Genres: Drama, fantasy, folklore, friendship.

Good Company

Fox Trot 9

This is the story of a jar that Aya Shinozaki bought at a local dollar store one Saturday afternoon, because her mom didn't want her to turn into a "complete shut-in." Those were her mom's words, and Aya couldn't help seeing the contradiction in terms. She had friends at school, she carpooled with one of them every day to school, and sometimes she'd even talk with some of her class mates.

Anyway, here she was, staring absently at one of the lower shelves of jars she couldn't care less of buying, moving from jar to jar, glance after glance, each one the same porcelain make.

Then she stopped.

This particular jar had a chip on the edge of the lid, dull pottery showing against a polished finish. She took it off the shelf, lifted the lid, and peered inside. Nothing there.

She looked down the aisle for her mom, but found a couple of old folks, probably someone's grandparents, looking at gift cards. Probably for Halloween, or maybe for a birthday.

She went looking for her mom and found her at the grocer's aisle, checking out tomatoes and putting them in the bag. Figures. With moms in general, it's always food. Or clothes. Transient things. Why not something more permanent or useful or elevating? Like books, for instance. For Aya, mostly novels. Perfect friends to occupy her solitary moments.

She went into the next aisle over, jar in hand, and found a selection of books, all of them priced at a dollar. Too bad the selection of books today didn't entice her. Books by ancient wrinkly writers, like Tom Wolfe or Herman Wouk or whoever else kept giving death the middle finger. Anything coming out of those noggins needed a little dusting, at least.

"Aya," her mom called.

"Coming," she said, carrying the jar with her.

"What's that?"

"A jar."

"Why not get one that's not chipped?"

Aya looked down at the chipped edge of the lid. "It makes it unique."

Her mom rolled her eyes, probably thinking along the lines of, 'Oh well, it's your money,' or something like that, then walked off towards the check-outs.

Aya couldn't help thinking to herself, 'Yeah, it's my money. I know.'

Aya placed the jar on top of her credenza and left it there for a week. Then she had an idea. Why not put money in it? Coins, but not dollars. Dollars stayed in her wallet, but all the coins she picked up off the ground went in the jar. When it got half full, though, she kind of wished she had wanted a bigger jar.

'Oh well,' she thought. 'Maybe it'll grow bigger.'

It did, too.

On a Friday afternoon, after returning from school, she placed her backpack next to the door of her bedroom, her mind fogged over discussing the topics of yet another dead guy's story. Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, Descartes, Hobbes, Plato, etc. All of them dead, white, and boring. How many brain cells has she sacrificed to appease the altars of these shriveled-up gods of literature? She was scared to know.

Why not living authors, for once? Like Connelly, or Daniels, or Goodkind, or King, or Gibson, or Sterling, or Stephenson. Why not living authoresses, too? Like Tan, or Briggs, or Rowling, or DiCamillo. And if they must be dead and must be white and must be male, why not more genre fiction? Like Poe, or Carroll, or Doyle, or Collins, or Stoker, or Lovecraft.

But no. School reading must be drab and dull, conforming minds, not letting them grow, not letting them imagine things beyond the classroom walls.

After that, she glanced at the jar and went down the hall to the kitchen to get something to eat.

Then she back-pedaled and took another look at the jar.

The jar was the size of a milk carton.

She walked towards the jar atop the credenza, lifted the lid, and saw the coins occupying a smaller portion of the jar.

"This must be my lucky day," Aya said.

She then checked under her bed and pulled out a big plastic bag full of coins and emptied it into the jar. Then she went to her backpack, unzipped one of the pockets, took out her money purse (another plastic bag), and emptied the contents into the jar. Now it occupied about a third of the jar.

She then placed the lid on the jar and smiled.

She repeated this every week for over a month, and when school ended and winter break began, the jar was now the size of a gallon water jug. Two weeks ago, she tried lifting the jar, and it felt like lifting forty pounds. She had her mom help her lift the thing off the credenza and let it thump onto the ground. Over the past week, it kept on growing with more coins she found at school, dropping in piles from the vending machine every time she was near one and resulting in bagful after bagful of coins in her backpack.

But the strangest thing was this: her mom didn't seem to mind the growing jar, or her growing number of purses full of coins. Aya guessed that her mom was comfortable with the jar. At least she was going outside more often, not really being a "complete shut-in" anymore, but now that school was over, Aya grew restless.

Where was she going to go to get more coins?

She let it slide, though. Tomorrow was another day.

That night, she dreamed of the jar on the floor next to the credenza. A blue glow emanated around the silhouette of the jar, casting her dream-bedroom in a soft light. Then the jar started moving in little nudges, as if something was inside it. Then she awoke in the morning, looking at the jar.

Not glowing. Not moving. Just still and jar-like.

She pulled off the sheets and got out of bed, walked towards the jar and lifted the lid. She peered inside and found nothing else inside except coins.

She placed the lid back on the jar, grabbed her smartphone from the side drawer, and was about to dial the number of one of her friends, but stopped.

She looked at the jar and placed her hand over the lid, saying, "I'm glad I chose you." She smiled. "You are my piggybank."

Over the next few days, she grew accustomed to the jar glowing and moving in her dreams, beckoning her to approach it with its irresistible glow. In these dreams, she would walk to the dream-jar, getting brighter and brighter, reach out to touch the lid—

But she woke up instead.

Soon after, she gave the jar a name. She named it, "Okane," Japanese for money, and kept referring to it that way. And the jar grew bigger and contained more coins, even when Aya didn't go on her coin-pinching ventures at various vending machines. It just grew and grew, becoming wider and heavier.

Then one night, after falling asleep, she saw the giant squat jar glowing and moving and calling out her name in her dream.

"Ayaaaaa . . . Ayaaaaa," it said, in fading whispers.

Aya tried to respond, but she couldn't. Something kept her from speaking. So she tried to get out of bed, but something kept her from getting up—sleep paralysis, maybe.

Then the lid started sharking over the jar, a bright blue light seeping through the edge. Then it lifted, throwing a blinding light through the room, and when the light dimmed and Aya could see, she saw a young woman in a peach blossom kimono lifting up the lid and placing it gingerly on the ground with a hollow tap on the floor.

This woman stepped out of the jar, pulling one leg out, then the other, shifting the coins in the jar like a river of coins, and letting them fall from her kimono in a cascade of chinks on the floor. Her hair was undone, and she untangled coins from her long hair with another cascade of chinks.

Aya struggled to get up, but her efforts failed. She couldn't move or blink, much less say anything.

And the woman came up to her bedside, on her left side, pulling off the last few coins from her hair, letting them fall to the ground in individual chinks.

Aya looked up at her, feeling her heartbeats picking up by the second. For here she was, trapped in her own dream, unable to move under a growing shadow encompassing her room, while this woman looked down at her. This woman had a handsome face, but her dark eyes made her queasy with fear—a predatory stare.

And the woman leaned over Aya's face, close enough for her to feel her breath on her cheek and smell the sake on her breath, close enough for Aya to hear her whispering in her ear, "I know what you—"

"No fair, Momo!" another voice cut through from the jar, a younger spirited voice, and more coins shifted in the jar, revealing a younger girl in a cherry blossom kimono. "We're supposed to work as a team!"

Instantly, the room lightened up, and Aya was able to move again, scrambling off the bed, pulling the sheets and pillow with her as she backed herself against the wall.

"W-w-what's going on?" Aya said, eyes wide, looking from the girl to the woman, then back to the girl.

"See what you did?" the girl said to Momo. "You're scaring her!"

The older woman sighed. "All right, all right, I'll leave you alone," and Momo walked from her bedside, going towards the jar, putting one leg and then the other into the jar, shifting more coins. "Jaa, ne." (Later then.)

And then she sank down into the coins and out of Aya's sight.

Which left the younger girl alone with Aya, at last, who had the pillow hugged close to her body and the bed sheet covering her face. The girl walked towards Aya, her footfalls chinking on stray coins, then dropped to her knees in a seiza position, her back straight, palms resting over folded knees.

"Hello. My name is Sakura. Are you okay?" the girl said, and paused for Aya's reply. On receiving no answer, Sakura repeated in Japanese, "Konnichi wa? Namae wa Sakura desu. Daijoubu desu ka?"

Again, Aya didn't reply.

So Sakura tugged on the sheet covering Aya's face, saying, "Dare ka imasen ka?" (Are you not there?)

Only then did Aya lower the sheet from her face, and saw the girl in as harmless a pose as her fearful eyes could manage. "You're not stealing my soul?"

"Nope," the girl said, reverting back to English. "I don't have a license for that."

"And that other person?" she said, casting a wary glance at the jar.

"You mean, Momo?"

Aya nodded.

"Don't worry. My sister doesn't have one either. She's not a shinigami, okay? She just likes to mess with people." And Sakura gave her a reassuring smile.

Aya paused for a moment, then said, "What do you want with me?"

"Just taking the jar away."

Aya threw down her bed sheet. "But that's mine!"

Sakura paused, eyeing the girl in front of her. "You think money can buy you happiness?"

Aya's expression turned into a scowl. She stayed silent, because she already knew the answer, no matter how much she denied it.

"You need to get out more, you know that?" the girl said. "We kami don't go to foreign lands to help people, but your mom's been really insistent for over a month now."

'Figures,' she thought. Aya's mother, Yumiko Ito, still wouldn't give up on her daughter. "Whatever you're doing, you're too late," Aya said, folding her legs close to her chest, shifting her gaze away from Sakura, and the dream-bedroom darkened as her thoughts dwelled on memories she couldn't forget. "You can't help me," she said.

"You need to start somewhere," Sakura said. "Let me be your friend."

"I have no friends."

"Even the friend you carpool with?"

"I have no real friends!" she yelled, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her forehead on her forearms, while tears fell on her thighs.

Again, Sakura paused. "Listen to me. You're mom's there for you, even when you have no friends. She's been there with you the whole way."

"It's not the same," Aya said, raising her head and glaring at Sakura, the tracks of tears below her eyes. "You just don't understand! Mom's the one who asked for it, not Dad! You think that's easy to forget? You think that's easy to forgive?"

Once again, Sakura paused at Aya's outburst. No doubt, there was some tension between mother and daughter. "Do you hate your mom?"

Aya looked away again, wiping her eyes dry with her sleeve. "I don't know." More tears fell down her face, and she wiped them away, yet more tears fell.

Aya couldn't hate her mom without hating herself, and the kami saw it on her face. So Sakura changed her sitting position, backing herself against the wall right next to Aya without saying anything stupid that might make her cry again.

Aya didn't show it in waking life, keeping up appearances in front of people (even her mom), but in her dreams she was a crying puddle of tears. Six months after the divorce, she still couldn't deal with it. So she hoarded coins like she hoarded memories, placing them into an ever-growing jar that never got full and never got sated.

So Sakura stayed with Aya in her dream, both their backs against the wall, both waiting out the ceaseless night for a morning that never seemed to come.

All the while, Sakura's older sister, Momo, snuck out of the jar (she had been hiding there the whole time) when Aya fell into the oblivion of slow-wave sleep. With Momo doing grunt work, picking up the coins in the room and placing them back in the jar to be flushed out in the morning, Sakura clasped Aya's hand, careful not to wake her.

When Sakura and Momo finished, the jar would be a normal-sized jar atop the credenza, and Aya would wake up thinking she had dreamed the whole thing. There would still be traces of sadness left in her, and she'd still feel upset over it, but she'd be on steadier feet by then.

For now, though, in the deep black night that was Aya's despair, she was not alone. She would never be alone again.


(To be continued . . .)

A/N: This is a story I wrote for class this semester during October.

Prompt (original)
Title (none): A girl finds a magic jar in a store (Fox-Trot-9).
URL: none.