Prologue

The flames roared upward, blazing into the moonless sky.

The smell of the burning wood entered my nostrils as I stood there completely stunned. I inhaled without knowing, then exhaled without feeling anything besides the tightening around my chest. It felt hard to breathe.

An overwhelming bright light assaulted my vision, etching the image into my retina, and then the heat started to spread to the atmosphere, to the air until it touched my skin.

However, my eyes kept glued into the fire, as if it were absorbing me in, and my body didn't move an inch. I know that something was burning. The flames were consuming something yet I was not afraid nor unsettled. How could I? An unknown emotion was welling inside me, a weird feeling that kept my heart from beating.

The scenery of the flickering flames that contracted, danced, and swayed along with the night breeze as it burned. It radiated like a sun, and lit a fire into my heart.

It was burning… Burning brightly. It's as if the fire itself had discarded its past and its future for this very moment and shone with everything it had.

The one that was burning was a house…

And it was beautiful.

My foot took a step forward, as my hand stretched over trying to touch the fire. But at that moment, a shadow suddenly moved and dropped itself to the ground. It stayed down, gazing at the magnificent flames.

"What…the hell…is…this?" Amidst the crackling noise of the wood, a whisper entered my ears and brought me back to my senses.

—Someone was kneeling before the fire.

I gasped for air, realizing what had happened. My chest beat rapidly, my feet shivered, and then as if I was possessed, I bolted away from the light, and dived into the darkness.

- - - Burning in the Spring - - -

Chapter 01 – The Encounter in Spring

"Hmm…hmm-mmm."

Strolling down the long, concrete pathway, Kawada Sakura passed through the mist as she hummed gleefully, taking light steps on the ground.

She was headed to a particular destination that had been special for her since she was a child. She had barely been able to sleep last night because she was excited for this day. Just this morning as well, she just grabbed whatever clothing she thought was presentable and headed out, not considering the weather.

It was April 1; early morning and the atmosphere was fairly cold.

Sakura wore a bright-colored cardigan over her blouse but unfortunately, it was paired with a knee skirt. She slightly regretted it as chilly air occasionally brushed her bare legs but still, she didn't want to return home to change her clothes again. Also, it wasn't that bad to feel the cold with her skin sometimes. And her skirt looked cute, so where's the harm?

On her left side were rows of plowed and irrigated rice paddies as a preparation for planting. Down on the right side was the creek, which was visible if she looked through the gaps between the trees. However, it was not the creek that she was eagerly looking for.

The path was curved, and once she passed the reach of the trees, she saw that place.

Not able to contain her excitement anymore, Sakura's long indigo hair fluttered along with her movements as she started skipping the rest of the distance. Her breathing grew heavy, releasing white puffs in the air when she had arrived under that particular tree.

Standing alone on the slope to the creek, away from other trees was a single cherry blossom. It was already several days since it started its full bloom but witnessing in April somehow makes her feel the presence of Spring better. She looked up at the countless pale pink petals clustered together, admiring their beauty.

"They are really pretty," she involuntarily muttered, still entranced at the flowers. A spring breeze came, swayed the thin branches, and carried some petals with the wind. As she watched it happen, an idea came into her mind. There was a perfect branch with a good thickness and since the tree grew in the slope, the pathway where Sakura stood was higher.

"No one will pass here this early in the morning so no one would see me," she convinced herself. "My shoes wouldn't slip, right?"

Although she would seem weird talking to herself, that thought didn't even register on her mind as smiled and held the trunk with her left hand and used her right to balance. She stepped on the branch with her foot, and in one swift motion, she brought her other foot atop as well.

Finally standing on the branch, she looked down on her footing, and then above, some flowers were directly touching her hair and nose. She enjoyed the moment of bliss, closed her eyes for a second, and gazed on the creek below.

The water was probably cold but it was crystal clear that Sakura could see through the white rocks beneath.

Although she would not try swimming there even if there were no witnesses, touching the water or dipping her feet seemed nice. There were sets of steps that led down…

"Eh…?" She was shocked.

Standing on the steps, looking upward with an agape mouth and a dumbfounded look on his face was a young man around her age.

The wind blew, rattled the branches, fluttered her hair, and possibly her skirt.

Immediately, Sakura's face grew hot and she jumped down from the tree to the path, looking down while holding her skirt. Her voice refused to come out as she was overwhelmed with shame. As a 16 years old girl, being seen to climb a tree was embarrassing! And what's more…

Steadying her breath, she glanced at the steps again but he was no longer there. It was then when she noticed that the boy had already climbed the steps and arrived at the same pathway as her. He was still looking at her, as if waiting for what she was going to say.

"…Y-you didn't see anything…right?" she asked.

"…Uh." He looked away as he continued speaking, "I did."

Sakura's face flushed even redder as she crouched held her head in shock. "…Uwah… I'm done for."

"I'll be going then, and sorry for the inconvenience." The young man slightly bowed down and then started walking away to the pathway. Waiting for her embarrassment to die down, she watched the figure as it went away. The boy wore suitable clothing for the cold spring, but what caught her eye was the bag he was carrying.

Now that she thought about it, she hadn't seen him in this area. He was fairly handsome, and his neck-long black hair would immediately leave an impression, there's no way she would forget about him. This convinced her that the young man was not from this town.

She looked again in the cherry blossom and whispered to herself, "…Today is a lucky day…today is unlucky too. Which do you think fits better?"

The branches rattled and swayed but it didn't answer. Satisfied, Sakura smiled, stood up, and stretched her back. Despite what happened, that person was just a stranger, and the view that the tree had shown her was beautiful. She already knew her answer.

Not long, she started walking back to her home.

Spring breaks usually take two routes for Sakura. One it would be to study, prepare for the next grade or entrance exams. Or two, take it easy and enjoy the break. This spring happened to be the latter. In just several more days, she would become a second-year student of the local high school she attended but she didn't see that need to prepare this year.

She spent most of her time inside the house reading some books or playing games on her smartphone. Sometimes when her friends would invite her, she would head out with them. The day passed again in a blink of an eye and then the evening came.

Sakura entered her room upstairs after eating dinner with her father and mother. She took the novel she left atop her desk earlier and then sat on her bed. There was a bookmark with a floral pattern slipped in the page, she removed it and then continued reading. She didn't notice the time, immersed, flipping page after page without any interruption. She didn't notice how many hours had passed when she had finished the whole book.

Having changed her position several times while reading, she was now laying down on her bed and she was currently gazing blankly at her room's ceiling.

"Ah… It ended." The story had been exciting and she was touched at the ending. It was worth reading it all day.

Finally getting over it, she got up from her bed and stood on a soft carpet laid on the floor. She wondered if she should take a bath already and head to sleep but when she looked outside her window, seeing the bright shine of the moonlight, she was convinced that she would take another one of her night walks. Not bothering to change her clothing, she just pulled the same cardigan she used this morning and put it over her blouse.

She only strolled around the town late at night and in all instances, her parents were already sleeping. Tonight wasn't any different. She took the key from her drawer, opened the door slowly, and then stepped lightly on the stairs as to not make any sound. She locked the door carefully when she got out of her house.

"Now, where should I go tonight?" She looked up at the moon for a moment. On the same direction was the hill where a shrine was built and she set that as her destination for the night. She took out her smartphone then clicked on one of her song playlists. With the music playing, she walked as enjoyed the solitude and the melody.

This town had a place where most of the houses were built, or so-called the main residential area. Between the rows of rice paddies, there was a concrete road that stretched to that residential area at the base of the hills. She still needed to travel several hundred meters before she reached it, but it was better than doubling that distance if she would walk by the river where she visited this morning. Few residences were built with no nearby house at their surroundings, Sakura's house just happened to be one of those.

Going further the concrete road past the residential area was a long stairway surrounded by a dense growth of trees that leads to the shrine. Although the climb to the stairs was long, she slowly treaded them until she arrived at the top. She took one look at the shrine in the darkness before she turned around and sat on the highest step, gazing down the long stairs she just climbed as she let her mind wander.

There were insects and birds that she could hear, and there were no other sounds besides the music and her audible soft breathing. She felt soothed in this quiet place, completely alone atop this hill.

She closed her eyes for a moment, waiting for the song to end. When the next music started with its instruments, she bolted straight up and then jumped down, passing three steps on the stairs. She leaped every two seconds, matching the lively song.

"I wanna be a moon, I wanna be a moon, I wanna be a mooooonnn…" She sang along the music, skipping the steps all the while. "I wanna be a…moon."

The song continued, but Sakura stopped singing.

Standing on one of the stairway's landings, she shifted her vision to her right where there was a straight path between the trees that led to a clearing.

She slowly walked towards it.

The weeds and grasses on the path had grown thick and tall as it wasn't used for several years but she didn't mind them even if some brushed her thighs. Her gaze was focused on the fire at the center of the clearing that brought a reddish-orange illumination to the dark forest.

Like she was enchanted, she just continued forward, turning off the music of her phone, and stopped when she stood near the fire. The cold spring wind blew, making her shiver for a moment, but the flame swayed, turned larger, and kept her warm soon enough.

Branches of dried trees, small twigs, and some leaves were used as fuel to emit such a warm embrace and the soothing gentle light. The smell of the wood as it burned, also felt comfortable.

"…" It was as if the fire was welcoming her. She had been unable to utter any words.

Glowing small embers leaped as the fire crackled, bringing her back to her senses. The flames will die down soon since the reasonable lump of the leaves and woods was quickly being consumed. However, this meant that someone had put them all there together.

There was a fire burning beautifully amidst these dark woods. There had to be a burner.

"Do you like watching the flames too, miss?"

She was surprised by the sudden voice and immediately turned to the left. There was a young man, dimly illuminated by the fire but she could see that he sat on a rock. His smooth hair had been tied in a short ponytail now and his mouth was curled up, showing a mild smile. He wore a jacket over his clothes and was still carrying his bag.

"…You." Sakura recognized the boy as the one she encountered this morning. This second encounter on this day surprised her, but at the same time, the memories of the happenings struck her mind, making her uncomfortable to continue speaking. "…Uh… What are you doing here?"

The boy raised his right hand that he kept low all this time and brought something—a white stick into his mouth. The end was glowing, and Sakura could tell immediately that it was a cigarette. He inhaled, causing the end of the stick to brighten, and then exhaled soon after, releasing white smoke.

"To reminisce, I guess. What about you?"

"…To take a stroll." Sakura thought that the boy might be a weirdo for being himself here, so she answered quickly. She considered of ending the conversation soon and bid her goodbye. However… "What are you reminiscing, and why did you think of making a flame?"

Her curiosity won her over.

He had an astonished look, perhaps not expecting those questions. "It's really cold tonight so when I saw a few twigs on the ground, I thought of making a campfire to warm myself. Besides, the flames shine brighter in the night, don't you think so too?"

"Yes, I think it's really nice too," she said as she glanced at the fire.

"It would be nice if there is something else that would be great burning."

"Maybe you're right."

"As for what I'm reminiscing," the boy continued and she listened carefully, very curious about it. "It's about my memories in this place four years ago."

—Kawada Sakura shuddered at that statement.

"You know that ruined house over there. That's ours." The boy pointed at her back.

Sakura was well aware of what happened here four years ago. Past the campfire was the remains of a house built on wood. Although the darkness kept most of the details hidden, she knew it was burned crisped to the ground.

"…." She was unable to make any sound once again for a minute and her body froze. She forced to turn her face slowly at the boy. He was looking down at his own phone, his face was eerily lightened. His mouth curved into a smile, and his eyes widened a bit.

He stood from his seat.

Sakura wanted to leave now. She wanted to run, to escape, to jump into all those stairs at once and hide in her room while clutching herself into her bed. However, she could not move her feet.

The person who made the campfire, approached her, the light of the fire had glowed lesser but she could see his face clearly. He was smirking.

He was nearing, slowly, gradually.

Sakura stepped away, and she was about to run.

—But her hand had been caught.

The boy used his deep green eyes to look directly into hers, peering down into her soul. "I was just talking earlier if there would be great things around here to burn right?"

The fire crackled again, the cold wind blew, the trees rattled.

And then he said, "I would like to burn you."


Author's Note: I thought this story would be just kinda dark, not creepy XD

Hello readers! This is Kurono Kuro with a new Halloween Special…! Haha… Okay, I know November is nearing its end again so yeah this is just a short story without a particular occasion now. I made sure to start on the first week of the month but look at how much time I used up. But oh, of course, I had to deal with some school stuffs too and this story's cover.

This one was supposed to be in First Person PoV of Sakura but I've been laughing the whole time I write about skirts and other else XD. And so, I used third person in this chapter, perhaps I'll try changing the PoV multiple times in this story.

This short story, perhaps a novella is about burning. Until the next update.