Ch. 06 - IzanamiA Chapter by Seratha
What is that infernal noise?
Whatever it is, it's getting louder.
Where is it? Where is it coming from?
And louder still! Someone, turn it off!
I shot my eyes open as the dead weight of morning abruptly crashed over my entire body. A crushing stiffness tore at my every limb, while cold sweat clung to my motionless form. My heart was racing, yet I could barely feel it beating against the hardwood flooring.
Slowly, my mind began breaking the chains of my awakening's stupor. I noticed the cold first. A bone chilling cold that lingered on my uncovered skin and the floor around me. Hopelessly trying to ignore my current body temperature, I hazily surveyed what little I could see. A mass of light-blonde hair obscured most of my lopsided vision. My right cheek was squished firmly into the hardwood paneling, allowing the use of only one eye. The room was sideways. All I could see was a black table leg squarely in front of me.
I understand now.
Finally, my mind was functioning at an acceptable level, with the highest level being the only acceptable level. Despite that, some details still eluded me.
The table leg before me must belong to my glass-top coffee table, which means I am lying face down in my room. Having slept, or possibly blacked out, in this position, my joints are stiff and my limbs are aching. I sleep in a t-shirt and shorts, so that, coupled with the night air and hardwood flooring would explain this migraine.
My sudden elaboration was interrupted by the continuous beeping that filled my eardrums. The alarm clock. How late is it? I craned my neck to try and see, but only succeeded in cracking a few bones.
I woke up late. I never wake up late, and now, my own alarm clock is mocking me in my imperfection.
I gritted my teeth together and pushed into the floor. My rigid body screamed in protest as if it were threatening to crack into pieces if I exerted too much force. Shakily, I brought myself to my knees.
I ignored it. Using the coffee table as support, I managed to get to my feet and stumble to my balcony window. The drapes. I ran the coarse, white fabric through my shaking fingers. They were still crooked, which could mean only one thing.
After adjusting the drapes properly, I shot my gaze to the dresser behind me. There, lying ever so innocently atop my dresser was my little black box.
Today is the day, but first...
I calmly walked over to my bedside table and halted the alarm clock mid-beep. The stiffness plaguing my joints was fading, and my mind was clearing up.
Twenty after. Today must be perfect and already things are working against me. Everything, everything, must be perfect, precise. But no, no, it's fine, Claire. A minor flaw in an otherwise wonderful day. Just continue as you do normally and it will all be fine.
With that in mind, I looked to my reflection in the mirror above the dresser. For the second time in a span of mere hours, I was taken aback by what I saw. My eyes were red and puffy, and my right cheek held distinct creases matching my floorboards. A disheveled clump of hair drooped limply on the right side of my head. White lines of dried drool, and apparently snot, covered my lips and chin. How unbecoming. After frowning at the mess I had become over just one bad night's sleep, I sped off to the restroom to begin my normal morning routine.
Time is of the essence, but appearances are appearances, after all.
I dressed myself more quickly than I thought possible, stopping only to loosen my tie like I had the day before. It was starting to grow on me in a “rebellious” sort of way, but I didn't have time to dwell on that. I didn't have time to dwell on the black box either. Unfortunately, marveling the exquisitely plain sheen of its exterior was also out of the question. Gingerly, I placed it in my book bag, as well as the lockbox's key that I pried from my tie drawer's false bottom.
Downstairs, I was greeted by the ringing clang of stainless steel against tile flooring, along with the expected string of shrill, yet exhausted swearing.
It seems I am not the only one running late.
“Hun, I'll clean that up, don't worry about it, but you need to go. Your ride leaves in less than an hour,” my father's firm rumble drowned out of clattering of pots and pans. So he said, but he was still sitting in his usual chair, reading the Times while my mother shrieked at the clock and dashed around the dining room gathering her things. The front page headline was a tad different, but not entirely unrelated to the incidents that had occurred in the city over the past few weeks. It read: Protests Continue Over Sunday Murders.
“Okay, okay,” my mother heaved, carrying an overstuffed bag in one arm and a white coat in the other. She stared into space, counting off her fingers. Her blonde hair was wrapped tightly into a neat bun, though a keen eye could see a few roots beginning to turn grey. A pair of horn-tipped glasses dangled on the tip of her dainty nose. Wrinkles were just barely starting to appear on her brow that was always either furrowed with concentration or worry. In this case, it seemed to be both. “I think that's everything...”
“Keys?” grinned my father amusedly, who had finally put down his paper to dangle a set of keys from his hand. His brown hair was receding and thinning, but his boyish smile still held that same youthful spark for as long as I could remember. He held it so often that creases were forming at the side of his lips.
My mother snatched the keys from his hand, embarrassed. I lightly stepped into the dining room where they were exchanging their good-byes and picked up a card that had caught my attention.
Rachel E. Walker, M.D.
Systems Federation Biotech Division
Solar System - Earth
Clearance Level: Black
The rest of the identification card was littered with annotations and numbers in a language I was not familiar with. Her picture was also less than flattering. Probably the lighting.
“I think you're forgetting something,” I said coolly, waving the I.D. card at them.
I finally caught their attention. Yelping excitedly, my mother bounded over to me to take the card. “Oh! Thank you, sweetie,” she said warmly, pausing to cup her free hand against my cheek. “And I swear, you grow more beautiful with each passing day,” her green eyes beamed proudly.
“Like mother, like daughter,” said my father, ruffling his newspaper open again.
I pressed my cheek into her warm fingers, “Mother, you're going to be late,” I kindly reminded her.
“Ah!” she leapt back, snapping back to reality. She quickly leaned in to peck me on the forehead, doing the same to my father before rushing out the door, “I'll see you two next week!”
“Have a safe trip!” my father called out. He looked over the top of the paper, “Shouldn't you be heading out? Running late too, eh?”
I suppressed a sour look as I waved myself off. Don't remind me.
* * *
It felt like we had this conversation once before. I cast Ven a sideways glance when I entered the Student Council Room, dropping my bag on the first empty chair I could fine. He was giving me an exaggerated look of disgruntled suspicion. I strode over to my seat across from his.
“Again,” he continued, rising from his seat. His wary red eyes looked magnified behind his oval rimmed glasses. “I demand compensation for all of this extra work I've had to do.”
“Is that so?” I replied, my lips curling into a sneer, “What did you have in mind?”
“A date,” he said simply.
I scoffed in response, partially out of the absurdity of the question, but mostly because he asked while keeping the same discontent look he had greeted me with when I first entered the room. Ven would ask me out on a date every now and again, and every now and again I would give him the same reply. I was almost certain he did it entirely out of jest, but I could never be completely sure.
“Then let me borrow your water card,” he followed up, as if he was expecting my reaction, which I should hope he was.
Ven stepped over to my bag resting at a spare desk. I froze. His hand was already undoing the zipper. The box. It's still in there. I can't let him find it!
“Wait!” I called out, “I'll get that for you.”
He pulled his hand back at my sudden exclamation. I avoided his suspicious glare as I walked across the room to my bag. If he had been making that face as a joke before, he was more than serious now. His crimson eyes narrowed at me, and his blue lips kept opening and closing, like he was holding back from saying something about my noticeably odd behavior.
I rummaged through the book bag to find the water card, my fingers grazing the box's cool metal. “Here,” I said calmly, handing him the light blue plastic card. He nodded silently, exiting the room without taking his eyes off me. I pressed back with a pleasant smile. He knew better than to pry.
I let out an exhausted sigh, carrying the book bag back to my desk and stuffing it underneath my chair. That was close. I checked the holoboard before settling back down into my seat. Thirty minutes until homeroom. The mountains of paperwork had grown larger still since yesterday afternoon. One particularly large stack was threatening to fall over at any moment.
Today is going to be a long day, but the least I can do is try and get some work done while I still can.
I had only been working for a few minutes when the classroom door slammed open. I looked up to see who was rude enough to not bother knocking first. It wasn't Ven, it was someone else far less friendly. A lanky Razaxxis stood in the doorway with a contemptuous look on his flat, lizard-like face.
“Good morning, Lurzil,” I said graciously, “How may I help you?”
Razaxxis are a reptilian species native to Razax Prime of the Rhyzzor System. They are known for their strong builds, sweeping lizard tails, and their ability to breathe fire. Menacing, short-tempered, and often considered highly dangerous by the general human population, few Razaxxis have bothered to traverse the galaxy past the Rhyzzor System, and even less have made Earth their home.
Lurzil, on the other hand, looks less than threatening. He is short for his race, being only a few inches taller than me, not to mention his rather gangly build. It must be from all the time he spends on his knees, sniveling at Drentin's feet, rather than training for his race’s rite of passage. As Drentin's personal lapdog, he will do what Drentin says without question, but he isn't without his own brand of personal gratification; he is still as ferocious as his race is known for.
“The papers. Drentin sent me,” he said icily, approaching my desk, his clawed feet rapping against the linoleum flooring. His bright red scales gleamed against the sunlight wafting into the room.
“Ah, of course,” I handed him the form I had written up last night, “And be sure to tell Mr. Drentin I will inform the Debate and Light Music Clubs of the schedule changes personally.”
Lurzil's slitted nostrils flared, seemingly appalled that I would give him orders. He snatched the paper up in his abnormally tiny claws and exited the room without another word, slamming the sliding door behind him.
Being the same alien who ran against me the past two years to lead the Student Council, he holds me in contempt. The feeling may be mutual, but I can hardly be bothered. Until he gives me a reason to deal with him personally, I'll let him be. I have more important things to focus on. Only ten minutes have passed since I last checked the holoboard. Those important things will have to wait.
* * *
It's Tuesday, which means it's the Juniors' turn to use the Chemistry Laboratories. Chemistry comes right before lunch, so the room is filled mostly with agitated, hungry students, rather than students keen on actually learning chemistry. I can't say I am any different from them today. I may not be particularly hungry, but I can't say I am paying close attention to what I'm doing either.
I measured a chlorine solution for the heated beaker, while keeping most of my attention on the lab group I could just barely see out of the corner of my eye. Haruka was there, standing idly by while her two group mates chatted to each other excitedly. They kept their backs to her, trying to ignore her very presence at the lab counter.
Pursing my lips together tightly, pouring the solution into the beaker. This had been happening all day. Students, even those not part of Class 3-2, were essentially shunning Haruka. In the hallways, in the classroom, and now even here in our lab groups. Instead of being placed into a social circle, she was being locked out altogether. I had seen this type of bullying before, but it had never bothered me until now.
“Claire, turn down the burner,” said Ven, who was busy weighing solvents on the digital scale beside me.
Even if I start to speak to Haruka more openly, it won't make much of a difference. The student body admires me, but I don't have that kind of influence over them. My being amicable toward Haruka would be seen as part of my generally compassionate personality, and as one of the duties as the Student Council President. There won't be any exception in their treatment of her, regardless of what I do.
“Did you turn down the heat?” asked Ven, who was now pouring the acutely measured solvents into the beaker.
Besides, I can't be shown giving favor to specific students. Vouching for Haruka and imploring the students to be more friendly toward her would only give Drentin reason to accuse me of favoritism, and with it, more fuel for the fires. In the same vein, I am openly more friendly with Ven, but that hasn't given any of the girls in the school more reason to accept his advances.
“Claire, did you...” Ven asked again warily.
“Sorry, did I do what?” I said, snapping back to reality. I must have been phasing him out this entire time.
The beaker rattled violently in its ring stand. Its once clear liquid had turned to a crude black solution. Ven snapped off the gas line to the bunsen burner, but it was too late. We had heated the mixture for too long. Shoving his arm at my chest, Ven pushed himself between me and the now bubbling beaker. In that split second it let out a low pop, creating a plume of smoke and enveloping the both of us in a thick black cloud.
I coughed, trying to expel the acrid smoke from my lungs. It stung my throat, but it wasn't unbearable. Hopefully it would be harmless as well. Ven and I waved our arms about to clear the cloud. When it had finally settled, the class had gone silent. All eyes were on us, or more specifically, on Ven. Even Mr. Purser, the Chemistry teacher, gave us an incredulous look from behind his desk at the front of the lab room.
It only took a moment for the class to burst into laughter, which appeared to be directed at my unfortunate lab partner. Ven turned around to face me. I futilely attempted to stifle my own laughter. Luckily for him, the beaker hadn't exploded when he stepped in front of me. However, he had taken the brunt of the explosion, and the thick layer of black residue covering his face and shirt proved it. His normally cobalt hair was swept back and slightly singed at the tips. Ven removed his soot covered goggles to give me a blank look.
“I'll take Ven to the nurse's office,” I said somewhat sheepishly through the classes' remnants of snickering and giggling.
“Please do, Ms. Walker,” said Mr. Purser, who was rubbing the bridge of his nose out of exasperation.
I pushed Ven out the door, scanning for Haruka in process. She wasn't there. Outside, Ven remained silent. I continued to push him lightly down the empty corridors toward the nurse's office, keeping my hands on his shoulders. He didn't need the help, but I felt this was my way of apologizing.
“You gonna tell me what's wrong?” he said, stopping suddenly but not turning to face me.
“Nothing's wrong,” I lied.
He kept quiet for a few moments before saying, “If you say so.” He shrugged my hands off and continued walking, “I can take myself to the nurse. You can head back.”
I bit my lip, “Take the rest of the day off.”
“Huh?” he finally turned to face me, peering over the top of his glasses with a look of disbelief.
“Go home after you visit the nurse. I can cover the extra work after school.”
“Oh. All right,” his stern look breaking into a grin. He turned the corner with a wave and a merrier skip in his step. Ven was a hard worker when it came down to it, but he wasn't the type to refuse a day off.
I headed back to the Chemistry Lab with a clearer conscious and a more focused attention span. Haruka hadn't been in the classroom when the smoke cleared, so where had she run off to? I searched the vacant hallway around the lab.
As far as Purser knows, I am at the nurse's office with Ven. I'm sure he won't mind if I take a few minutes to look for a missing student.
Almost about ready to give up my search, I noticed a pair of black shoes poking out from beside a vending machine. I crept over silently, not wanting to startle her. She must have snuck out during all the commotion. Her lab partners weren't including her anyway, so at least this way she would have some privacy. I assumed that was her reasoning as I peered around the vending machine.
Haruka was sitting on the floor, leaning against the vending machine with her knees tucked up to her chest. She jumped at my appearance and covered the right side of her face instinctively. I expected her to ease up when she realized it was only me, but no such luck. I guess we weren't as friendly as I thought.
“Haru? What are you doing down there?” I asked sweetly, casually employing my nickname for her.
“N-Nothing, really...” she mumbled, getting to her feet.
“So...” I murmured, hoping to find an appropriate route of conversation, “...Have you given any thought to joining the Student Council?”
She shook her head, causing her black locks to shift and further reveal her scarring. She must have noticed this because she abruptly stopped and reverted back to keeping her head downcast.
“Oh,” I said, putting on a disappointed face, “You don't like spending time with me?”
“No! That's not-!” she flustered, stepping back and hitting the vending machine with one of her curved horns. She winced and looked away with embarrassment.
That's it, Claire. Lead the conversation. She's just a normal girl, nothing to get nervous over. Though, I will admit her cheeks turn the loveliest shade of pink when she gets flustered like that.
“How about a drink then?” I followed up quickly, hoping to avoid any awkward silences.
Haruka didn't respond. Holding her hands behind her back, she shifted her weight from side to side as I pulled out my water card that Ven returned to me. “What would you like? My treat.” I fed the card into the slot on the right of the machine, only to promptly have it spit back out. A red error message flashed on the vending machine's touch screen, as well as on the digital read of the water card itself.
My brow twinged in annoyance. That idiot, he must have maxed me out for the week.
Giggling softly at my dumbfounded look, Haruka pulled out her own water card and slipped it into the vending machine. That was the first time I heard her laugh, a soft, almost inaudible, girlish laugh. She pressed two icons on the massive touch screen, which was quickly followed by the rumble of two cans falling into the bottom compartment. She bent down and opened the steel flap, taking a light pink can for herself and offering a black and brown can to me.
“Thank you,” I said appreciatively. I hesitated a moment before taking the can from her. I noticed her hand was shaking quite noticeably. Slowly, I reached for can held loosely between her slender, gloved fingers. I had barely touched the cold aluminum when Haruka suddenly let go, sending the can to the floor with a dull clunk.
We both quickly bent down to pick it up. A dull, but much louder, clunk followed as our foreheads crashed together. Haruka was sent to the floor and I nearly lost my balance. Rubbing my throbbing forehead, I crouched down to pick up the can. The pain was already beginning to fade, but I must have hit Haruka harder than I first realized to knock her off her feet like that.
“I'm sorry, Haru. Are you hurt?” I offered her a hand to help her get up.
She was also rubbing her forehead when she looked up to me and my outstretched hand. Her square rimmed glasses were skewed, and for a split second, I could have sworn her amber eyes had changed to a pure, cloudy white. In the time it had taken me to blink, she had adjusted her spectacles, and her eyes were once again their normal vibrant hue.
“Sorry, I-I'm fine,” she said, getting to her feet without my help. I awkwardly retracted my hand while she dusted herself off. “Th-Thank you for coming to talk to me, Claire,” she said shyly, her cheeks now matching the color of the can she held in her palms. After giving me a slight bow, Haruka scurried off down the hall and up the stairs to the fourth floor.
I hope I didn't scare her off. This was a strange encounter nonetheless. I can't get her eyes out of my mind, but I was probably just seeing things.
I checked the can Haruka gave me. The label read Iced Coffee. Good choice. I noticed she had gotten a pink can, which was likely strawberry milk. So she wanted something sweet. I noted this as I clicked open the can and checked the digital clock on the vending machine's ever changing touch screen. Just a few more hours.
* * *
The bell to end seventh period rang without any further incident. Class 3-2 continued buzzing about the episode in the Chemistry Laboratory, but it was mostly focused on Ven's involvement in the accident. As far as they knew, he had let the beaker overheat. As per my instructions, Ven had gone home after visiting the nurse. Haruka was also no where to be found. She appeared after lunch, but it seems she sped out after the bell rang just as quickly.
Fine with me. I have other things to concentrate on.
I pressed my palm against my book bag, feeling the hard outline of the black box. Slipping into the crowd of students heading home or to club rooms, I made my way to the first floor. I gave my usual good-byes on the way down, but as expected, the area around the Music Room was devoid of company. Hannah must be inside. Sliding the door open as indiscreetly as possible, I was welcomed by the refreshing sound of masterful piano work. I shut the door behind me and locked it. I eyed the other door across the room warily; it would need to be locked too, but I could do that in a moment.
Hannah was sitting at the piano bench like she had the previous morning. The shades were drawn, allowing only the setting Sun's orange radiance to filter into the room. With winter just around the corner, the Sun was dipping sooner. How unfortunate.
Even in the dull lighting, I could see Hannah's hands and fingers move at a frightening pace. Each stroke produced a more resonate sound than the last. Her auburn hair shifted now and again with every dramatic movement across the piano. So engrossed in her music, she still hadn't noticed my arrival.
I stepped toward her lightly, not wanting to make a sound. The piece was reaching its climax as I undid the zipper on my book bag and pulled out a slightly damp white cloth. In one swift motion I grabbed her around the neck with one arm and pushed the cloth into her face with my free hand. Sour notes rang off. Hannah struggled, letting out a muffled cry and clawing at my arm before going limp. I let go, her slender frame lazily sliding down and off the piano bench onto the floor.
I set down my bag beside her unconscious body and pulled out the black box and its key.
Time to get started.
© 2012 Seratha