Case Forty-One

Iwara

Ever since I saw Natori Taiki, I constantly was thrown into deep thoughts. Guardians? Families? None of it made sense, but yet deep down I understood my confusion.

Ever since I started to see, I wondered why my followers were invisible to others. Only the dead and a select few of the living had ever seen them. And Yuki, the first person I met who could see, was blinded until the Natoris came into the picture.

For awhile, I wondered if I was an anomaly. Was I a defect among the human species? It was easy to believe in hallucinations, but then it became easier to believe in being a twisted human. However the more I encountered with spirits, the more confused I became.

They were all there. Staring at me, talking to me, screeching at me, hurting me. They all felt real. Yes, they were dead. Yes, I could not touch them. But still...

I remembered seeing the hatred and loss in them. Thinking of my followers, I hated myself for never taking the time to 'look' at me. I was always preoccupied with the others.

Resting my head on the window, I wondered about Yuki.

The last time I saw him, he was leaving to start his summer holidays. Without saying good-bye, he rose up and collected his books. I, being the idiot I am, half-expected him to turn back. But, there was nothing.

Silly Asuka. You should have never expected more, even if you spent all of summer school together.

During the school year, we had both accumulated enough missed classes to face a couple of weeks playing catching up. Being the only two second years you would think there would be more time for friendships. From the moment he stepped in for the first class, the nature of our relationship was transformed.

He was not here to reassure me of his promise or be my buddy. He had his own issues to deal with. According to Murokashi-sensei (he was stuck with us), our academic records were 'in deep shit'. Of course Yuki would not waste his time on me. This awkward silence annoyed me more than anything. The other times were bothersome too, but this was different.

"Miss, can you please not try to break the window?"

Midway through banging my head on the window, I saw many eyes staring at me. Only my brothers were quick to look away. They clearly did not want to be associated with the bus' resident crazy lady.

Uncrossing my arms, I sat up straight and slightly narrowed my eyes. Assuming I was a delinquent from the big city, the eyes snapped away.


My parents did not have to do much persuading in convincing me to go to Hokkaido. I needed to get away from Tokyo, especially Natori Tsubasa. It pained me how I could not tell him about seeing again. Now that I can see more spirits than ever before, I regretted making that promise with his brother.

Ugh, I hate pinky promises.

For weeks, Natori tried to get my Sight back and he constantly failed. It took an encounter with a demon and an arguing Sakurako to realize what had returned. In the end, I could not admit to anything. Only Natori Taiki knew and he did a marvelous job at terrifying me.

Well, the dream him did most of the work.

Seeing my hobbling grandmother as the taxi stopped in front of the ancient family home, I could not help but think of Taiki's explanations. There are many families involved in this world. And they all live to protect their families from the supernatural and non-supernatural.

My frail Obaa-chan, who relied on her walking stick, did not look like the type to destroy her family. She was not the Natoris' grandmother; she was my beloved Obaa-chan.

Her laughing dark eyes welcomed us as they always did.

These past few years had been unkind to her. She was no longer walking tall like the woman in my memories. She was hunched over and wrinkled like any other elderly woman. She was not sophisticated like the Natoris' grandmother with her slick hair and expensive kimonos. At heart, Yamada Michiko was a small town girl. No matter how many times her children persuaded her, she could never live in Tokyo and definitely not Sapporo. Iwara was the place of her birth, she always said.

"Obaa-chan," I smiled, careful to hug her.

"Obaa-chan," Tsuge shoved me away, "let me give you a piggy-back. You said when I get stronger, I could do that."

The boys were officially my height, which boggled my mind. Boys were not supposed to hit their growth spurt until puberty. Laughing, she rejected him. "You missed the chance Tsuge. If you came last year, maybe you would have had the chance."

Pouting he settled on proving his strength by carrying our luggage. Watching him struggle, Susumu had to shake his head, "He always has to prove a point."

Silently, I had to disagree with his disgust. There was something familiar about Tsuge's stubbornness. Smirking, I remembered he was the only one to match my own.

"Obaa-chan," I said, following Tsuge into the house, "Is he really staying here?"

Apart from the whole 'Asuka-can-see-again' business, I was curious to know about the official black sheep of my family, Yamada Ryu. Every year, he came to Iwara and every year, we heard some horror stories. For as long as I could remember, that boy had a penchant of attracting trouble. Growing up, he was the type of kid who stuck a Popsicle in his grandmother's eye and banged pots together when people were fast asleep. It had been years since I last saw him and I was doubtful he mellowed with age.

Not to my surprise, my grandmother remained silent. Even though I was named after my father's deceased sister, I was not my grandmother's favorite. She loved me, but not as much as she loved that demon. Perhaps she would destroy lives for him, I thought.

Instead of being welcomed by the sight of a heavily tattooed cousin, I was startled to see a girl walking to the courtyard to hang out some clothes. She had short, wispy bleached hair and surprisingly tanned skin. Hokkaido was a difficult place to tan, so my only guess was that this girl was mixed. She was also slightly plump too.

Seeing us enter, she quickly stopped what she was doing.

"Nice to meet you," she bowed. My brothers and I stared, confused by her nervous greetings.

"Ah, Reiko-chan. I told you not to trouble yourself with the laundry."

Reddening, she returned to hang a shirt, "It's okay, Obaa-san."

Obaa-san...

Simultaneously, we stared at her. Since when did we have another cousin? Especially who looked my age?

Out of nowhere, a bizarre cry came from down the hall. Snapping our heads to the right, we watched the girl frantically run away to the direction of the cry.

Putting a finger to his ear, Tsuge asked, "Was that a baby?"

Indeed, it was. Reiko returned a baby bundled tightly in a quilt. Even though it was summer, this young mother was not taking any chances.

For a moment, we stood there in silence. I, for one, was confused by the baby. It looked oddly familiar. Without opening its eyes, it had this familiar devilish look to it. It looked cross.

"Doesn't it look like Ryu," Susumu mused. "It has his sleeping face without the crying."

Simultaneously, our heads snapped to Obaa-chan. If my thoughts were right, this woman's love had no bounds.


I was right.

Obaa-chan's love had no bounds. She took in Ryu's baby-mama and love-child even when his parents refused to. Even without him in the picture.

"Obaa-chan," Tsuge repeated in the same exasperated tone as before. "You did not hide this from Otou-san, did you?"

"Not just from Otou-san," I snapped, feeling the most horrified after the confirmation, "But from Kanako and Oji-san." Horrified, I thought of my poor uncle. He only had one child and he was saddled with the spawn of Satan. How many times were the firefighters called to his house? No wonder he shipped Ryu as soon as he could.

Obaa-chan, being too calm and collected, shrugged, "What's done is done."

"But-,"

"Reiko-chan, why don't you try burping him?"

For hours, the latest member to the Yamada household was screeching and his mother could not shut him up. While he wailed, she tried everything: feeding, burping, changing diapers. The stubborn baby refused to calm down. I could already feel the bags develop under my eyes. Was I to spend my summer with this?

"It's not working," Reiko cried.

"Maybe it's the quilt," Susumu suggested.

She shook her head. "He was cold and it stopped him the last time."

The more it cried, the more I wanted to thrash its head against the wall. Sensing my intentions, the mother turned to protect her babe from my line of vision. I wanted that baby dead. I did not care if his psychopath father came after me.

"Asuka," my grandmother said sternly, when she sensed my growing hatred, "why don't you go out with your brothers and buy a rattling toy?"

Without hesitation, we all got up. None of us wanted to be in the same room with the madness. It was not until we were a few blocks away when we finally escaped the blaring cries.

"What the hell is that," Tsuge asked, "I can still feel my ears ringing."

For once, Susumu had no answers, "I don't know. Babies aren't supposed to be that loud. Rina and Ume weren't."

"Neither were you," I commented, remembering the twins as babies. They were handful, but not this insane.

"How could she live like this," Tsuge cried, "she's old."

"And she's raised four babies and took care of us all," Susumu appeared perplexed by her immunity to the blood-curdling screams.

I banged my hand on my fist, "She is immune to this. Or she's gone deaf."

"She hears perfectly fine, Asuka."

"Okay, she has some power to be immune then!"

Maybe my family did have supernatural powers. I could not be the only one...

"She's lived for over eighty years. Life could have trained her," Susumu informed me not so gently.

I hated it when my brother threw reason at me.


When we returned from town, I was surprised by how easy it was to see the dead. If they did not walk through the living nor had the light hue, the old Asuka would have taken time to realize what I was seeing. This time around, my Sight was stronger. Instead of seeing one spirit, I saw an entire community. It was as if Iwara had a dual identity: the world of the living and the dead. The spirits were laughing, commiserating, and chatting like their living counterparts. There were some moments that I forgot the difference. But then, I would walk through a sumo wrestler or a young girl in a yukata.

Looking back, I contemplated about talking to them. If I could see them, was it my job to see them pass on? Before I had the chance to think over it properly, I was surprised to see Susumu trip. This brother of mine was never clumsy. He was prone to accidents like I was. But there he was crashing to the ground.

"Susumu," I exclaimed rushing over to him. Once I touched his ankle, he instantly winced. "I think I sprained it," he bit down his lip.

"Huh?"

The fall was not hard. How could he sprain it? Remembering that I did not get a good look at the cause, I turned to Tsuge. He too was confused by the fall. Lowering himself, he said, "I'll carry him back."

"I'm fine," Susumu snapped. Knowing his twin, Tsuge ignored him and grabbed his arms. I helped him secure the piggy-back. Seeing that I was not ready to let go, he snapped in the same tone, "Let go, Asuka!"

I was right to worry. Tsuge wobbled before finally finding his step. Choosing a slow pace, he headed back to the house. Being far from the clinic, it was better to get the doctor to see him instead. Picking up the bag Susumu dropped, I followed my brothers.

Midway through our path, we came across a child only I saw. She was extremely dirty, as if she was dug up from the ground. Her long dark hair covered her face, making it impossible to even catch a glimpse of her reactions. My brothers went through her, but I took the time to stop.

She was far from the spirit community, making her pitiful in my eyes. Smiling, I greeted her. "Hello," I said, quietly, "you should try going to the town center. There are more spirits over there."

Taiki was wrong. I was not part of a supernatural family. I was an anomaly, just like Yuki. Neither of us had family involved in this type of world. If my family was involved, there would not be a thriving spirit community here. My family did not need to protect anyone from the supernatural or non-supernatural.

I did not have to worry about being bound by any laws. How could I when I did not belong to a family like the Natoris?


A/N: It has been ages since I last updated. Thank you to everyone who continues to read this story!