t need to run from any serial killers.”

    “Hmm. It’s your choice. Jacket?”


    “It was a suggestion.” The woman sighed, shrugging her shoulder.

    Kokoro put her shoes back in the bag, and mentally chided herself for acting so immature.

    “Uh-uh.” Junko mumbled, and sticking her tongue out in concentration, she swapped a red crayon for a pink one. Noriko felt alarmed as she began to draw a circle overlapping the boys head.

    “What’s that?” she asked quietly, not wanting to push Kokoro into an even more distraught mood.

    “It’s blood.”

    “Why is it pink?”

    “You’re late!” Came a cry from out in the hall, and copious loud chattering ensued.

    Noriko and Kokoro cringed, both hoping none of the neighbors complained, then turned as a boy, or young man, considering that he was a tad older than Kokoro, opened the door and stumbled in.

    “He’s here!” Hana and Kasumi shouted almost in unison, one of them clinging to his leg and being dragged along the wood floor.

    “Ha-Kasumi! Get off of him! This is why I don’t want a dog; I already have you.”

    Kasumi pouted, put released her grip on him.

    Noboru backed away from her quickly, readjusted his pants (which Kasumi had yanked rather low), looked at Kokoro, and started laughing with such intensity that for a moment the five females in the room thought he was crying. He calmed himself, only to glance at Kokoro and start laughing again.

    She started looking anxious again, so Noriko shouted “Noboru, if you do anything to her self esteem, I will stab you with this crayon!” She exclaimed, holding the object up.

    Noboru stopped laughing, and said, choking on his words “I-I didn’t mean it like that! You look w-wonderful!” And he started laughing again, only to be punched in the stomach by Hana.

    Arms raised defensively, he backed away, looking up to reveal bloodshot eyes and a tear streaked face.

    “No, really you do. I-I.. Arata owes me some money.” Arata was a classmate, who had a reputation for perversion.

    “Ew, you were talking to him? About me?”

    “He approached me! I wouldn’t seek him out!”

    “Hey,” Noriko said, “no gossip!”

    “But he’s the one I told you about, who… you know…” Kokoro said awkwardly.

    Noriko’s mouth formed an ‘oh’ and she shooed them out with one last comment to Noboru.

    “Be careful, it’s busy at this time.”

    He rolled his eyes and agreed. As the two left the building, Junko shouted “And wear your helmet!”

    “I don’t know anyone…” Kokoro whispered loudly, needing to be heard over the music and talking.

    Noboru didn’t respond for a few moments as he scanned the room.

    “I know him,” he started, but then his eyes widened and he darted off into the crowd. A few moments, the person he had apparently been referring to shoved past Kokoro, who harrumphed throatily in offense.


    In a blur a pair of arms were thrown around her waist as Miyako slammed into her.

    “My cousins invited all these people I don’t know, and they’ve been here for hours!” She moaned, burying her face in Kokoro’s neck. Miyako lived in the same building as Kokoro and Noboru, but had arrived at her cousin’s apartment during the morning to prepare, which obviously had caused her trauma.

    “You could have called me.”

    “Not when Noboru was going to pick you up…” Miyako said.

    A year ago the implications of the statement and the tone would have been true. Kokoro and Noboru had certainly been a couple of some sort, and while there was a limited amount of affection it had still been known to both involved. It was a wordless understanding. Noboru had ended their relationship earlier in the year. Not formally, and not with any conversation, but he had withdrawn significantly and it was yet again a wordless understanding. Their friendship no longer had the depth or the intensity, and while Kokoro was upset she knew that Noboru had made his decision, and after that happens there is little chance of persuading him otherwise. They were still friends, and it was hard not to be, considering that they lived across the hall from each other.

    “Hey, you could have worn those gloves.”

    “Wha- oh, you’re right. Damn.”

    Miyako laughed at her, while grabbing her arm and leading her to a distant corner of the room. People I know, she thought gratefully, as she was pulled into a circle of friends, though many of them were rather distant. The group made small talk for a while until they began reminiscing about humorous incidents and gossiping and the like. As the evening progressed, their numbers swelled to slightly over a dozen, and Kokoro was having a much better time than she imagined she would.


    She looked towards the voice, and recognized the speaker as one of Noboru’s friends, whose name she couldn’t recall and who she never spoke to.

    “Noboru’s upset about something. He’s been really out of it all night but now he’s out on the balcony.”

    “Why don’t you talk to him?” She asked.

    He gave her a dubious look, and she sighed.

    “Alright, I’ll go.” Kokoro said, excusing herself from her friends and working her way through the crowd. She understood Miyako’s fears then. Many of the party’s guests were either older than she was or acted the part convincingly, and there were many crude jokes going around and- was that a beer bottle?

    She opened the sliding glass door a smidge and slipped outside. On the building opposite, the headquarters for some business, she recalled, was a neon and flashing billboard. The entire city was like that. Lights everywhere, each object a testament to man’s technological progress. Sitting a bit away from her she saw Noboru, and could feel the angst emanating from him.

    “Noboru?” She asked, more to alert him to her presence than expecting any answer. I hate it when you’re like this.

    “Don’t you ever want to breathe?” he asked.

    Kokoro arched one elegant eyebrow; she assumed that this was another of his idiosyncratic metaphors, but it was certainly a strange one. If she waited he should tell her what he meant. The flaw was that Noboru always took his time in explaining things, and that he would sometimes block out all distractions and enter a meditative state while searching for the proper words.

    She hugged herself, her hands gliding over the skin of her biceps in an effort to create warmth. It was close to midnight. She hadn’t considered the possibilities that an autumn night held, temperature-wise.

    Noboru was still sitting on the edge of the balcony, his limbs dangling through the fencing with his head resting against a bar. He was always like that, totally trusting of the architecture to keep him from plummeting to the concrete and metal tunnel far below them, which concealed a highway. Or, if he missed the tunnel, he could fall miles before hitting the ground. Kokoro herself was always hesitant; at that moment she was leaning against the wall of the building, and music was flowing through the wall and pumping through her body.

    “The air isn’t clean here.” His head lifted from its resting place, but didn’t turn towards her.

    She rolled her eyes. Apparently what ever was bothering him was something consuming his mind, and there was the possibility that the two would remain on the balcony until dawn broke.

    “I mean it. The air isn’t clean. We’re breathing in unnatural things. I want to know what actual air feels like.”

    “You do. A few weeks ago-”

    “The Onsen doesn’t count. The air is filthy in the mountains, too. This entire planet is…” His voice trialed off, and Kokoro abandoned her post and went to join him at the ledge.

    “… unnatural,” he finished quietly, and he placed his head upon the metal again.

    Kokoro bit her lip and descended to a sitting position. Her knees were tucked beneath her and she hissed when her skin came into contact with the chilled cement. Noboru’s head snapped towards her and he grinned maliciously before returning his gaze to the cityscape below his swinging feet.

    “You didn’t think to bring a jacket?” He asked, and then chuckled.

    “You could be a gentleman and give me yours.”

    “No. I shouldn’t pay for your stupidity.”

    Kokoro pouted, and began rubbing her knees. He was overly possessive of everything relating to his motorcycle, but besides the vehicle itself the thing he most loved was the leather jacket.

    The boy had returned his gaze to the tunnel below them, brow furrowing in focus. He seemed to be following something, but she could see nothing. Kokoro grinned as a thought struck her, and struggled to keep from laughing.

    “I am not on drugs. Shut up!” He snapped, catching on to the old inside joke.

    “Well, then what are you looking at?” She teased, still smirking but trying not to incite Noboru’s rage. Why was he so tense? His shoulders were hunched up and he looked like a cat about to beat a sparrow senseless.


    Kokoro sarcastically made a hum of agreement, and wasn’t surprised when Noboru did nothing in response. Then, after a brief struggle to disentangle himself from the fence, he stood and abruptly turned towards the door.


    “I’m leaving.”

    “…you’re my ride home,” She almost added an “idiot” to the end of that, but thought better of it.

    “You can call a cab. Isn’t Ayame here? Ask her for a ride.”

    ‘What the hell?’ She thought. Noboru had witnessed the fallout between the two a few weeks before, when Ayame had decided she was superior to Kokoro and, to put it simply, ditched her.

    He stepped into the building, walking swiftly and trying to disguise the aura of urgency emanating from him. Briefly, Kokoro wondered what she had done to make him so angry.

    Realizing that her arms were slightly numb, she lagged behind him, knowing that between his determination and her three inch heels, any efforts to reach him in the crowded room would be in vain.

    Entering the apartment, the warmth burned into her chilled skin. Hordes of teenagers surrounded her and she jumped when a man, significantly older than she was, bumped into her arm.

    He opened his mouth to speak to her.

    “Hey…” He started. By his slur and swagger it was obvious he was intoxicated. Kokoro’s eyes narrowed and she kicked him in the thigh, feeling a jolt of guilty satisfaction when he cried out and fell over. With resolve, she turned and wove through the crowd. If Miyako was still there…

    She stepped out into the hall and began rubbing her hands together, wishing that she hadn’t missed the gloves that would have matched her dress so well.

    “I am talking to his father!” Noriko exclaimed.

    After a long wait and numerous phone calls, Kokoro had gotten back to the apartment with Miyako. She and Noriko now sat in the main room of their apartment, and Noriko was rising from her seat.

    “He’s in Singapore.”

    “Oh. I will when he gets back then,” and she fell backwards onto the couch. She desperately wanted to do something to stop Kokoro’s current angst ridden mood, but was afraid of the possibilities of a hormonally charged explosion.

    “I’m going to bed,” said Kokoro, slinking off of the couch and towards her room.

    Noriko grabbed some paperwork before turning on the television to a comedy she didn’t need to pay any attention to but could still laugh at. This was how she spent many nights, carrying her work over into her life. Thankfully there wasn’t work the next day, so she could sleep in a bit if she wanted to. With the four girls asleep (or at least in their rooms being quiet) and unable to interrupt her, she fell into a very soothing pattern of monotony that wasn’t always available in their household

    After an hour or so of this, the door bell rang.

    Noriko had been deeply engrossed in her work and jumped slightly at the sound. She sighed at the loss of her tranquility, and, placing the papers in a neat stack next to her, she stood and walked to the door. A distorted vision of the world greeted her as she looked out into the hallway. Included in that vision was who she recognized as Noboru. He’s here to apologize, she thought confidently, as spats between the two teenagers never lasted long. Opening the door, she was proven very, very wrong.

    It was of course Noboru. He was in front of their door so often that his late night appearance didn’t faze her. The first thing she noticed that was off about him was his jacket, which was torn along the backs of his arms. The next was that red was trickling from out of his sleeves and down his fingers.

    She moved out of the way and he stumbled over to the love seat and collapsed. Noriko then commanded him to take off his jacket and shirt and despite his protests, he did what she told him to. Meanwhile, the woman was searching for disinfectant and bandages, and returned just after Noboru had successfully removed his black shirt.

    This wasn’t the first time he had shown up at their door, bleeding. He used to get in fights, and counting on his father to be either distracted by work or out of town, Noboru would call on Noriko to mend his wounds. The bulk of this happened before Noriko’s four younger sisters were living with her. It had happened when she was a young woman facing the world on her own from her own apartment, which coincidently had been right across from her father’s oldest friend. She didn’t need to worry about one of the girls walking in on a bloody family friend. At that moment, she realized, as she heard a loud gasp from behind her, things were different.

    Noriko had just wetted a cloth with water and soap, and was raising it to his back. Her stomach churned at the sight of the blood and a rather large scratch. Her head whipped around, as did Noboru’s. Hana stood at the entrance to the living room from the kitchen, and she looked shocked enough to cry.

    “Hana, go to your room,” Noriko said with an even tone that surprised herself.


    “Go. Now.”

    Hana looked at her with an injured expression before running back to her room. Noriko pondered if she would need to call an ambulance, considering the depth of the scratch she had seen earlier and the blood smeared along his skin. Turning back to it though, she felt very puzzled.

    The scratch was still there, but appeared lighter than it had before. Writing it off as sleep deprived hallucinations, she started dousing his back in water.

    “Since when do you have a tattoo?” She exclaimed, noticing strange black swirls and lines she took for symbols as his back was cleaned. Predictably, he didn’t respond.

    “Silence is better than a parable about frogs,” She mumbled.

    “OW!” He exclaimed when some trickled into the red fleshy mass across his back. It was followed by many expletives. Considering his current state, Noriko didn’t smack him on the side of the head and tell him to clean up his language, as she usually did. The blood was washed up, and she realized that his back was strangely devoid of cuts. There was the large one that ran diagonally across his back, and three others, almost healed up, all more or less parallel to it, then one perpendicular, forming an X.

    The additional ones were so shallow, though, that she couldn’t understand how they could produce as much blood as had been evident. His shirt had been so torn up, also, how-

    Noriko’s mind was silenced, and filled only with the two sections of skin separated by a gash moving nearer to each other, closing at the ends.

    “Oh…” was all she managed to say, though it came out as more of a gasp than a word.

    “I told you it wasn’t a problem.”

    Noriko was yet again tempted to smack him. She got plenty of angst from Kokoro, and recently Kasumi, and didn’t want to put up with it from the neighbor kid. With a sigh, the woman tried to compose herself, and regain her sense of reason, but even with that she had nothing.

    “What’s going on with you?”

    “You wouldn’t… understand.”

    Noriko scoffed. Kokoro used that one on her all the time.

    “Oh, of course not. Would your dad be able to draw it out of you?”

    “He’s in-“

    “Yes, I know. How do you think he would react if he got a call from Hiroshi’s daughter about his son?”

    “You-!” Noboru took a sharp breath and looked genuinely scared. “He wouldn’t believe me,” he pleaded, then quickly added, “If I did tell him.”

    “Oh, I think you will tell him,” and with that, Noriko began to cross the living room towards the telephone.

    “GET OUT!”

    Noriko paused for the briefest of moments, registering that it was Junko screaming from the other side of the apartment. She dropped the phone she had just picked up and sprinted through the house. Junko had never been very loud. If she had a nightmare, she would turn on the dim pink lamp by her bed and go back to sleep or wake up Kokoro. If there was a bug, she would shoo it away from her. If she was mad, she would pout and stomp off. She didn’t scream, unless she was hurt, and that was why Noriko’s head had clouded with fear.

    Reaching the room Kokoro and Junko shared, Noriko tore the door open and stumbled in, having been rammed into by Noboru.

    … who was suddenly wielding a sword.

    What? Noriko stood, staggered to the wall and slumped against it, trying to register the events unfolding in front of her. Kokoro was in the bottom bunk, which was where Junko slept, with wide eyes. Junko was clinging to her, and still screaming at the creature that was before them.

    The creature was burly. Its red hide was spread over thick, stocky, absurdly muscular limbs. It’s head was encircled in a thick black mane . The face was disturbing, with bulging and vicious eyes under a canopy of thick eyebrows, and very wide flat nose with flaring nostrils. Its mouth was hanging open and two rows of sharp teeth of varying sizes were revealed. Movement was erratic, switching between fluid as it slashed forward with a raptor’s claws, and jerky, awkward, though it wasn’t clear how it had lost its balance.

    It was scary, certainly, but what was more frightening was the familiarity of the beast. She recognized it as an Oni, an ogre-ish creature in Japanese folklore. Depictions of it were common. Despite how modern the world had become, mythology was never buried.

    No, that isn’t a sword. Is it? What the hell is that thing? Her mind had leaped from the demon to Noboru.

    It had a blade, as far as Noriko was able to discern, but he was gripping it between his knuckles? Nothing was really making sense at this moment. After a short and surreal duel in which Noboru gained a cut along his face, he was finally able to plunge the blade right into the creature’s stomach. He withdrew the blade and backed away quickly, and with a roar, which seemed much louder this time, the creature fell forward. From the wound poured a black liquid. It appeared thick, but flowed nimbly over the ground towards Noboru, who took a few extra steps back. Like a wave upon the beach, it almost reached his toes and withdrew, repeating its motion. Then the creatures skin seemed to tear apart, bursting at the seams. From the cracks came the fluid, billowing outwards like a curtain caught in the wind, and then it fell and spread across the floor. After a few moments the substance sank into the ground, leaving no trace of the Oni.

    Noriko was sitting on the ground, rubbing her temples. Junko was still next to Kokoro, both watching Noboru expectantly.

    “Explain. Now,” Kokoro said tersely.

    Noboru suddenly seemed aware of his surroundings, the fact he was shirtless and bleeding, and that he had just stabbed a mythological creature with a weapon none but him would be likely to recognize. In embarrassment he smiled very slightly, and tried to cover a cringe by raising a palm to his neck.

    “Mmm… you wouldn’t believe me. AH!” He cried out when Noriko suddenly lunged forward, grabbing his ankle and yanking him to the ground, leaving him supine.

    “I am sick of this. I don’t care what the hell is going on, you are going to tell me. First, why are you bleeding?”

    “He got hit by a car!” Squealed Junko.

    “No way. He just has scratches on his back.”Kokoro said.

    “And those bruises!”

    “That’s not enough to be from a motorcycle accident.” Noriko added.

    “No, she’s right.”

    Junko threw her chin high in pride, while the two women stared at Noboru, who was still laying on his back.

    “I told you you wouldn’t believe me,” He would have ended their, but a smack on the chest from Noriko prompted him to continue. “I went out because there was an oni outside the tunnel, and it knocked me off my bike.”

    “So you weren’t on drugs,” Kokoro gasped.Then added, haughtily, “You could have at least told me that you had something to do instead of being an a*****e.”

    Junko looked thoughtful again.

    “But why do you want to kill them?”

    Noboru groaned, and covered his eyes with his arm.

    “Can I please just sleep?” He asked.

    “No!” Noriko exclaimed. With a whine, she put her hands over her forehead. “Alright. But- use the couch.” Meeting his gaze, she added in defense, “Whatever that was…”

    “Fine,” He stated flatly, standing and walking out the door.

    After he had left, Noriko commanded both of the girls to go to sleep, deciding she would just forget work and try to sleep herself. Grudgingly, both girls crawled into their beds, and Junko was out the moment she pulled her blanket over her head.


    Kokoro squinted at the green light peering from behind the numbers. She couldn’t tell if she was just asleep or if she had been laying there for an hour and a half. Something was going on in the room, though. She had heard something, and maybe that had woken her up? Whatever it was, she was going to go back to sleep.


    She sat up this time. There was definitely something making a sound. Squinting didn’t do much; the light from the clock was blinding her temporarily photosensitive eyes. Another bit of noise- a rustling?

    Then she saw it. A sleek figure, long straight appendages supporting its small and elegant frame, glowing a soft blue. It was… a crane?

    She was sitting up now, watching its slow and nervous progress through her room. The bird omitted a string of growls, purrs, and consonants, its beak opening and closing, and its head bobbing. Kokoro gazed upon it with half lidded eyes before turning and pulling her pillow on top of her head. She tried to drown out its sounds, and had for the most part succeeded, when a second voice joined and she sat up like being woken from a nightmare.

    It was, of course, Noboru standing in the middle of the room, and she really wasn’t sure how to react. At least, the rational and still sleeping part of her mind didn’t know what to do. The awakened part simply asked, “Noboru?”

    He looked at her, making direct eye contact, and she wasn’t completely sure that it was him anymore. There was an air of confidence and optimism surrounding him. Briefly, he smiled, and then returned to the conversation.

    Yes, life had truly stopped making sense.