Chapter 1-Rebirth

I woke from my nightmare screaming; I was so desperate to escape from being stabbed again that I flailed and tumbled off the freezing metal table onto the concrete floor. I clutched my chest as I gasped for breath, and desperately felt over my chilled, bare skin for puncture wounds or blood. Fortunately, my unclothed, tan body was intact and unmarked. I stayed on the cold floor for many seconds until my senses had sufficiently recovered to function. Other than the fact that I was being knifed to death, I could recall nothing else from my dream. I flopped on my back and gazed upwards; taking in the sterile basement walls and harsh fluorescent lights overhead swaying gently on thin wires through wispy eddies of vapor. Then I spied strange metal walls with weird latched hinged doors each a little less than a meter square. I suddenly realized with a nauseating punch to the gut that this room was out of grim police drama.

I was lying naked on the floor of a hospital morgue.

I shivered uncontrollably as I wrapped the sheet around me, but it did precious little good in this horrifying space. My mind was utterly blank as to my identity or how I had ended up in this position. All I knew for sure was that my skin was light brown and I was a young man. I wasn't about to stay and let anyone dissect me, so I groaned as I grabbed the table's rim and woozily hoisted myself up. To my surprise, I saw a pile of tattered clothes at one end of the table. It was the remains of a pair of school trousers, dress shirt and boxer shorts that had apparently been cut off someone's body. I glanced around numbly and saw the shirt had at least twenty serrated tears in the chest and stomach area. Somebody obviously hated the shirt or whoever was wearing it. As I gazed at the destroyed article, I shivered for reasons besides the cold air. After I dropped it back down on the metal table, I spied a bank of lockers nearby and desperately rummaged through it. I finally scored some pastel green scrubs, which I hastily donned, commando-style. I turned around to escape this nightmare of a room and stopped dead.

Sprawled on the floor was a thin, pasty-face man wearing similar green scrubs to me. His glasses had spun out across the floor, and clutched in his hand was a razor sharp scalpel with its blade reflecting the sickly fluorescent light. Collapsed next to the coroner was a burly, uniformed police officer. I quickly crouched down next to the doctor and saw he was breathing slowly. After checking his pulse I realized that the officer was also out like a light, and not dead. I sighed in relief and examined the other autopsy table in the room. On it I found a pair of sneakers, a trenchcoat, a woolen hat and a long hand-knit red scarf. Next to that pile was a schoolbag. I also found a large ziplock bag containing a watch, a keyring with a tiny flashlight on it, a Swiss army pocketknife, and a wallet. I thumbed through the wallet, and was frustrated not to find any ID inside. Along with a dozen ¥2000 banknotes there was a note from a Mapleleaf high school homeroom teacher about an upcoming murder mystery school production by Agatha Christie called And Then There Were None. I shuddered at the crazy coincidence, but I couldn't worry about that now. With nothing else I could think to do, I put on the winter clothing, and pocketed the items. I felt an eerie buzz in my head as I was not even slightly surprised to find out the jacket was exactly my size. Just as I was about to slip out I heard a loud knock at the door!

"Doctor Sakomoto! The cops want to know the TOD! Doctor?"

I cursed bitterly and slipped into a nearby bathroom, and fumbled to lock the door behind me. I crouched in the darkness as I heard the morgue door being unlocked, and then a panicked voice screaming. Whoever the man was, he ran back out as quickly as he had entered. I snuck out this ghastly room within seconds and headed down the lime green basement corridor. I went through a pair of automatic doors and found I was in the middle of a brightly lit emergency ward. A group of medical staffers and two policemen rushed towards the morgue, so I ducked into an empty patient bay. I pulled the curtains shut and heard them pass, barely daring to breathe. After they went by, I let out my breath in a rush and realized there was nothing I could do but make a break for it. I mustered my feeble courage and briskly walked out of the ER and into the snowy night. The lady at the reception desk didn't even look up at me as she gave directions to an elderly woman.

Despite being a dead man walking, I tried to casually trudge through the freshly fallen snow to the nearest bus stop and tried my hardest not to turn around or break out into a panicked run as I heard two wailing police cars pull up to the ER entrance behind me. After a quick consult I saw that the city name was Shiroimori; in addition, Mapleleaf high school was only a few blocks away to the southeast along the concrete-lined riverbank. I trudged with difficulty through the icy drifts down the street, and cursed silently as the lack of socks meant my feet were soon freezing cold. I passed luminescent traffic lights partly obscured by layers of icy rime. As I pulled my coat tightly around my body for warmth, another black and white police car shot past me with its red lights flashing and its mournful ascending drone of a siren. I cursed silently at my crappy fortune, but I felt like my best option was to press forwards.

A few minutes later I pushed through the torturous snowdrifts and finally reached the school, only to stand still and gape in stupefied horror. There were at least five police cars parked in the main driveway with their red lights silently flashing, and the fluorescent light blazed out of every last one of the classroom windows. It was an eerie sight, but I quickly chided myself for my lapse. I did not want to get spotted; also I knew I needed a warm place to sack out for the night. I looked both ways before confirming no one was around, and then ducked under the yellow police ribbon. I quickly rounded the sheltered sidewalk hugging one side of the main academic wing constructed out of poured concrete and finally reached the deserted athletic fields. I saw a few policemen clustered by the gymnasium entrance bathed in the ghostly illumination of the field lights. In the distance I saw a stray white dog race into the darkness. I remained in the shadows and tiptoed to the athletic sheds. With shivering hands I gingerly turned the doorknob but found it locked. No surprise there. In desperation, I took out the keyring and tried random keys. To my surprise, I found that the fifth one turned in the lock; I then slipped in and shut the door behind me. I then took out the keyring flashlight and illuminated some worn out gym mats which I dragged into the corner. I also found some grounds-keeping burlap which I laid over the mats to serve as a primitive blanket. I plugged in a rusted and badly dented space heater and plugged it in; much to my shock it actually blew hot air into the tiny shed without shorting out. It couldn't be expected to warm the entire space, but any scrap of heat would help in my mind. I sighed in the freezing pitch darkness, but at least I was bundled up and wouldn't be easily found.

Sleep proved to be elusive, as I read the hands on my watch dial and saw it was the dead of night. I kept trying to rack my brain, but although I knew what things were and how to think, speak and read, I had no personal memories beyond this day. I grumbled as I felt like my situation was like the clichéd plot of countless sci-fi movies. I had no clue if I had stolen some poor dead kid's stuff, or if I even had a home to return to.

Dark, nebulous visions tormented me, when suddenly bright light blinded my closed eyes. I sat up in a panic and yelled, "Sumi-chan, no!" I panted out of breath as I realized I was alone in the equipment shed with the sunlight streaming into my eyes, surrounded by soccer goals, and assorted field sports equipment. After running all night, the dangerous-looking heater had warmed to space so that the air was at least tepid. After wiping condensate off the window, I dared to peek out. Much to my surprise I saw the police presence had vanished overnight. I sighed and spotted a cracked mirror mounted on one of the walls. For the first time in my memory, I saw my reflection. A slender young teenage boy with long inky black hair, and eyes of light brown that edged on amber stared back at me with a haunted expression. Something about my attributes puzzled me, but I couldn't place why.

I sighed and knelt back on the mats and opened up the backpack that I taken from the hospital. I fished out several textbooks, a pocket calendar, and composition notebooks. There was also a graphing calculator and a transparent pencil box. I was dismayed to realize that there was no calendar book. I grimly sighed as it dawned on me that the police probably had it along with my cell phone as evidence. I saw the subject matter was neatly printed on every book along with the text: 'S.K-Classroom 2-2'. I sighed out loud as I scowled at my reflection and spat out an invented name based on the given initial, "Hey 'Kei'. How are you doing you amnesiac asshole? I flung the Math graph book against the mirror in frustration. After I took a few breaths to calm down, I picked up the English notebook and smoothed out the crumpled pages. I saw the handwriting was detailed, neat, and precise. I copied one of the English practice sentences and was not at all shocked to see my handwriting matched to every loop and whorl. I shook my head in exasperation, and sulked silently as I had no idea where to go from here.

As the sun serenely made its way across the clear winter sky, I reasoned I couldn't stay holed up at the athletic shed forever. I had gobbled up the protein bar in my backpack hours earlier, and I knew starving and freezing were not viable long-term options. My watch indicated that today was an ordinary Tuesday morning in early February, and thus a regular school day. Why was the school abandoned? Had there been a murder at the school…my double's murder perhaps? That seemed like a reasonable hypotheses barring any new facts. I sighed softly as I wrapped up the crimson scarf tightly around my neck and braved the frosty day. To my surprise, a large white dog with dirty fur covering its body jumped up and ran away from the shed door as soon as I came outside. It had triangular ears, piercing cerulean eyes and a curly tail. It looked back at me, as its fluffy tail twitched uncertainly. The nervous stray looked torn between contradictory impulses; to flee or to approach me.

I knelt down in the drift and gently patted my knee, finally noticing that the dog was female. I spoke soothingly, "Hey girl, c'mere! I won't hurt you."

She whined and backed up, looking at me with mournful sky blue eyes. I guess she was terrified of me. Maybe I was a zombie and her superior canine senses could sniff out my secret. Or, more likely, she didn't just didn't trust me.

I let my hands drop as I sadly let the stray dog escape as my eyes closed in silent despair. I was taken completely by surprise as the sound of pattering footfalls approached me and I felt her warm body hop onto my lap and effortlessly topple me backwards onto my butt. Very quickly she straddled my chest as her tongue lapped over my self-pitying tears. I drew the Akita inu into a crushing hug, and started to sob. I blubbered, "G-good girl...thank you s-so much…thank you."

After I recovered from my embarrassing outpouring of unchecked emotion, I affectionately stroked the stray's soft pelt and she responded by lapping at my bare fingers with a vigorously wagging tail. I belatedly noticed that she had no collar, and it dawned on me that she had probably been abandoned because of her genetic albinism. I felt a deep sense of empathy for her situation as I murmured, "Hey girl. I guess we're both strays. I'm Kei. What's your name? Where's your master?"

She barked enthusiastically and ran by my side as I headed towards the school building. I dashed faster and she effortlessly kept pace with me until we reached the sheltered walkway. I smirked down at her and stroked her squat muzzle, and whispered, "I guess I'm your master?"

She let out another joyful bark and confirmed my suspicion.

I would think of a name later. Obviously if I had a shred of originality I would name her something other than Hachiko, the most famous Akita inu in history. Predictably the main doors were locked, but I had an uncanny urge to try the third window from the corner on the ground floor in the home economics classroom. Much to my gratification, I found that the window latch sprung open as soon as I forced the sliding window open to the right. I shimmied up and in and crawled awkwardly over a stainless steel prep table between two range/oven combo units. I beckoned my new friend to follow me and with a running leap she effortlessly bounded through the window, leaving muddy paw prints all over the tabletop. After quickly shutting the window again I used disinfecting wipes to erase our tracks. I also made sure to clean the caked mud off my shoes and her paws off with a damp washcloth. After all we were now breaking the law by trespassing into Mapleleaf high school. I carefully rinsed the cloth out in the kitchen prep sink and left it to dry by hanging over the rim. It was time to get to work.

Less than 5 minutes later we found Classroom 2-2. The deserted hallways, even bathed in bright sunlight left me with a creeping feeling of unease as I walked carefully down the off-white tile flooring. After passing the supply closets, six other classrooms and the bathrooms, we finally reached my…no…it was his homeroom. After hesitating for a moment I yanked the sliding door open and stared at a completely ordinary high school lecture room. The teacher's desk and podium took up the space directly to my right; a blackboard dominated the central space of the wall. A cursory examination also turned up a bulletin board with various announcements about Valentine's Day, as well as a handbill for that creepy murder mystery play being put on by the drama club. Oddly, I saw a slot to place the photo of the current class representative, but the image was missing and the name beneath was blackened out with a felt tipped pen. I glanced into the trashcan and saw a finely ripped up photo among other trash. Something compelled me to fish out the fragments and try to piece them together atop the teacher's desk. Quickly enough, I realized that only the top half of the picture was left. After a few minutes I had reassembled enough of the fragments to see the upper part of a girl's face, with intense brick red eyes framed by perfectly styled luxurious black hair. Even with half of her face missing, something about this girl chilled me to my core. I carefully swept the mystery face back into the trash and I examined her blotted out name. I angled my keyring light at the indentations left by the ball point pen and highlighted the kanji characters. I quickly sounded them out and deciphered the girl's name. The class rep of 2-2 was named Shukujo Sumiko. I broke out into a cold sweat just thinking about that name and what it might mean. None of the nebulous emotions roiling in my thudding heart were pleasant to contemplate.

Trying to push the lump out my papery throat, I turned to face the rows and columns of chairs and free-standing student desks. Something was instantly amiss as I saw the chairs were hastily left pulled out or even toppled over, and many of the desks were skewed as if people had carelessly shoved them aside in their haste to evacuate. No normal schoolroom would ever be left in this cluttered state; not unless something terrible had occurred. The dog broke my dazed spell as she sniffed at the ground and quickly located a chair in the second row hard against the window facing out into the athletic fields and the gymnasium where the murder had doubtless occurred.

I stirred and spoke to my new friend, "Hey girl. Find something interesting?"

She whined and turned to face me with her mournful eyes inset in her broad face. She curled up under the legs of the chair as if awaiting her master's return. I walked over and examined the ID tags on both the chair back and desk frame. Both cards were missing of course.

I knew deep in my gut that this was his seat. After caressing the dog's chin to comfort her I did a quick check around the room and found that all of the chairs and desks were marked with the kanji surnames of his classmates; all save the victim's seat and another spot centered in the front row. I had no doubt that that was where Shukujo once sat. After a thorough examination of the room, I noted that the only names that triggered any sparks of recognition were 'Kyousou', 'Atsui' and especially 'Jumon'. I sighed heavily as I gently pulled out the desk chair with a gloved hand and slumped at his customary seat. I opened up the hinged desktop out of curiosity and was disappointed to find it clean and empty. At a loss, I took out the composition books from the satchel and thumbed through every page of every subject book. Halfway through the Literature book I stumbled upon a surprise. There were several somewhat amateurish sketches of a white dog along with a list of potential pet names. All were crossed out except 'Yukina'. I looked at my feet and spoke with a touch of awe, "Yukina? That's your name, girl?"

She instantly sat up at attention and nuzzled my hand. He had named his stray friend Yukina. I had to smile at the delicious irony as now I knew her name even if my own was a complete blank.

Following my next hunch I tried the school lockers outside the classroom. One of the unmarked lockers contained a spare goldenrod colored girl's gym uniform. Inside the other unlabeled locker, I was delighted to find a neatly pressed gym outfit and a small stash of beef jerky encased in shrink wrap. I somehow knew that I had a preference for seafood and chicken over beef so I realized that these were treats for Yukina. Even though I was alone, it felt downright wrong to strip naked in the empty hallway. Still it was a relief to finally switch out of the sweat soaked hospital scrubs into the clean and warm athletic socks, black sweatpants and matching shirt trimmed with amber stripes adorned with the Mapleleaf school logo on the left breast pocket. I threw on my trench coat, scarf and cap, and shouldered the satchel. It was time to venture out into the city and find some answers.

The sudden sound of loud footsteps on the stairwell just a few meters down the hallway made me nearly piss myself. Oh shit. I froze as I suddenly heard a loud thump one floor down followed by wailing cries of pain that chilled my blood. However the cacophony covered up my hasty dash to the supply cupboard. I waved the dog in and squeezed the door shut just as the footfalls resumed up the stairs. A few seconds later, through the crack between the doors I saw another intruder enter the second year classroom.

A petite, softly sobbing girl walked in with a tentative tread. Her pitiful sniffling made my heart ache; she projected an aura of despair that matched my own mood perfectly. She stared at the floor, and her shoulder length black hair completely obscured her eyes. Melting snow fell off her badly ripped tan overcoat, and several tears in the lining exposed the synthetic white insulation. She didn't appear to have gloves or a hat. She panted softly as she gazed at his desk and hesitated for agonizing seconds. Finally she marshaled her courage and approached the desk with a plastic bag in her tight grasp. She rooted in the bag, and unwrapped a simple vase decorated with white lilies. She bowed deeply and then placed the vase on his desk.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I knew that flowers on a desk meant that the occupant of that spot was deceased. Yukina also watched through the gap with interest, but she remained completely silent.

After bowing again, the strange girl took out a framed photograph and placed it on the desk. She placed two holders on either side of the picture and inserted and lit incense sticks that pointed straight up. She placed her hands together and began to pray. She kept her composure for an agonizingly long time, but abruptly she fell to her knees and howled with grief, "I…I'm sorry my beloved! I'm s-s-so sorry! I'm sorry! It's all my fault! I couldn't save you! I'm so sorry!" Her voice dissolved into heaving sobs.

I felt a sharp jab of guilt as I somehow knew that he had terribly wronged this grieving classmate. I intoned in an awed whisper, "Ju…Jumon-san." Wait. If my memories were fried, how the hell did I recognize her?

She forced out her words of uncontrollable despair, "I know this is so stupid. I know I can't reach you anymore. If only I'd been faster. If only I'd seen that Shukujo-san was going mad, I could have saved you. Forgive me." She slumped onto the floor and whispered, "Forgive me."

A new voice in the hallway barked, "Miss! Time to come with us."

She rubbed her dripping nose with her sleeve and nodded to the strangers out of my line of sight, "O-of course officers."

Jumon was getting arrested? I had to do something. However, some cowardly part of my brain ordered me to butt out of this whole mess. Even though I committed exactly the same crime as her, I stayed still as I shivered in fear. I did not want to be found. I did not want to get involved. Sticking my neck out for her would only cause trouble for me. I watched helplessly as she gathered her meager possessions, bowed at the memorial she had set up, and obediently departed with the police.

Only after the building was absolutely still again, did I suddenly regain my sense of shame. I swore at myself, "Kei, you absolute, craven vile pile of shit! What the hell are you doing?" I flung open the door and raced down the stairs with Yukina in tow as I knew there was a police substation only a block down the street from the school. I knew what I had to do; I had to atone for crawling on the ground like a slug and acting like him.