“It's very nice of the two of you to take me in,” you say, “even temporarily.”
The girl across the table from you stares. Her eyes glow with a color you are almost sure should not come from any human being's eyes. Then again, you're almost sure this girl isn't human, though she might just be mutated, the subject of some malicious ritual, or any other of a variety of things. A curve travels down her tails, like a message sent across a pair of tin can telephones—one duplicate, in case of limp string or cut wire. She says nothing, only fixes you against the wall behind you with that unearthly gaze.
You think you would like the other woman to come back soon. She seemed nicer, even if she did have more tails.
“So, I didn't catch your name,” you say, in an effort at admittedly meaningless conversation. Anything would be better than awkward silence, you suppose.
You are wrong. The gaze intensifies. You are the plague-bearing insect pinned to the card point. You are the first hint of water damage against a white wall. You are the embarrassing childhood photograph taken in the moment your eyes were closed. You really don't like that photograph.
The girl doesn't seem to like it, either. “I didn't tell you my name,” she hisses, and the two of you lapse into silence. You're silently debating with yourself whether it would be worth the risk to ask her if you've offended her when the other woman returns.
“I apologize for keeping you waiting,” she says, although her stone-faced expression casts doubt on the presence of any actual sorrow—which is not to say you can glean nothing from her countenance. Her gaze is just as sharp as her less-tailed companion's, but in a different way. If you are the insect, she is the entomologist. “What did you say your name was, again?”
The girl's head swivels away from you with a rapidity reached only by the most aerodynamic of spinning teacups.
[What was your name? You're sure you had it here somewhere...]
You reach into your pocket, past your matches, past the marbles, and find your wallet before the light can make too much trouble for you or your generous hosts. “Here,” you say, opening it up and pulling out your state-issued identification card (and only your state-issued identification card). “John Suzune Burke. Last name 'Burke', first and middle 'John Suzune'. See?”
The other woman studies your state-issued identification card. You wish she wouldn't look at it so intently—the picture didn't turn out quite right. You're pretty sure your skin isn't even that color. “Suzune,” the other woman says. “That's a Japanese name, isn't it?”
You nod. “My dad turned out Japanese, so he and my mom ended up going for a Japanese name when I was born. It didn't work, though.”
The other woman makes an idle noise and gives you back your state-issued identification card. You slip it into your wallet where it fits between your debit card and your Abigail's gift card like a turkey breast between two pieces of white bread. “Mr. Burke,” the other woman begins.
“Oh, no, please, just call me John—whenever I hear 'Mr. Burke' I start looking around for my grandfather, just in case.”
“Very well—John.” You think you detect the barest hint of a grimace. “Now, I know this may be difficult, but if you could describe everything you remember about how you got here...”
“There's not a lot to tell,” you say. “I was at the town hall, watching the debate—”
Oh, of course. They wouldn't know about the debate. “It's mayoral election season where I'm from,” you explain. “There was a debate between The Mayor and the non-incumbent, but it was cut short when Koeman—the non-incumbent—had a heart attack, so I went to the restroom to wash up. The funny thing is, it wasn't until after I was done washing my hands that I realized I needed to, uh...do my business. So I stepped into the stall, and then a little while later she—”
You nod towards the less-tailed girl.
“—found me. I told her I was lost, and she led me here. Which, again, I'm very thankful for. If it weren't for her, I might have ended up wandering these strange, unfamiliar lands, pretending at sustenance through the scavenging of wild fruits and nuts even while fully, painfully aware of the slow death by denutrition awaiting me.”
The less-tailed girl's eyebrows draw low. “You would've died quicker than that. Trust me,” she says.
“Chen,” the other woman warns.
The less-tailed girl—Chen, you suppose—humphs just quietly enough that she might plausibly deny she ever did.
The other woman looks to your face with the same studious expression she gave your state-issued identification card. “I don't believe you're lying, which makes things complicated,” she says. “Tell me, have you ever heard of Gensoukyou?”
The word is unknown to you. You tell the other woman that. She smiles, slightly, but not unkindly.
“It is a area in the mountains of Japan, closed off from the outside world,” she says, “As well as...where you are now.”
That's...actually very strange. When you consider all the strange lands and distant worlds to which a city hall men's restroom stall might, upon an unsuspecting citizen, impose unwilful transportation, Japan doesn't even occur to you. You're honestly not sure what to make of this new information.
The other woman must notice your confusion. “I understand this must seem hard to believe, but this isn't the first time this has happened. Every now and then, somebody from outside Gensoukyou finds a way in, usually by accident. And Chen's right. This is a very dangerous place, except perhaps for the village. But don't worry—returning you should be easy enough. It's too late now, but in the morning we'll see you to the Hakurei Shrine.”
It's a lot to take in. “Hakurei Shrine?”
“A Shintou shrine at the border of Gensoukyou and the rest of the world. It should allow safe passage out. Though—” The other woman frowns, then seems to shake off the thought, whatever it may be. “Never mind. Chen, would you please prepare the spare room?”
Chen grumbles, but rises from her seat at the table. Her tails almost drag at the floor as she exits the room.
[This could be the beginning to a nice conversation. Then again, maybe not. Maybe you should take a look at this spare room, instead. Chen doesn't seem cheerful, precisely, but she reminds you of something...]
So I just noticed this today and I am already hooked. This story seems like it will be my kind of weird.
[x] Chen doesn't seem cheerful, precisely, but she reminds you of something... -[x] Like a cat? -[x] What with those ears, and all.
Feel free to disregard the follow-up items I attached if they're unnecessary. I'm not sure how to interpret it, you see: Does the protagonist already have something in mind, and the option is simply worded that way so as not to give things away? Or is it written that way to come across as a prompt, so that the readers can fill in the blank? I have seen both in various stories, and it could go either way.
Then again, this is only the second update.
Whatever the case, I am focusing on this with all my eyes and ears.
You follow, parting with one last thank you towards the other woman. The last you see of her is the thoughtfully disconcerted look upon her face, as if, lacking any other task to take away her attention, she has instantly become preoccupied with problems that you cannot detect, much less begin to understand.
The hallways are long. Your footsteps echo.
“Stop following me,” Chen says. She does not turn back.
“If I stop following you, I'll be lost again,” you point out. “It would be cruel irony for me to see rescue from the wilderness, only to meet my death by inches within the walls of civilization, by body, unfound by men, left to moulder to dust and thus be swept out once more with the spring cleaning, completing its tragic, if poetic, cycle.”
Chen stops walking.
“If I stop following you, I'll be lost again,” you point out. “It would be cruel irony for me to see rescue from the wilderness, only to meet my death by inches—”
“No,” says Chen. “That's—” She rubs her temple. “Stop talking. Just...stop talking. I'll let you follow me just as long as you just stop talking. Okay?”
You make the sign of the zipper across your lips. Chen begins walking again.
“You wouldn't have been that lost, anyway,” she says, after a little time. “I probably would've ended up...tripping over your dead body or something.”
“Thank you,” you say.
And though you have forgotten, momentarily, that you are not to speak, Chen does not respond.
Though you followed Chen to assist her, somehow, and reciprocate the kindness you have received, in the end, the preparation of the spare room is simple. Chen lays out the sheets, and you, suspecting that an attempt at aid would only impede her progress, merely watch from the doorway. There is something familiar about the girl, you think to yourself. You are not entirely sure why you think this (with her two tails and animalic ears she bears little resemblance to most of the people you know) but your mind insists it is so, and vulnerable as your mind is to suggestion, illusion, and the occasional telepathetic predator, you give it the benefit of the doubt. It is not until Chen finishes her task and turns towards you, however, that what you have seen becomes clear.
“What the hell are you staring at me for? You're sleeping here—don't bother me.”
That undercurrent of barely restrained hostility. That fire in her eyes, like the blaze atop the altar to a dead god. The open possibility that, at any moment, she might simply reach over and, with the help of her unusually long fingernails, snatch the skin from the face of your skull.
It reminds you of home.
Chen leaves. You curl up beneath the bedding and into sleep.
[Tomorrow, you will be taken to the shrine. You wonder if breakfast will be served, before you go—but perhaps even this idle musing is ungrateful. If you are taken to the shrine first thing after waking instead, that will be enough.]
[x] Breakfast wouldn't be unwelcome if it was there, however. -[x] It doesn't even need to be all that big.
>Everybody saging >nobody voting ...If you like the story, why aren't you voting?
Yes, it's an unfamiliar format to present votes/vote-ish thoughts in, but it's pretty clear that's how we're being presented with input: What's inside the brackets are our options, or at least, thoughts which a vote can be formed around (And of course, there's always write-ins unless the writefag puts the kibosh on them). Get used to it, and get voting.
And it looks like this story is, for the moment, updating pretty rapidly, so if that's what's behind the lack of voting, don't just check back here every few days or so. Vote early, vote often.
The following morning, the other woman makes you breakfast. It is a small, simple meal—a bowl of rice, some fish, a soup of an origin you are unable to identify by scent alone—but you are thankful, just the same. It would have been within your hosts' right to simply shoo you out the doorway without food or direction, as one might an errant fly.
It's this kind of generosity that serves as the occasional reminder that there is good in the world, after all. It's a fact you find worryingly easy to forget.
Then again, you have doubtlessly forgotten many other things that you do not even remember you have forgotten, so perhaps it's all relative, in the end.
You have finished half of your fish and a fourth of your fish when the other woman says, “Mr. Burke—John.”
You look up. Chen looks up from her own meal as well, perhaps as surprised as you. “Yes?” you say.
“I was wondering,” says the other woman, “if you could tell us more about where you came from.”
It is an easy enough request, and one you do not mind fulfilling. Before you can open your mouth, however, you are overcome with a sudden, almost blinding realization. It is as if some esoteric knowledge you were unaware you were in search of for your entire life has just been uncovered with nary an element of gravitas, or even a muttered 'voilà'.
“You don't need to tell us, if you don't want to,” the other woman says, when no immediate response is forthcoming. “It's only for information's sake. It's my—job, I suppose, to monitor incursions through the border—”
You shake your head. “I'm sorry,” you say. “It's my fault. It's just that—even though you allowed me to spend my night under your roof, I never asked you your name.”
“Oh!” The other woman looks surprised, then smiles. “Well, then. I am Ran Yakumo. I'm sorry, too—I should have introduced myself earlier. We haven't had guests here in a while.”
“You've treated me graciously—Ms. Yakumo. It is the least I can do in exchange for what the both of you have already done for me.”
“It's the same for me,” Ms. Yakumo says. “When someone says 'Yakumo' I look for somebody else. Please—call me 'Ran'.”
“I see—er, Ran.” The woman's smile curls upwards at your near misstep, but mercifully, she says nothing. You move quickly to less embarrassing matters. “What is it you want to—”
Chen strikes her chopsticks flat against the surface of the table. “Are you two flirting?” she cries, irritably, incredulously, sucking the comfortable mood from the room as one might suck the viscera from a small child.
“Chen!” Ran says, appalled.
You, on the other hand, can manage little more than confusion, and so stay silent.
“You are flirting!” Chen picks up her chopsticks again, electing to use them as a pointer. “I can't believe this—just anyone shows up, and you would—you—”
All at once, whatever tirade Chen has built up within seems to collapse into itself, taking the majority of her rage with it. “Forget it,” she says, pushing away her bowl. “I'm not hungry. You—the two of you do whatever. Shrine. Whatever.”
She leaves the table, and the room. She is, you notice, still carrying her chopsticks as she does so.
Ran sighs, and pushes away her own bowl. “Well,” she says, “I guess I should take you to the shrine.”
You guess she should.
Flight has long been a dream of mankind, and perhaps still is today. Yes, the modern airliner has made travel through the skies possible in ways the earliest of philosophers could scarcely have imagined, but there still remains the fantasy of flight unencumbered by massive machinery. Flight by wing or thought, in other words—in the manner of birds, comic book superheroes, or the sandlot angels.
Ran allows you a taste of this dream, and it is a flavor both wonderful and nauseous. Your hand is clammy around her wrist as you look downwards at the empty air that goes too far beneath your feet. When the two of you land at the shrine, your first action is to find a solid object to lean against.
“Someone else from the outside?” somebody says. Your eyes are too fixed to the ground to see who.
“Yes,” Ran's voice replies. “I've brought him here so you can take him back.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course. Nobody comes here otherwise.” There is a pause, and then: “Hey, is he okay? He doesn't look so good.”
It takes great effort to raise your head. When you do, you see the source of concern—a younger woman, wearing a bright red dress with detached, white sleeves. You wonder what dark rituals she uses to keep them from sliding to her elbows. If this is the shrine, and she the person in charge of it, she must surely know of at least a few.
“A slight airsickness,” you say, sounding as unsteady as you feel. “It should pass.”
“The flight didn't agree with him,” Ran adds, unnecessarily.
“I see,” says the younger woman. She bends, slightly, to catch the eyesight of your stooping figure directly—then seems to lose it, her gaze drifting first through you, then beyond you, as if there is a particularly interesting object on the horizon and you are empty air.
Her eyes snap back to yours suddenly.
“Done,” she says. “You can leave whenever you like. Just walk through the gate and you'll be outside the border.”
“Would you like to wait until you're feel better?” Ran asks.
You shake your head—carefully. “Thank you,” you say, “but I've taken too much of your time already. I appreciate the kindness, however. I know I've said this previously but—it's very likely that the two of you saved my life. Thank you.”
Ran smiles. The younger woman raises her eyebrows.
You give one final nod of thanks—because mere words seem unable to express what you owe this savior—and stumble through the gate.
The instantaneous teletransportation is disorienting, just as it was last time. Perhaps you should have waited, after all, but it's much too late to make that choice again. You find the nearest building and make yourself uncomfortable against the side of it as you wait for the effects of your travel to subside.
With one eye open, you look upon your familiar surroundings. How ever will you explain this?
“What—how the hell are you still here?”
Perhaps there is no explanation, you muse. Perhaps there is no explanation to anything. Perhaps the components of the universe turn as they do not according to any plan, but by mere chance. On the other hand—perhaps there is a plan, but perhaps it is one that you have no hope of ever understanding. Perhaps it was set into motion long ago, before the first approximation of apes crawled, mewling, across the surface of the earth. Perhaps some ancient god unknown to man slumbers even now, waiting only for its machinations to at long last fall into their final arrangement.
You shrug in Chen's general direction. She doesn't take it very well.
I am deeply amused by this turn of events. As he was getting ready to go through the gate, I was suspecting there would be oddness going on back home or that you were wrapping this story up right quick.
The second paragraph leaves me pondering on what the background of John is.
I do hope you continue as I am most curious to see how Chen expresses her discontent at the situation.
“It's very nice of you to continue to take me in,” you say.
Chen stares. Her eyes are lit with the fury of a burning red giant poised to devour the landscape of some far-off alien planet that you will never see or know. You think you can understand her ire. That sentence—the one you just said, just now—didn't feel quite right, even as you said it. You say it again, with different sounds, and different words. But not too different.
“It's very nice of you to continue to have me taken in,” you say.
Chen makes a low, undecipherable noise, and bares her teeth. Some of them are pointed much more than the teeth in the mouths of most other people that you have seen.
Still, you think your sentence was much improved this time, if still a bit unwieldy. Not a sentence that would be given a pass by the Grammar Unit, no doubt. But the Grammar Unit aren't here, in Japan, and what the Grammar Unit doesn't know can't hurt you.
“Let's go over this one more time,” Ran says. She holds the full weight of her head against the palm of her hand, gazing down at the table. She looks very tired.
You nod. You would be willing to go out of your way to submit to Ran's requests, as well as Chen's. The two of them did save your life, after all.
“Alright,” you say. “I was washing my hands in the men's restroom. I'd rolled up my sleeves, because I hadn't wanted the edges to become wet...” You don't think your sleeves are very important to Ran, but you mention them anyway. Better safe than sorry. “And then, after washing my hands and turning off the tap, I felt the urge to...use one of the stalls. So I stepped into the far stall to the left, because I knew that one was usually clean, and found myself teletransported instantly to the outside of...here.”
“And you didn't feel anything strange during the...teletransportation? Popping? A feeling like you were slowly materializing?”
“No, actually. It was quite instantaneous. There was a bit afterwards, when I felt a bit dizzy, but that passed soon enough.”
Ran hmms. She squeezes her eyes shut, as if in sudden need of a trephination. “Okay, let's start from the beginning. You were at the town hall, and you went to wash your hands—”
“Again?” Chen interrupts. She's talking to Ran, but glaring only at you, as she has been since this interrogation started. The effect is somewhat unnerving. “Look, this isn't working—it's been—what—” She turns to look at a nearby clock, fixed upon the wall. She does not appear to like what she sees. “An hour. It's been an hour already, and this guy still hasn't said anything useful. Can't we just hand him over to the village and be done with it?”
“Chen,” Ran says.
“What? That's the way it works, right?” Chen says. “He can't stay here forever. And it's not like you can't—it's not like we can't just ask him whatever if we think of something else to ask him. Right?”
“I certainly hadn't planned on staying forever, or even for a particularly long time,” you say. “You've shown me great kindness in allowing me to stay this long. I would hate to become one of those increasingly annoying houseguests, unable to tell when their welcome has been far overstayed—”
“You shut up.”
You shut up.
But only momentarily.
And then, because you are curious—a quality that can be a flaw, at times—you ask Ran, “What's this village?”
“The Human Village,” says Ran. You can hear the capitalization. “It's...well, exactly what it sounds like. It's where most of the humans—like you—live.”
“And they'll just...take me in?” you ask.
“Of course,” Ran says, and then, “They should. There are always people from outside Gensokyo—like you—finding their way through the border. Sometimes, they would rather not leave, and so they end up living in the village.”
That one was lowercase. You are almost completely sure.
[You've stayed longer than you ever should have. Perhaps you ought to facilitate your departure from Ran and Chen's home. Then again, perhaps you ought to hold your tongue for now.]
Unfortunately, as tempting as it is to immediately volunteer to relocate yourself, especially considering the trouble you've already caused Ran and Chen during your brief stay, you can still recognize that your current state of homelessness is merely a symptom of a much larger disease—possibly one of the uglier ones, with boils. Ran's said that some of the people who end up in Gensoukyou choose to stay within its borders, but you have found yourself stuck here despite an effort to leave.
So you hold your tongue, and wait for developments to form, just as a patient waits for the diagnosis of a painful, furuncle-raising affliction—powerlessly, and with ever-increasing levels of anxiousness.
“Come on, let's just go already,” Chen says. “This isn't even—we aren't even doing anything, now. Let's go to the village. We need some more food, anyway.”
“One more time.”
“You said one more time one more time ago!”
Ran ignores the very salient point. “One more time,” she says again. “Tell me everything that happened from the beginning. Don't leave anything out.”
“Alright.” You shut your eyes—all the better to think with—casting your mind back to that fateful moment—and then the hours before it. “I woke up late,” you say, carefully. “It wasn't my usual practice—I only allowed myself the luxury because the museum couldn't be opened that day.”
Ran looks as if she is about to say something, doesn't say something, and then says something after all. “'Couldn't be opened'?” she asks.
“Yes. We were receiving a new shipment, so everybody was given the day off. Anyway, I woke up, and then I had brunch—”
You pause. Should you go as far as to describe your meal? The details don't seem relevant. Then again, you don't know what will provide Ran with the essential clue.
“Just a simple sandwich,” you say. “Whole-wheat bread, spread with strawberry jam.”
Chen looks exasperated almost to the point of outburst. Even Ran appears faintly annoyed, though this impression may simply be a product of your own fears. Yes, you decide, perhaps you ought to eschew such specificity from now on.
“I read the newspaper for some time.” Mostly the comics, and the horoscopes, although you know full well the predictions are vague enough to apply to nearly anybody, “Later, I remembered that the debate was to occur that day, so I walked to the bus stop.” An uncomfortable ride—there were no seats. “I eventually reached the town hall—would you like me to go over what happened there again?”
Chen groans. “Just finish it up already,” she says.
You nod. “As I have told you before, Koeman—the non-incumbent—had a heart attack partway through the debate. I went to one of the men's restrooms, afterwards, to wash my hands. Then I noticed my jacket was dirty, too. So I took that off—with my hands, as is customary but not enforced—and then washed my hands again.”
“And then you entered the stall,” Ran says.
“Yes,” you say. “The one on the far left. I thought it would be clean, seeing as nobody uses it. Unfortunately, I lacked the opportunity to evaluate its actual cleanness before I was teletransported away. And then Chen found me.”
“I wish I hadn't.”
“Chen.” But even Ran seems unsure in her rebuke, as if she is beginning to empathize with her companion. You really must resettle yourself elsewhere before you disrupt your saviors' lives any further.
“I'm sorry,” says Ran. “But—I really can't understand how you got here, or why you weren't able to leave. Which isn't to say that I won't figure it out, eventually! But for now, as we don't know anymore how long you'll have to stay in Gensoukyou—I think it would be best if you were to go to the village. I'm sure there's someone there who'll be willing to take you in.”
You nod. “Thank you,” you say, not for the first, second, or even third time. You might have lost count, in fact.
Chen, meanwhile, looks almost as thankful, or perhaps just as thankful, or maybe even more so. “Finally!” she says, and, as if this sudden expression of elation has sapped her last reserves of energy, allows herself to slump over the table, her forehead striking the surface with a substantial clunk.
“Are you alright?” you ask, when Chen makes no movement to raise herself.
“Yes,” says Chen. Her voice is muffled, due to higher than optimum levels of immediate table. “Now shut up and go away.”
The Human Village is villageous, and with humans. Many of these humans are moving. Some are moving in a particular direction. Many more are moving in directions other than that one.
You appreciate movement. You are moving, yourself, as are Ran and Chen.
“I still don't get why I had to come.”
Chen is also saying things. You think that this is rather ambitious of her.
“Seriously, you can just—he just has to be dropped off. There's no reason I have to be here.”
[Could this be true? You wouldn't know. Of course, there's plenty pertaining to Gensoukyou you don't know. For example—how, exactly, does one relocate an individual to the Human Village? Perhaps you should ask questions. Or perhaps you should remain silent while Ran attends to whatever process is necessary.]
[x] Perhaps you should ask questions. -[x] Do people from outside end up here often? -[x] What sort of work can I expect to find? -[x] Is there anything in particular about the Village or Gensokyo I should keep in mind? -[x] Will I see you again?
These probably shouldn't all be asked one after the other, but instead, as they become relevant. Or failing that, at appropriate intervals or occasions.
[x] Perhaps you should ask questions. -[x] Do people from outside end up here often? -[x] What sort of work can I expect to find? -[x] Is there anything in particular about the Village or Gensokyo I should keep in mind? -[x] Will I see you again?
Chen's boldness in walking and talking simultaneously is an inspiration. You, too, attempt this dangerous feat. “What will happen to me, after I move into the village?” you ask. You already know that you are not the only person to have found their way into the borders of Gensoukyou, and, for whatever reason, not make the return trip out. “What does the village have in the way of employment? I'd hate dreadfully to take advantage of my hosts.”
“Too late,” says Chen.
Ran looks between you and Chen as a man past the point of starvation looks between a poisoned steak and a well-cooked human thigh. “Well,” she says, “you'll likely end up helping the family—whichever family you end up staying with—with their work. Most people settle into the village pretty quick.”
She pauses, and then adds:
“Though—most of the people who don't settle into the village end up leaving. By the shrine.”
An option which, unfortunately, you lack. You will have to do your very best to adjust. With this in mind, you say, “I see. Do you have any advice which you might bestow upon me, before we part?”
Ran begins to look deep in thought. She does not resurface from these mysterious depths for half a minute, or perhaps longer. “I suppose the best advice I could give you is—be careful,” she says, once she has. “Gensoukyou is home to many powerful beings, and not all of them are human. You should try to be polite, and not cause trouble.”
“Oh,” you say. You look at Ran, very carefully. You look at Chen less carefully. You are rather concerned that Chen will look back at you, and that her expression will be less than kindly. “Are you not human?” you ask.
Chen looks back at you, and her expression is less than kindly. “Are you stupid?” she asks. “I—I have ears—” She points, so you don't miss the ears. “I have cat ears—she has fox ears, under the hat—we both have tails—how are you asking us if we're human? Did you miss the tails?”
“I did not miss the tails,” you reassure Chen. “I simply didn't wish to assume.”
“It's not an assumption! I have ears!”
“That doesn't actually point very strongly to one conclusion or another,” you say. “You could have been not-human. On the other hand, you could have been a variety of different things that are not not-human. Like a mutant, for example. As I said, I didn't wish to assume.”
“Have you,” Chen says, slowly, her voice perfectly level, “actually met any mutants with cat ears?”
“I have seen a cat with human ears, though, and while he is unusual as far as ears are concerned, he is still a cat. If there can exist a cat with human ears who is still a cat, it isn't entirely unreasonable that the inverse might occur elsewhere.”
Chen stares at you with eyes that are too catlike to belong to a normal human, yet too human to belong to a normal cat. It's very inconsiderate. Even Artie has chosen which side of his bread to spread his butter on, as far as eyes are concerned. Of course, Artie is a cat, so his bread is merely metaphorical, which makes the choice in buttering much easier to decide.
“I don't believe you,” Chen says.
“I assure you,” you say, “this cat exists.”
“No—I mean yes—” Chen shakes her head. “No. Forget—forget about the cat. I'm not talking about the cat. I don't believe you. How are you so annoying?”
You are...annoying? Have you been an annoyance? And towards your saviors, too? How could you allow this to happen? How could this happen, without you realizing that it was happening? “I'm very sorry,” you say.
“And you probably are sorry!” Your apology only seem to incense Chen more. “That's—you probably mean it! How are you this—”
“We're here,” says Ran, quickly.
And she is right. You are here. What being here entails you are not precisely sure, but that you are here, wherever “here” is, can not be disputed. In this case, “here” seems to describe the area in front of a rather large building.
“I'll see if I can't get you set up,” Ran says to you. “You stay here with Chen and wait.”
Chen does not nod. “What?” she exclaims. “You going to leave him here? Why not take him with you?”
“Chen,” says Ran. She looks at Chen. She looks at you, and then back at Chen again.
Chen narrows her eyes. “You're just leaving him here with me so he doesn't have to be with you.”
“I'm leaving him here with you so that I can get things done quicker and with less complications,” Ran says. “I won't be—too long. Look after him and make sure neither of you get lost while I'm gone.” And Ran opens the door at the front of the building, steps inside, and shuts the door behind her with a sense of finality usually reserved for guillotines and their blades.
You and Chen look at the door for some time.
The door does not look back.
“Well,” you say.
“Don't talk,” says Chen. “No—actually—don't move. You stay right here, and don't get into trouble, got it? I'm just going to do—whatever. Somewhere else.”
“Away from you,” she adds, and tromps away.
[Uh-oh. Whatever should you do now? Ran instructed you to wait—but she also instructed you to wait with Chen. You might continue to wait, alone, or, you might follow Chen, and thus remain in her company.]
[X] Stay here, wait by your lonesome if you must. I like the clever way you do your options. It's a shame that doing that can cause people to get confused and not vote, though. Good story, keep up the work.
Chen's departure, unceremonious, imposes upon you a new dilemma—as much as it pains you to accuse either of your saviors of imposing anything upon you at all. Ran's instructions were quite clear, as far as staying here with Chen and waiting were concerned. And yet, despite the simplicity and straightforwardness of her words, neither of her requests may be carried out simultaneously. If you stay with Chen, you cannot wait, and if you wait, you cannot stay with Chen.
Whichever choice you make, you are certain, a portion of you will be forever damned. You hope this damnation will be metaphorical. Failing that, you hope it is the left portion of yourself that will be damned, as you are right-handed and learning to depend on your nondominant hand would be somewhat inconvenient.
In the end (or perhaps the middle), you decide that you will stay here, outside the door. You'll simply have to trust Chen to return on her own. You don't know what she's doing that necessitated her sudden departure—she didn't seem to feel the need to tell you—but you're sure it's important. Otherwise, would she have left you to make sure a monumental decision alone?
Of course not!
You know not what sort of situation Chen has been entangled in, but you wish her the best, just the same. You will be content where she has left you. And it is with that sense of contentment, that assuredness that you are exactly where you should be on this pale blue dot that spins through through the cosmos as steadily as a hard-boiled egg across a kitchen counter that you are found by Ran when she once more opens the door.
“You can come in, now,” she says. “Where's Chen?”
“She has departed to tend to matters of great importance.”
Ran looks a little as if she might want to say something other than, “Just...just come in.”
She doesn't, though.
The woman at the table sits with her legs beneath her. She wears a Hat of great but mysterious significance, and her eyes move between you and Ran and the scroll which covers the table as a landslide might cover a poorly illuminated road along the edge of a precipice. The scroll is bunched, in places, and its hills and valleys ensure that its edges lie at many different angles to each other. You suspect they have been placed so on purpose, but what this purpose may be you cannot tell any more than you can tell the purpose of that strange and awe-inspiring Hat.
It is a very nice Hat. You have seen many Hats, in your lifetime, but almost none of them compare to this one. There is a small part of you, the part of you that did not fall to damnation, metaphorical or otherwise, that wishes to hold that Hat. Only hold, however—to even consider wearing it, placing it upon your dirtied and dusted head would be obscene. Even simply wishing to touch it almost leaves you with a deep feeling of shame.
“There's an opening with the Kenzaki family,” says the woman, from beneath the wondrous Hat. She squints at the scroll, rolling it out further. “You might fit there—or not. They have a son. Did you have any siblings, Mr. Burke?”
“I do have a younger sister at times,” you admit.
“That's a maybe, then.” The woman beneath the Hat mutters. Her eyes move slowly across the scroll, searching for something. “Is there anything you're particularly good at?” she asks you. “Some skill that you think might be useful here?”
You have not the remotest intention of disparaging your current surroundings, but somehow, you're not entirely sure what work experience you've accreted will translate cleanly across this newest setting. Still, silence will gain you little here, which is a change from your usual environment. Whether it's a change you like, you don't yet know.
“I work at a museum,” you say. “The San Pedro Historical Museum—not that San Pedro, but the other San Pedro.”
The woman underneath the Hat nods. Despite the gesture, she does not appear to understand the importance of your distinction. “I see,” she says. “And what was your job, at this museum?”
The woman underneath the Hat looks at you.
You look at the woman underneath the Hat.
“Sorry?” the woman underneath the Hat says.
“Suppression,” the woman underneath the Hat says. “And when you say suppression, what did you...suppress, exactly?”
“I suppressed many different things! Facts, events—people, sometimes.” You are aware you have begun to boast, but you cannot suppress the urge, ironically enough. You have always been the kind to take pride in your work. “I live at the museum, in fact. It was determined at some point that I was so efficient at suppression that the only way to further increase my output would be to eliminate the necessity of transport between my home and the workplace. Now I've always lived there.”
The woman underneath the Hat looks at you.
You look at the woman underneath the Hat.
The woman underneath the Hat looks not at you, but over your shoulder, where Ran stands, silently. She mouths something, with wide eyes and an even wider mouth.
You look at the woman underneath the Hat.
The woman underneath the Hat looks at you again. “Excuse me,” she says. “Could you...just step outside for a moment? I need to speak with Ran. Privately.”
“Of course,” you say.
You step outside. Chen is there. She wears an expression of both worry and resignation, as if she has just killed somebody and can think of no way to rectify the situation. When she sees you, though, she regains her usual, irritated expression. How nice.
“So,” she says, “did they figure out where to leave you, or what?”
“I don't know,” you say, honestly.
Chen scowls. “Of course,” she mutters, which is exactly what you said yourself, minutes ago.
“That's exactly what I said, minutes ago,” you say.
“That's exactly what I said, minutes ago,” you say.
Chen stares at you. She does not seem to find the coincidence as interesting as you do—if it is a coincidence at all. You can't be sure.
“Forget it,” says Chen. “Never mind. Was Ran mad much?”
“You know! At me—not being there. Was she mad?”
“I'm not sure. I told her that you had departed to tend to matters of great importance. She didn't say anything further on the subject.”
“Okay. Sure. Great, maybe.” Chen scowls. “Okay. I don't owe you for this, okay? Don't expect anything out of this.”
“Anything out of what?”
“For telling...” Chen trails off. “Wait. Why did you tell Ran I was doing something important?”
“Well, you were, weren't you? I knew there wasn't any reason for you to leave unless something unbelievably important which required your attention was occurring elsewhere.”
Chen stares at you again. She stares longer than she did the first time, which is a very long time, considering. Then again, all things are long, in the proper context.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, that is exactly what happened. That is exactly why I did what I did. Please stop talking.”
You cannot remember the last time you took a vacation. You may or may not have ever taken a vacation, in fact. As the sole exhibition designer of the San Pedro Historical Museum—not that San Pedro, but the other San Pedro—you find it extremely difficult to imagine having relinquished your duties, even if only for a short time. There has always been simply too much to do—low watt bulbs to change, glass cases to keep dusted, prophesies to turn inwards toward the wall—and between the exhibits, the featured exhibits, the super-featured exhibits, and the unfeatured exhibits, the task of sorting out exactly what belongs where can be monstrous.
Yes—without a strong grip on the reins, the entire situation could fall into irreversible disrepair.
As it may already have.
But there is nothing you can do further to assuage this dilemma. You are already doing your very utmost to return home, and Ran has helpfully offered to assist you in this regard. You understand the situation you are in, and have made peace with it. Still, you must confess a distinct discomfort in having little else to do but wait.
You have heard nothing from the woman underneath the Hat. You have heard nothing of her. You left the room which contained the woman underneath the Hat and it is just as if the moment you crossed the doorway she ceased to exist, or perhaps you did. You cannot be sure, not entirely.
Placing this mystery aside, however, there are issues much more important currently at the forefront. There's been a strange tensity to the household since Ran left that room herself—that room, with the supposed woman and the even more supposed Hat (you can believe in the woman, if you exert the effort to do so, but the Hat is altogether too beautiful to have truly existed). The conversations between the two of you, already strained with your inadvertent intrusion into her home, have achieved curtness to the point that perhaps to call them “conversations” is no longer accurate. There are times, too, when Ran looks upon you and you cannot help but think that you have been silently accused of some sin too terrible for her to name.
On the other hand, Chen hasn't told you to stop talking in the last twelve hours! That's undoubtedly an improvement. If such fortune continues, you might become friends—but even this sheer hope feels like an overstepping of boundaries. You remove it, swiftly and without finesse.
This accomplished, you continue your wait.
There is nothing you can do further, after all.
There is nothing you can do further.
There is nothing you can do.
There is nothing.
“I'm going out!”
You open your eyes, and cannot remember having closed them. You think thoughts, and cannot remember having stopped. Chen's voice is a sudden reminder of time and consciousness. There is the sound of approaching footsteps, and then she stands in the room with you.
“I said, I'm going out,” Chen says. Her face twists, but only momentarily. “Where's Ran?” she asks.
Ran, you do remember. “When I saw her last, she was within the adjoining room, examining closely a number of maps,” you say. “Whether she resides there still is beyond my knowledge.”
The fire in Chen's eyes has diminished, but the embers still remain. You feel their heat as Chen turns them toward you, and then the cold in their absence, acute, as they are redirected toward the door which Ran closed behind you minutes, hours, or days ago.
“Hey!” Chen shouts. “I'm going out! Okay?”
Ran's voice drifts through the door, muffled. “Yes,” it says. “Alright. Be sure to be back by dinner.”
“Yeah!” Chen says, and then, as she turns away, “Yeah, right.”
[A walk? Why, a walk might serve to burn away time further. Perhaps Chen will allow you to join her. Then again, you have surely troubled her enough. Perhaps you should stay here, closeby to Ran and her maps.]
[x] Go see what Ran's doing, and see if you can help.
I think we're going to have to be more careful with wording votes in the future. Literality seems to strike at the worst times, and there isn't a lot of slack given.
And is it me, or did John confess to being some kind of assassin in >>29159? Something happened or was said there, something that he sees no problem with, but which Keine and Ran registered as a huge red flag.
>>29218 'Censor' would be closer to what I read it as, yes -- although in full I'd say "employee of the Ministry of Truth". Although I suppose with a name like "San Pedro" he would more likely be part of the Eurasian equivalent.
See also: > it was cut short when Koeman—the non-incumbent—had a heart attack > Not a sentence that would be given a pass by the Grammar Unit
I think what's happened to Mr. Burke is that he's suppressed the facts, including the fact of suppression, so well that no one believes it's happening anymore.
And where do you go, when you're no longer believed in?
>>29212 >Lamb to the Slaughter, by Roald Dahl Well. That was interesting.