by No. 13
Further warnings: focused entirely on Fuji and Tezuka
Author is no native English speaker (always glad to accept corrections)
The rain had continued all through the night, a soothing noise that had lulled Tezuka into sleep early on and by the time he woke, bleary-eyed and still exhausted, the next morning he felt far removed from yesterday’s events. His recollections possessed an unfamiliar surreal quality, and he shoved them away before he became lost in them.
Trance-like he observed his usual routines, secretly glad there was no tennis practice due to the rain. It was comfortable, for once, to run on autopilot. Just walk ahead, hold onto your umbrella and do your best not to mind cold and rain.
Hopefully all that rain would become snow soon. Snow, at least, wasn’t as depressing as all this rain. Snow brought a lot of happy memories, too.
“Hn.” Tezuka replied, but Oishi was obviously only a little more awake then him. His friend, instead of trying to converse like he usually did, held a very strange monologue.
“We won’t be able to get any practice done if it continues like this. Who knows, maybe they’ll cancel school someday – though, probably not, but I suppose there’ll be some lessons not taking place due to sickness. I mean, who wouldn’t get sick in that weather. If taken to drinking more tea than is healthy and, you know, Kaidou recently seriously contemplated asking Inui to come up with some anti-cold juice…”
Yes, the weather did funny things to people.
“Momoshirou and Eiji protested, though I get the feeling some people actually considered that option. Who knows, if this continues, I might do that, too…”
Tezuka found himself contemplating whether Inui was capable of coming up with a juice to exorcise nasty spirit’s, before shaking his head to clear his thoughts.
“Anyway…” Oishi’s concerned voice suddenly cut through his thoughts, sounding more awake than previous, “What happened to your cheek?”
Subconsciously Tezuka brought a hand up to the thin red line that ran diagonally across his right cheekbone. He’d wiped away the blood last night and the cut had looked far less dangerous than it had done previously. His mother had been half-hysterical the moment he’d walked through the door – but luckily her worries had easily been soothed.
She hadn’t seen the ring of green and purple bruises circling his neck, either.
“An accident.” Tezuka heard himself reply, unable to tell Oishi anything that even barely resembled the truth.
”Accident?” Oishi repeated in disbelief, just like his father had.
“Hn.” Tezuka said, indicating that he wouldn’t be revealing anymore details. How could he – when he’d tried his best to keep it from even his family.
But what had frightened him even more had been his father’s contemplative expression. Kuniharu hadn’t spoken up then, but later on he’d come up to Tezuka’s room, sat down on his bed and looked at his hands before voicing his concerns.
‘You were at that house again, weren’t you?’ Kuniharu had asked, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mother – but are you okay?’
Tezuka had nodded, lips pressed together in a thin line. His father reached out, tugging at Tezuka’s collar, revealing blue and green bruises around his throat.
‘The ghost tried to kill you, Kunimitsu, didn’t it?’ he had said, ‘But it didn’t try to kill Fuji-kun the first time we went there. Do you have any idea why?’
And Tezuka had had to shake his head. He could have mentioned the possession, the ghost’s threatening promise, or the way he felt things were slowly adding up to form one horrid picture, but right then he only wanted to close his eyes and sleep.
Recalling this conversation with a frown, Tezuka glanced at Oishi. He couldn’t possibly share his concerns with him, not even if Oishi had been his best friend for years. Not when those discrepancies left his blood colder than ice.
“Nya, hello Oishi, buchou!” Eiji emerged from the convergence of third-year students crowding the entryway to his classroom. His voice was cheerful, yet strained. A shadow of a frown hung over his face, as if he was worried, but yet unsure if he ought to show it.
“Good morning.” Oishi replied, while Tezuka nodded.
“What is going on?” Oishi asked, forehead wrinkled in concern. Who knew what tragic fate had befallen a fellow student today – he’d come to witness a lot at school. From senseless cruelty, to accidental harm or nervous breakdowns. It always left him with a sense of dread, recalling that either he or one of his friends could be next.
“Nya…” Eiji’s eyes flitted back to his classroom, “I don’t know what it is exactly. But somebody left flowers on Fuji’s desk.”
That wasn’t exactly unusual, Tezuka thought.
“A love declaration?” Oishi wondered aloud, eyes straying over to all the people lingering around. Perhaps it was something extravagant, like an oversized bouquet of roses, or whatever else the female imagination managed to conjure up.
“Must have been a goth, then.” Eiji’s laughter was brittle and false and died soon. He didn’t mask the worry when he spoke next. “The flowers were all black.”
With a grateful smile he shed shoes and coat, closing the door behind him, shutting out the cold rain. Warmth greeted his face and his muscles relaxed immediately. A spicy aroma wafted through the air – they were having curry for dinner, he could tell.
He’d just fix himself a cup of tea and then go to his room and read until diner was ready. Nothing for school, a nice book perhaps – or he’d look through his last edition of Tennis Pro Monthly once again – he wasn’t sure if he’d already read everything there.
Making his way through the living room, greeting his grandfather, he occupied himself with wondering which tea would suit him best in this weather. Absentmindedly, he muttered a ‘hello’ to his mother, missing her tensing shoulders.
“Say, Kunimitsu…” his mother started without turning from the stove, “Have you been at the mansion yesterday?”
Usually he’d have simply answered ‘yes’. But memories of the encounter stayed his words, and he instinctively sensed there was more to his mother’s question than a simple inquiry. He felt his grandfather’s gauging gaze boring into his back, heard the steel underneath his mother’s gentle tone.
“Did something happen?” he asked carefully. The bruises on his neck throbbed and he repressed the urge to reach up and touch them – he’d managed to ignore them most of the day, keen on keeping yesterday’s horrid encounter out of his mind – but now he felt them twice as strong.
She turned and there was no smile on her face, only a weary grimace. All of a sudden Tezuka thought she looked old, sporting wrinkles he never noticed before.
“The police called while you were at school. Somebody discovered a body in the backyard.”
“What?!” he failed at hiding his shock.
Tezuka Ayana’s shoulders slumped and her eyes strayed over to the window. Sadly, she gazed out into the rain before speaking again.
“It was a five-year old girl. She fell into the pond and drowned, sometime late yesterday night.”
“A…” The news left him breathless. Disbelief drained all colour from his face, shock and grief warring for dominance in his heart.
A five-year old girl?! Drowned in the pond?
His mother continued, before Tezuka could decide on how he felt. “The police assumes it has been an accident. There are…”
She swallowed, struggling to breech an emotional barrier. Tezuka held his breath, dimly aware of how alien it seemed to see his usually calm and unperturbed mother fumbling for words.
“They don’t know who she was or what she was doing out there in the night. And there hasn’t been a missing person report filed for children from the area. The police suspect however, that the girl has been illegally in the country – there have already been cases where migrants or homeless people tried to inhabit the abandoned houses in that area.”
Another silence fell, grave and heart-wrenching.
“Most probably nobody will show up to claim her body.”
His mother turned away, her back to the room’s occupants. A shaking hand made its way up to her face, while Tezuka swallowed thickly, trying to dislodge the lump blocking his throat. Unbidden images arose, of a small, lifeless body lying on a cold metal table somewhere, doomed to remain nameless forevermore.
Nobody to grieve her, nobody to saying goodbye, no last reminder of having been loved, once. A fate, Tezuka thought, blinking away tears burning in the corner of his eye, he wouldn’t wish onto his very worst enemy. Especially not a five-year old child.
“They say it was an accident…” his mother repeated, voice choked and back still turned, “But I … after Wednesday night I don’t know what to believe anymore…”
Drawing a deep breath and doing his best to ignore the observing glances his grandfather kept casting into his direction, Tezuka Kunimitsu then voiced a foreign opinion.
“The ghost.” biting his lip “Yes. I think he killed her.”
He recalled the murderous gleam lightening those dark eyes all too well, and the scratches on his cheek were still throbbed in the cold.
“Kunimitsu.” was all his grandfather said. The deep and steady voice asked for an explanation, holding not a trace of judgement concerning the irrational words his grandson had just spoken.
“I went there, mother, grandfather. Yesterday, straight after school I went there together with Fuji.” ,he admitted in a strained tone, wondering dimly why the tint of regret colouring his voice had nothing to do with not having told his family the truth but everything to do with a stranger’s death, “He… wanted to look at some results from the night before. And I … I was curious, too. So we … well, we had another encounter with the spirit then.”
He shuddered at the memory and missed how his mother turned around abruptly, frightened.
“Fuji’s sister picked us up afterwards…” he deliberately left out the part how she had suddenly just appeared on the scene, without any explanation whatsoever. Maybe he already started thinking like Fuji or Eiji, accepting her clairvoyance without question. Her questions had been so precise, as if she’d already known everything…
And then he recalled her disturbed expression at a minor alteration, at something that hadn’t been right and hurriedly tried to banish any further thoughts. What was enough to disturb Yumiko had to be frightening for any other soul.
“Did… do the police suspect…?” Tezuka asked, suddenly scared.
His mother – who had approached without him noticing – put her hands on his trembling shoulders, gazing deeply into his eyes. A warm, loving and yet so heart-wrenchingly sad smile bloomed on her lips.
“An accident, Kunimitsu. That’s all they think. And if you haven’t seen the poor girl while you were there, they’ll never know anybody has been there yesterday at all.”
His heart sped up, and he couldn’t keep the surprise off his face. This outrageous claim of his mother – to lie to the police when a human being had been killed – made him shudder. Still he melted into her warm embrace.
“That poor girl.” she muttered and Tezuka dimly understood. A child, dead, unnamed and – perhaps – unloved by its parents, it would have any decent human being’s feelings in uproar. But she was a mother, too.
And a child dead, a child threatened – hands ghosted over the scratches on his cheek, tender and so very warm – asked for countermeasures. His mother had seen her own son in place of that five-year old girl, abandoned and alone, even in death, and…
“Kunimitsu.” she breathed, affectionately petting his hair, “I would like to… I want to see that ghost … gone. I don’t care how or what, but I just don’t want… anybody else to get hurt.”
Her palm once again found the ghost’s bloody marks on Tezuka’s face. There were tears in her eyes, he realized to his consternation.
“I know Fuji-san that this… this thing was strong. But somebody certainly must be able to do something about it. And I don’t care how much money they want, this isn’t about money anyways. We’ll just sell the house afterwards, that should be enough to cover the expenses…”
She chuckled humourlessly at the thought of wasting so much money on paranormal phenomena. But things had gone too far, she couldn’t very well watch another child die. Not when her own son had come into harm’s way, too.
“Would you… could you call Fuji-kun and ask him whether he or Fuji-san knows anybody capable of getting rid of that ghost? Tell him I don’t care about the prices, as long as they’ll just do away with that horrid creature…”
Gently Tezuka detached himself, looking into his mother’s grief-stricken, but determined hazel eyes.
“Mother, I would. But Fuji wasn’t at school today and I think he’s sick, so maybe… maybe it would be better if you just called Fuji-san directly.”
He dimly wondered if that idea was really that good, remembering Fuji Yumiko’s pale face yesterday, her strange, precise questions and mutterings about visions. Her eyes had held such disgust when she’d looked back at the mansion that Tezuka wondered, right now, whether she might have known about that five-year old girl. Whether she had seen what was about to happen – and hadn’t said a word.
But Tezuka Ayana stepped back and nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, yes, I will just do that.”
On to Chapter 8~