Notes 1: Sorry I can't mention death without being dramatic ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Notes 2: Why is it so hard to find a NICE unisex flower-themed name? Most of the people and houses are flower-themed for convenience. I am also unapologetically British in this fic.
a box of innocence
"You're dead! You're dead! " I hear the senior boys taunting me from outside of the wardrobe I was locked in.
If they weren't so busy laughing and imitating fake boo-ing sounds, I would have been genuinely scared. I would have suffered some sort of attack – be it an asthma attack, anxiety attack or panic attack – that is, if the possibility of being trapped alone became a reality.
It's my greatest fear; not the idea of being trapped, but alone.
But the seniors were rowdy and loud, so I wasn't afraid, they were here and I knew that fact.
The locked door rattle as if someone's slamming a palm against it. "We'll be leaving soon," A muffled voice barks.
That's when panic set in. "Don't leave me!" I yell.
But the boys just laugh some more before their footsteps receded and another set of doors closed. I couldn't help it, I spiralled.
I'm going die in here, I thought. I'm going to become Kikyo: a ghost.
The wardrobe that the seniors had dragged me into looked a lot like the one that would transport me to Narnia. It really did, only that it didn't. The old wooden thing keeps me locked away from the world and in the dark as articles of clothing hung above me like phantoms. I'm suffocating.
"Let me out! Let me out!" I scream, banging my fists, not caring that I sounded like a banshee.
I can feel my strength running away from me, I hate it.
I hate that I'm slowly being paralysed by fear. I hate that I can't do anything but tremble. I hate the cold sweat forming in places I didn't even know I can sweat from.
I wish Jasmine was here. Heck, even Florian at this point. There is no way – no absolute way – that I will be able to raise my voice loud enough for anyone to hear. I can't call for help. Nobody's going to notice me missing until tomorrow.
I find myself into a corner, folding like a lawn-chair as I push the heels of my hands against my wet eyes, white spots appear behind my closed eyelids.
"I don't want to die here." I say, more to myself than anyone.
Then the handles rattle and I raise my head, startled. I didn't hear the storeroom door open. Should I be hopeful that I'm about to be rescued? Or scared out of my wits, it could be my past finally catching up to me?
The word 'revenge' brands itself in my brain.
"H – Hello?" I say.
There's no reply.
"W – Who's there?" I say again. I know my bullies, they're never this quiet.
I try to remember the prayers I've memorised on nights I'm as frightened as this. I always knew that she would come back and haunt me. I've drilled it into myself even more when I heard stories from Jasmine about the things that roam the boarding school halls.
I will collapse if it's my demons greeting me like an old friend.
The door flies open and I'm cowering as a silhouette appears, moonlight shining behind the form.
"Hello." A voice says.
I stare. For a moment, I think it's Kikyo – this girl who stands in front of me – with her pale skin, long hair and soft voice. I even asked, "Kikyo?"
But then I blink and notice it wasn't who I thought it was. It was somebody else. I recognise this girl – yes. The first time I saw her at the dining hall, her ebony hair was wet and she was dressed in a purple school jumper (the colour of the Aster house). Her name escapes me though.
"Who are you?" I ask, scrambling to the mouth of the enclosed space, away from the darkness.
"Sumire," She says, her accent evident by the way she pronounced her name. Then she asks me, "Are you okay? You're trembling."
I say nothing. My eyes skip around, I didn't realise how bad my hands are shaking until then. I yank my gaze away from her.
"It's okay," Sumire promises.
I can't reply. I just want to shake.
"Let's get you out of here." She says, takes my hands and guides me out of the cramped space and into the moonlit hall.
Sumire takes me aside and sneaks us into the kitchen, nothing too difficult, but the old boarding school is frightening even in the daytime and it looks even more haunted now. It could be haunted, there's a possibility with it being founded in 597 AD.
Regardless, when Sumire handed me a cup of hot tea, I graciously accepted.
"How did you know I was in the wardrobe?" I ask her while not meeting her brown eyes. The handle of my mug suddenly looks very interesting.
"I heard some boys bragging about it while I was on the way to the kitchen." Sumire answers. Her hands are occupied with her own cup.
"Oh." I reply, still staring downwards, waiting for my tea to cool down.
"Can you tell me what that was all about?" Sumire asks.
"The house points." I answer.
She raises a brow.
Okay, so the thing is, JK Rowling didn't make up the whole '10 points for Gryffindor!' nonsense in the Harry Potter series, schools in England do genuinely have a point system, and I swear, the system makes much more sense in real life than they do in the books. But, not every school cares as much. Sometimes it's just convenient during sports events. And other times, it's a year-long event. Since my boarding school is ancient and 'prestigious', the house points actually carry weight – to competitive students, at least; the ones who think they should live their glory days when they're in their teens.
The boarding school has five houses: Rose (red), Lavender (Blue), Sunflower (Yellow), Aster (Purple) and Camellia (Pink). I wish our houses were named after Saints or historical figures like most schools, but we opted for flowers for some reason. I'm detailing this because it's another reason how I got stuck in that wardrobe.
"My bullies honest to God think I'm dragging the Camellia house down with my 'cowardice' and 'lack of contribution'," I say, two fingers air-quoting as I talk. "I'm someone who keeps to myself. I don't make a lot of noise, I read, I have friends who are just as average as I am. Or maybe I'm just the average one. My point is, I'd rather not stand out." I say. I think I'm rather ordinary myself.
"And they bully you because of it?" Sumire asks.
I mean, there's no reason to bully anyone, but, yes.
"It's bad enough that we're the pink house!" My bullies had told me when they confront me on my lack of contribution to the house points.
I really had to struggle to not roll my eyes when they said it, it's not my fault our uniforms are pink. If our houses weren't so heavily flower-themed then maybe we'd have a green coloured house, but green clashes with the leaf and vine design of the flowers so pink it was.
"They don't like me very much either," I add when Sumire continued giving me a discontent look.
"How'd you get in the closet?" She asks.
My thumb traces circles around the rim of my cup. "I wouldn't say they tricked me. It was more … something against my will." I say.
The bullies had told me I needed to go through 'initiation', which I knew was bull because there's no such thing. But, I was young blood, held back a grade and the event happened after-hours, so. I would have told Sumire all of this if I hadn't been embarrassed to tell her the only reason I couldn't prevent it was because the teachers and the people I rely on had been a little out of reach.
Sumire looks at me as if considering my answer. "I see." She says, then asks, "I'm sorry, I forgot to ask you what your name was."
"Quill." I say.
She smiles at me. "It's a pleasure meeting your acquaintance, Quill."
"You too, Sumire." I say, careful in pronouncing her name the same way she had with mine.
Then we both drank our teas.
"I see you've made a new friend, Quill." Jasmine says to me, her blue tie matching nicely with her jumper and dark skin.
I look at her and try to decipher her statement. Maybe she's saying it for the sake of saying it. Or maybe she's saying it because she's interested in digging into my life.
"Really? Who?" Florian pokes his nose into the conversation.
My mouth quirks into a slight frown, pulling downwards. A part of me fears Florian will choose to tease me about Sumire. The thought of being made fun of only worsens my expression – roses bloom on my cheeks.
Nonetheless, I pretend to not be bothered. "Yeah, she's in the same year as us,"
"Oh, it's a 'she', is it?" Florian smiles.
"Shut up, Sunshine," I say, momentarily blind-sided by annoyance.
Florian slaps me playfully with his yellow tie. "I'm a proud member of the Sunflower house."
See, people take house pride too seriously here.
"I talked to her, you know?" Jasmine says.
"Who?" I ask back as we're walking to class.
"Su." Jasmine answers, causing raised eyebrows until she clarifies, "That's my nickname for her; the Japanese girl from Aster ."
I swear I almost choked on my own spit.
"Calm down, Quill. It's nothing serious. I was just curious about how you two became friends, she said you two met in the kitchen making a cup of tea." Jasmine chimes, embarrassing me further. She didn't have to explain it, spare Florian the details!
"There's nothing to be curious about." I scold.
"What are you saying? Of course, Jas does!" Florian nearly shouts. "I know you can be boring at times, Q. Even painstakingly average, but you're not all that grey."
When I give him a look, Florian blinks all innocent-like. "Just – Don't." I sputter. I say this to both of them. I had to lower my gaze because I'm taller than the two.
"Why are you acting so strange?" Jasmine asks, her tone suddenly serious. It sounded all business-like.
I feel her stare on me, my jaw clench. I swallow.
"You're not telling me something. It's weird, we grew up together so spit it out." Jasmine demands.
I note that – there it is , Jasmine's infamous temper. Her patient is as short as she is.
"I'm acting perfectly normal. I'm fine. What's strange is you giving people you don't know nicknames. Really: 'Su'?" Is all I reply when what I want is to scurry down the hall.
"I can't pronounce her name." Jasmine admits, this time she's the only blushing and I'm the one feeling a bolt of anger shooting up in my chest.
"Her name's 'Sumire', you should learn it." I say sharply.
Florian and Jasmine give me a shocked look but I didn't say anything more. I just stomp away, backpack thumping against my already slouching back and weighted shoulders.
I shouldn't be too angry with my friends, it's not like Jasmine and Florian know much about the reason I was held back a year nor my condition.
I've known Jasmine for practically forever. She's right, we did grow up together, she lives two houses away from mine. Though she was gone a lot – spending months at this damn place for a majority of our childhood. Despite the difference in our lives, we hung out together whenever we could until I eventually landed myself in this old castle.
I know a lot about Jasmine, more than I would like to admit. Jasmine claims her parents were going to name her 'Clover' until her father stumbled upon this old Aladdin (-ish/-lose adaptation?) film (not the Disney one) and got inspired to name her after the Arabian princess. In many ways, I guess Princess Jasmine does resemble the Jasmine I know; she's brave and headstrong and knows what she wants. I wish I was like that, I wish I could borrow some of her strength for a day.
Funnily enough, Florian was named after a Disney character. The first Disney prince, Snow White 's prince. He's not really my friend though, he's more of Jasmine's friend. Sometimes I think he's third-wheeling Jasmine and I, and other times I think I'm third-wheeling them.
Still, I should apologise, they've done nothing wrong, they're just curious. Curious and worried, as they should be.
Sumire decided to sit next to me during lunch one afternoon. It was so sudden, nothing planned.
I see Florian give Jasmine a look.
'Who's that?' He seems to say before Jasmine mouthed, 'Sumire'.
Florian grins at me, cheeky bastard. I wanted to kick him under the table, he can be annoying when he isn't being nice to me. But, I restrain myself from bruising him, I only kick shins with my sister and I'm not that close to Florian anyway. I refuse to be.
"Who's Kikyo?" Sumire asks me one day as I sit outside by the small pond. Spring was here, but it was still rather chilly and I was doing homework. It was easy stuff, I had revised it last year.
I pause, pen mid-air. I think I'm facing some kind of twilight moment; where time freezes and the setting sun is perfectly angled behind her head.
I don't know what to say but Sumire's not making it easy for me either. She's not making any expression I can read as her face is turned towards me. Her brown eyes are drinking me in and her mouth is slightly open like she's ready to say something but doesn't know what.
'Is that why you befriended me? Because you wanted to talk about her?' I wanted to ask back. I wanted to ask her all these things, attack her in a way that hurt, but instead, I only replied:
"She's a friend."
"Does she study here?"
"Do you miss her?"
"Okay." Sumire says, nodding with an acceptance I didn't know I craved.
"Okay." I answer back and we don't say another word after.
And as I press my pen against my notebook, I think, I never did return to that shed on the top of that hill.
"Can you tell me about your friend?" Sumire asks the night we sneak into the kitchen again, this time to drink hot milk with shitty Digestive biscuits she sometimes snacks before bed.
"Which one?" I ask, picking lint from my pastel jumper. I hope Sumire's not referring to Florian. I don't want to play Cupid. I'm wearing pink but I know where I draw the line.
"The girl." Sumire says.
Sumire shakes her head, long hair spilling over her shoulder. "No. Kikyo." The way she had said Kikyo's name … it seemed like it had stuck itself to Sumire's brain and refused to let go.
"She's dead." I say, it came out without a struggle. But as soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back. Bury it the same way Kikyo's parents had buried her.
Sumire's eyes go wide.
She doesn't ask me how it happened, but it all spilt out.
"I'm not sure how it happened," I confess, "But it was my fault. I shouldn't have – I should have –" My voice wobbles. There are so many things I should and shouldn't have done. "I blame myself." I conclude.
Sumire shushes me gently, wrapping her arms around my trembling body the same way she did the night she talked to me. "It's okay. It's okay." She tells me, again, a repetition.
It had played out like that movie – Bridge to Terabithia. I remember it because my sister had sat me down to watch it, and I remember it because I had cried and she had made fun of me for it despite the fact that she had tears in her eyes too.
It was a common occurrence; no matter where I studied, I often become the victim of bullying. Maybe it was my quiet nature. Maybe it was my face or the books I carried. Maybe I just looked small and weak to monsters, I'll never know, but I was picked on and my sister couldn't always save me.
She was new and I didn't have a lot of friends, so it became natural for us to gravitate towards each other.
"Kikyo." She had introduced herself politely.
A part of me wanted to ask her if she had a nickname I could address her as or if I could make one up for her. I was very sure, even before saying her name, that I wouldn't be able to say it the same way she had. I was sure I would butcher it, speaking it without the proper accent and without culture.
But, another part of me didn't want to ask. I didn't want easy simpler solutions. That part of me, a stronger part, wanted to learn how to say it. Because I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand everything about her.
I liked her.
I had shown Kikyo the old shed on the top of the hill. The climb wasn't steep but we often used our bikes to save time. The roof leaked, the long grass hid trash and old condom wrappings and broken bottles. It was an awful place, we should have hung at McDonald's like most teenagers our age.
But, we didn't. We pretended to see none of the bad stuff because it was, in our eyes, our version of Terabithia.
Sadly, we couldn't call it that because of copyright. But, it was ours and that's all that mattered at the time.
I wish it didn't. I wish I never showed her the stupid shed.
It wasn't even a proper funeral. Her body would be buried back in Japan. But it was some form of a funeral for the people here who knew her. No matter how I looked at it, it was Kikyo 's funeral and nobody spoke a word of my involvement with her death.
So I didn't. And my sister didn't. And my parents didn't nor did her parents. It was just this deafening avoidance and burning incense and prayers that I did not understand.
I wanted to ask if my prayers would make any difference. I wanted to ask if praying to Jesus and the God I knew would make a difference or if the Japanese had separate Gods, many Gods, the same way the Hindus did and the Greeks did.
What did I know? I was fifteen and ignorant. I know I was; ignorant, that is. Because if I wasn't, my best friends wouldn't be dead. I was stupid. So stupid.
My parents sent me to therapy straight after Kikyo's death. I didn't think they had the money. But, I also didn't think they knew what to do with me.
(Which is the same conclusion I came to why they sent me away to boarding school.
Or, maybe my parents were just tired of my hours of disappearance? I didn't just skip classes, I skip school entirely. Maybe my parents were exhausted of my sister's hysterias; of her worried glances when the bell rang at the end of the school day and she would scream for me and find me at the bottom of the hill that killed Kikyo?)
My therapist was a middle-aged lady that, to this day, I fail to memorise. There was just something about her that I didn't want to remember, even if she was trying to help (or take my parents' money). She would ask me questions I still hadn't process, the shadows of her office made me feel like I was in this void, and I couldn't see the time because the clock was above my head. I didn't want to make it obvious by craning my neck and looking at it, but I would find her eyes occasionally flicking upwards and glancing at the seconds and minutes and the hour.
My sister later told me it's actually because my therapist was wondering if she would have the time to address a current topic we were discussing or if she would have to make a note for it for the next session, but what did my sister know? She didn't go to therapy, she just Googled a bunch of stuff cause she wanted to help me too.
But I didn't want anyone's help. I just wanted to reverse time, maybe to the moment I met Kikyo. Maybe I shouldn't have met her at all.
It was too early to know what emotional level I was facing. I didn't even know what stage of grief I was residing. I wasn't sure what I was even feeling. Sad, I suppose. I had lost a friend, someone I loved deeply.
But it felt more than that, it wasn't something I could describe and I felt too confused to speak my mind. I just knew that these past few months have been awful and the handful of friends I had were not here because it was Summer, meaning it was the season of holiday trips, and I had to start school in September soon but I didn't want to. I didn't want to do anything but curl up and die so I could take Kikyo's place.
I was lost.
"When my mum had first told me about my acceptance to boarding school, be it that I had to be deferred by a year, I was still lost. My family didn't force me to, but I went anyway. Not because I wanted to go. I felt like I didn't deserve it. How could I? After the accident, I figured I would be the worst person in the history of human beings. But, I also felt like, in the end, I was creating even more problems by not accepting, so I went. I spent a lot of nights just staring at the canopy of my bed. I found that I couldn't sleep. Jasmine noticed how tired I looked, she helped, Florian did too. We would sneak down to the common room and play cards until I got too tired to care about my worries. I thought it was very nice of them. I was never lonely when they were around. Now that I think about it: it was through them that I somehow made it."
When the end of the school year rolled around and everybody was celebrating with cake and party poppers and pointed hats, I found myself smiling.
Sumire had confetti and silver stars in her hair from the party poppers. On most people, it would look ridiculous, but I'd like to think it suited her well.
"Are you going to visit?" She asks me.
"Who? You?" I ask back. Did she want me to visit her during the holiday?
She shakes her head. "No. You."
I look at her, confused. "Are you asking … what ?" I didn't understand. "Am I going to visit who?" I ask her.
"Kikyo." She tells me.
I feel myself go silent, the same way I did the night she pulled me out of the closet.
"You should, you know." Sumire urges me.
"Her parents brought her body back to Japan." I say.
"The hill then. Visit the hill." Sumire says, hand on my shoulder. She pats me then leaves as easily as Kikyo had.
The thing is – I had seen the dark clouds rolling while I was riding my bike and I thought, There's no way that it would rain.
But it did.
It was raining, again, classic English weather. No matter where I stepped, I'd soak my shoes in ankle-deep rainwater and drench my socks.
I had an umbrella with me, but it was flimsy. The kind where it would turn inside-out after a little wind hits it. Plus, I couldn't ride my bicycle up hill while holding an umbrella.
By the time I had ditched my bike and wedged myself under the tiny shack, the heavy shower mercilessly pelts down onto the earth and I was soaked. I didn't understand how my luck can be this bad.
I think it's horrible until I recall a memory of Kikyo. If she was here, she'd hold out a hand, let her palm and wrist feel the rain.
I don't know if my heart's pumping because of the exercise or because of the ghost of Kikyo edging at my nerves. Either way, my hand shoots out to feel the rain.
It's cold and wet and windy.
I immediately find my hand drawn back under the shelter once again. I close my eyes for a few seconds, screwed shut, like I'm trying to get my bearings right or summon Kikyo's spirit.
When I opened them, I lean myself against the farthest end of the shack as if ashamed, like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
"What am I doing?" I find myself asking aloud.
But then my eyes catch. I watch a raindrop slide down the right side of her glasses.
"Kikyo," I say.
Notes 3: This was originally written for a fandom under a Harry Potter AU but I felt the wound was still too fresh. May those souls rest in peace.
Notes 4: To the dude who asked me when I was staring and admiring some flowers, "What? Never seen a plant before?", fuck you. Do you think I don't see you for what you are? You're making fun of me when you're the weirdo who's hanging around high school students, trying to act like a 'cool kid'. You're twenty plus years old, grow up.
I will not be shamed for loving mother nature, she's lovely, and she will not take back your body when it is laid under the dirt to rest.
– 13 October 2019