Shadow Page 9
I couldn\ stop staring because it was her, the girl from my nightmares. The one holding the mirror on the shores of Itsukushima, the one in the pale kimono.
Her hair wasn\ black, and her features were different. She was American, blond, but there was an unmistakable feeling that I\d seen her before. Sometimes faces aren\ quite right in dreams, but this time it wasn\ quite right while awake. There was a connection, but I didn\ understand.
What the hell was going on?
’’I knew it,’’ Sato mumbled. ’’God, you are so screwed.’’
I dropped my eyes as the last verse of the school anthem sounded around us.
’’Whatever,’’ I said, joining back in with the song. He thought it was a stupid crush. If only it was that trivial.
And then the floor trembled, the notes of the song pulled from my lungs as I lurched forward. It was just a tremor, but it had caught me off guard. Sato stared at me, his head tilted to one side.
’’Aren\ you overreacting?’’ he said as the ground shuddered beneath us. ’’It\s just a tiny earthquake.’’
But I felt off balance as the world shook. I had that same sense of dread that always hit just before the nightmares materialized. The shadows clawed at the seams of me, ready to rip right through. I clenched my fists, willed myself to calm down. The tremor stopped.
The headmaster sighed with relief. ’’I think we shook the very earth with our singing,’’ he chuckled before introducing the next teacher.
Just a tremor. But why did it feel so personal?
I stared at the blond girl in the row below our balcony.
Why did it feel like my world had shifted?
The classes poured into the auditorium from all sides, new students and senior classes. High school in Japan was split into junior and senior schools, so our school had students for the three highest levels grade ten, eleven, and twelve. We all wore the same uniforms, row after row of matching outfits. For the girls, navy skirts and white blouses with red handkerchiefs tied around our necks, the boys in navy pants and dress shirts with ties. The ceiling lights glared off the gold buttons on our matching navy blazers adorned with the school crest. Like some sort of march of the penguins, I smirked. All the same except me, of course. I was the only blond American girl. The only one whose name was on the list spelled with katakana, the alphabet used for foreign words, instead of kanji.
The headmaster of the school started a welcome speech, but I tuned out, fiddling with the long ends of my necktie and tucking the loose strands from my ponytail behind my ears.
Like Diane when I\d first seen her at the airport, I was the piece cut from the wrong puzzle. I felt stupid standing here. Sure, Diane had shown the school my marks pre-Mom-crisis and gone through interviews to get me into the school, but I wasn\ like Yuki and Tanaka. I hadn\ done an entrance exam to get in.
I didn\ belong here.
We stood to sing the school anthem, the words on an overhead for the freshmen\s benefit. The students around me sounded like some sort of heavenly choir was singing a requirement for entry, too? I faltered as I sang, feeling the eyes of the auditorium on me. I knew I was being watched, like the attention had lit me on fire.
My blood pulsed, and I snapped my head forward. It did feel like I was on fire. The turbulence and the heat from the plane had returned, the ground dipping below me.
No, I was imagining things. That was impossible I must have drifted off, dreaming. No one else seemed to notice the ground shifting.
But then it shook again in time with my heartbeat.
The headmaster stopped singing. Others started looking around.
And then everything was still, and he let out a sigh. With a smile, he waved away what had happened and invited the new math teacher to speak while everyone applauded.
’’What was that?’’ I whispered into Yuki\s ear. She leaned toward me.
’’Just a tiny earthquake,’’ she said. ’’What\s it called in English a tremor? Nothing to worry about.’’
But it had shaken in rhythm with my pulse. That was definitely something to worry about.
I looked around the room, staring at the sea of uniforms and black hair mostly. The auditorium was peppered with students who\d dyed their hair blond or brown. One girl had pink highlights that had nearly grown out. I even saw a shock of white hair in the balcony, and beside it copper. But none of them looked concerned about the earthquake, so maybe I was overreacting.
The speeches finished and the balcony of third-years filed out first, followed by the second-year students. When it was finally our turn, we strode up the aisle to the exit doors. The line slowed to almost a stop.
’’What\s the hold-up?’’ I wondered aloud.
Yuki smiled. ’’Look!’’ she said. On either side of the door, students stood with armfuls of white flowers. Volunteers beside them plucked the blooms one at a time from the bunch and handed them to the freshmen as they passed. ’’Carnations. They\ e so pretty!’’
’’Yeah,’’ I said. It was definitely something that wouldn\ happen at my school in Albany.
I stepped forward, my turn to receive a bloom. A third-year senior reached for the bouquet her classmate held and slid out a long stalk. Her glittery pink and silver fingernails wrapped around the stem as she passed it to me.
’’Welcome to Suntaba,’’ she said. Her eyes looked puffy, like she hadn\ slept in a week.
’’Thanks,’’ I said. I took the flower from her hands as she sighed, turning to take another bloom for Yuki.
’’What\s her problem?’’ Yuki whispered as we headed down the hallway. ’’Like she was at a funeral or something.’’
Tanaka grinned. ’’Yeah, yours if she hears you! Don\ you know who she is? Good thing my sister taught me the social ladder at this school because for once, Yuki-chan, you\ e clueless!’’ He grabbed her flower and took off running.
’’Hey!’’ she shouted, racing after him.
’’No running in the halls!’’ snapped Suzuki-sensei, stopping them both in their tracks. I couldn\ help it a giggle escaped my lips as Yuki and Tanaka made their way back, sticking their tongues out at each other.
Some things so very different, and others so much the same.
Maybe I\d be all right after all. Maybe there was a life for me here.
Mom, I know you\ e here with me. And I\m going to take this mountain one step at a time.
My heart pulsed like the earthquake, like the turbulence on the plane. I looked at the bloom in my hand, brushed my fingers over the soft petals. I lifted the flower to my nose and breathed in the sweetness, feeling like I\d been dreaming all this time.
Feeling like I was about to wake up.
One Last Dream
The shadows chased me as I raced along the shore, my sandals sinking into the sand. I stumbled out of one, then the other, the curl of a smoky claw scraping against the backs of my legs. The tide lapped against the bare soles of my feet, the spray of salt water burning like a demon\s tongue.
In the distance, the Torii rose like a great yawning mouth to swallow me whole.
I burst through, the shadows slamming against the gateway with flashes of golden lightning. Dust glittered downward and peppered the beach with volcanic ash.
’’Why do you run from yourself?’’ said a familiar voice, and I twisted toward her in the sand. The girl, standing in her golden kimono, held a mirror the size of a shield.
Blond hair spilled over her shoulders and splayed over the silver-embroidered phoenixes on her sleeves.
’’Who are you?’’ I said.
’’You must bear the marks, Taira no Kiyomori,’’ she said.
’’I\m not Taira. And I saw you. In my school.’’
’’It is what it means to be one of us.’’
’’Answer me,’’ I said. ’’Why were you at my school?’’
She paused a moment, as she decided whether she\d tell me. ’’We are not the same.’’
’’But she looks like you somehow. Why?’’
’’Because the time is at hand,’’ she said. ’’Because she has a part to play. But there is only death ahead.’’
’’You\ e wrong,’’ I said. ’’You\ e wrong about me. And I think you\ e wrong about her.’’
She pressed her lips together in a thin, grim line. And then she turned her shield with both hands, the sound of it grinding into the sand filling my ears.
It was me in the reflection, but different somehow. A darkness in the eyes, hollow and sleep deprived. Monstrous, alien pupils, scars bleeding ink down my wrists. I looked cold, uninterested. Somehow less than human.
This was the part where I would wake up, where Taira would see me and panic. But this time I was me, not Taira. I saw myself, and I was frightened.
I reached for the sword at my side, shouting and leaping forward as I swung.
I watched myself splinter into a thousand pieces as shards of glass sprayed across the sand. They cut into my bare feet as I dropped the broken sword with a thud.
The base of the mirror stood empty in her hands. No reflection, nothing but a frame of tarnished brass.
’’I will fight until the end,’’ I said, heaving breath into my burning lungs.
She pulled her lips into a tight smile.
’’And you will fail,’’ she said.
I woke to the sound of my clock ticking in the darkness. I woke to shadow, and silence, and the uncertainty of what was to come.