Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

A Bad Dream

A deep, weathered voice commanded, “Tell me what you’ve found out about Roe’s death.” Before a magnificent throne, two men stood clad in suits. Below their feet was a black-and-white checkered board. Gold lace and ebony wood interiors line the room.

As he adjusted his glasses, one man said, “It looks like we initially thought. Roe committed suicide of her own volition.” The room emitted an audible gasp. “The note she left behind explained the reason for her actions.”

As he cleared his throat, the throned man spoke. “What does it say?”

This man retrieved a folded piece of paper from his lapel. Slowly, he unfolded the document, gaining the full attention of the room. Taking a deep breath, he held the note open for a moment. “This is my last divination to the council,” he read. “I have confirmed that the bleak omen I saw has come true by the recent reports of the otherworlders.”

The time has come for a new world to begin. No longer am I capable of carrying forth the greater work. I advise whoever becomes high priestess to have the strength to deal with the responsibilities ahead. Thus, after I have completed this letter, I shall end my life. New worlds impose prices I cannot bear. It is my responsibility to prepare the tools the high priestess will need to complete the ritual. As a result, you will have the right tools to finish the greater work. The new high priestess will need to be initiated by the secrets of sacrifice and given the keys to the craft.“ read the man, folding the paper back into his pocket. “The correspondence ends with this, Lord Mistura. She wrote it with her own blood.”

“Interesting?” Mitsura considered.

An older man snickered from his balcony seat. “Not the stomach for it.” he uttered.

A loud sigh escaped Mitsura’s throat. “Do you consider her lesser than you, Natsukawa, because she isn’t a killer like you?”

Natsukawa laughed. “We live, we die. That is all.” Mitsura rocked back and forth.

The man who read the report added, “There is another developing issue. Another otherworldly sighting has been reported.” He said.

Mitsura mutters, “Continue.”

“There is something perplexing about this one, as it took place inside a grocery store, in a public place. We’ve detained the victims for examination and interview. Four were injured and killed three. According to the latest reports, two of the injuries are life-threatening. We have informed the witnesses that a terrorist exposed them to a biological agent and caused them to experience a group hallucination.” the man stated.

“We need to get rid of the witnesses. They will not believe such a ridiculous explanation.” From nearby seats, a man cries out, “It will also cause tension in the community.”.

Standing from her seat is a woman with a white-painted face. “What would we recommend if several people went missing? In what manner would we explain that to the public? We’re not just talking about a few people here, we’re talking about an entire market full of people.”

Another man rose from his chair. “I agree with Hegia. The witnesses should be removed. If needed, we can inform the people that they died during the attack.”

“No, that is wrong. We cannot conduct ourselves in this way.” said another man.

Mitsura stands up from his chair. He roared loudly, “Silence! We will not make a hasty decision like that,” he said. “We will hold all those who refuse to conform to the narrative separately and keep them in a detention center. It is possible to convince the community that they have suffered mental harm because of the effects of the toxins. After they are treated, it may be possible to release them. Until then, I do not want any of this to leave the lodge. Do you understand me?”

Everyone in the room called out, “Aye.”

Mitsura continued. “I see it as a matter of necessity for us to find a new high priestess. Lady Kyo, my niece, will be the next in line for the position. Does anyone object to her appointment? Does that offend anyone?” Mitsura pauses for a moment, waiting for his reply. Silence reigns in the chamber. “In that case, it is Kyo who will assume the role of high priestess. Make all the arrangements for the rites.”

The warm yellow inner glow of the police station was comforting for Apricot. Still shaken by the night’s events, Apricot sat in a wooden chair. She ran her fingers along the chair’s decorative grooves. The clerk’s desk was cluttered with various papers, folders, and photos. A small lamp trained over the mess gave off just enough light for the reports in front. “Your description of what happened is troubling, Miss Apricot.” commented the clerk, as he rubbed his cheeks. “You were a hostage earlier this month, and now you’re experiencing a terrorist attack. You are not having an easy month, are you?” he said jokingly.

Instead of letting him have it, she nodded her head instead of allowing her urge to take hold of her hand. “Yes, sir.”

After setting the paper on his desk, he grinned. “I am almost finished with you, but the state psychologist will want to talk to you. Based on those biologicals, they will decide if you were affected or not.” The officer narrowed his eyes and whispered, “I have some advice for you. Play along,” he said. “Surely you know what happened. Just follow the state’s narrative and you will be out in no time.”

“Excuse me?” Apricot asked.

Over at his desk, the officer gestures for Apricot to get closer. “I don’t know what you saw tonight.” He said in an eerie tone. “Honestly, I don’t know what you saw, but you’re not crazy. What you told me, I didn’t write down. However, I wrote that you blacked out and woke up in the warehouse.”

Apricot swallowed hard. This was a textbook coverup. “Don’t make a fuss, just follow along. Things will go much smoother. Although they’re not real, these things are here nonetheless. You seem like a good kid. You got your whole life ahead of you. This little incident. Poof, put it out of your mind.”

Apricot saw the officer get a look of fear in his eyes. “They’re like ghosts or something. Everyone in the office is scared out of their minds right now. Any witness in the department who acknowledges them is being jailed under insanity charges. No matter what you say, forget it ever happened. Honestly, I shouldn’t be telling you that. I just need you to listen to me.” In his chair, he leaned back, his eyes glassy with tears. His words were firm and direct. “Well, mam, I think I can handle the rest on my own.” He flipped a switch on his desk. “Hey, I need someone to take Miss Signa for her evaluation.”

A voice replies, “Right away, sir.”

“Keep in mind what I said,” Apricot nodded to him.

She is uncertain of what to do about her situation. Her mind replayed the events of the day, hinting at what may come. A uniformed man opened the door, interrupting her thoughts. With a hand gesture, he motioned toward Apricot. She rose from her seat and followed him down the hall.

“So you didn’t see anything?” A woman wearing a black police uniform inquired. Despite the officialness of her dress, her rose-colored glasses overshadow the official appearance. “There was a lot of panic in that room tonight. The chemical attack appears to have had little effect on you.” She examined her notes. “Thus, you blacked out during the duration and ended up in the warehouse.”

“That’s right, mam.” She lied. The rules of the game were not stated, but they were very clear. Both parties were lying to each other. According to Apricot’s summary, those were the facts. In Okabe, compliance with the narrative was all that mattered. It was the illusion of stability. It is possible that everyone was aware of these things, but no one spoke of them for fear of being exposed. And even if they did, no one admitted it. It was a clever little trap, Apricot thought.

Using a pen, the woman tapped her clipboard. She looked up at Apricot and said, “Many people said that there was a monster. What do you say about that?”

Without hesitation, Apricot said, “People often see things when they are hallucinating.”

“Superb point. Well, I won’t occupy your time anymore. In case of hallucinations, contact the police right away. Your cooperation is highly appreciated if you remember anything.” Holding out a card, the woman said. “You can contact me.”

As Apricot takes the card from the woman’s hand, she pretended to examine it before palming it into her pocket. “Thank you,” she replied, intending to throw the card away at the first opportunity.

“You are free to leave. The exit is on the left.” the woman said, exuding a sense of quiet confidence.

An unstoppable torrent of bile oozed from Apricot’s mouth into the toilet. As she looked into the messy water, she wiped the sides of her face. She then gagged and pushed the contents of her stomach back into her mouth. It made a loud splash as it left her. She grabbed a towel off the shower rod and wiped her mouth before tossing it into a laundry basket in the corner. As she completed her act, she flushed the toilet. When she looked into the mirror, her makeup is smeared, her eyes are red and puffy, and she is sullen from tears. Her lips are chilled, her skin is pale yet rosy. And her hair is a messy, tangled nest of strands. “What the hell is going on?” she wondered. The tears flowed as she thought about the monsters that surrounded her everywhere. “This isn’t happening. This is a nightmare.”

As she sniffled, she wiped her nose with the sleeve of her shirt. She desperately wanted to be crazy right now. To her absolute agony, she realized she wasn’t. In Apricot’s mind, the bathroom had become her only refuge at this point.

She turned on the water and drew herself a bath. It was a relief to feel the warmth against her naked skin as it released the tension in her muscles. It was at this moment that she could let go of everything. As soon as her eyes closed, she fell asleep.

Upon waking up, she felt a chill in her body. As she slept, the warm water that once soothed her slumbering body had become uncomfortably cold. With her pruned fingers, she pried herself out of the tub. As she walked into her bedroom, Apricot draped herself in a towel to keep warm.

While peering over to her desk, she noticed her phone was blinking. She picked up the black slab off her unmade bed and gets to work flipping through it to see how many messages she had missed from her friends. When she had finished looking at her phone, Apricot let it sit on her desk without responding. She shifted her gaze to her bed and the clothes that were hanging on it. In a pink and white plaid button-up shirt with a cartoon bunny patch on the front, together with a pair of blue jeans, Apricot dressed for the day.

As she descended the wooden steps down to her living room, she noticed Machi laying on her couch. “Machi?” Apricot asked. Yawning and stretching her arms, she raised her head.

As she sat up, she rubbed her eyes like a child. Machi glared, her face braced with a kind smile. “You were out like a light,” she said. “I heard what happened at the store. Since I have time off, I wanted to keep you company.” Apricot nodded as she walked down the stairs. After reaching the living room, she settled down on the couch next to Machi. She calmly assured Apricot, “We don’t need to discuss it.” Apricot embraced Machi’s thin frame. As Apricot’s tears dripped down her shoulder, she patted Apricot’s back. “It’s okay, honey. Everything will be okay.”

Apricot shrugged. “I’m not. No. I’m not ok at all.” Apricot sighed.

Machi kissed Apricot’s forehead. She whispered, “I know, I know. It’s okay to cry, dear. You don’t have to be okay,” she said.

The sentiment was kind, but she would not be saved by anyone. “It doesn’t end.”

Machi said, “It might seem like that right now.”

The lump in Apricot’s throat grew as her heart pounded. Imagine if Machi could perceive the true terror lurking inside her. “It won’t end.” she thought.

Machi, who wiped tears from her face with her hands, nuzzled Apricot. “Alright, let’s go get some food. We can meet at Bingo Burgers, I’ll call the others.”

Apricot shook her head. The last thing that she wanted to do right now was to leave the safety of her house and venture out into the world. Outside the walls, there might be things that might harm her, but at home she was safe. “No. I don’t want to go out right now.” she groaned.

Taking a deep breath, Machi nodded. “I can see where you’re coming from.”

“I am fine,” Apricot said with a pitiful moan as she wiped her tears on her sleeve. “At least as fine as I can be.”

In the silence that followed, Machi bowed her head. To show her gratitude, Apricot walks across the carpet of her living room into the tiled floor of her kitchen. “Machi, would you like some tea with me?”

“Of course, sounds good to me. I’ll make it.” Machi said as she walked by Apricot. “Go sit down.” She said.

Apricot sat back in the living room, watching Machi move about her kitchen as if it were her home. Apricot found it surprising that Machi remembered where everything was in her house from the few times she had visited it.

“You know my house well, don’t you?” Apricot observed.

“So, I peeked during your sleep.” As she grabbed the saucers, she paused. “It’s dangerous, you know.” Machi sung.

“What do you mean?”

Machi filled her kitchen with a faint giggle. “Falling asleep in the bath.”

“Machi, that snoop.” Apricot thought to herself. Machi, that little minx, peeked into her bathroom while she was in there. But now was not the time to confront her. “It was just so comfortable.”

Machi giggled again, “I can’t say I’ve never done that.”

In the middle of the black glass table, Machi placed a tray with two teacups and a few cookies on it. As Apricot sat cross-legged on the floor, Machi was curled up on the couch.

“It seems so strange. We’re adults now, but… nothing’s changed. I remember when I was a little girl in primary school. Now, everything feels overwhelming.” Apricot said.

Machi smiled, “Yeah, I see what you mean, sort of. Exams are still exams, but now they seem more important.”

Apricot sighed long and deeply. “Thanks, Machi.”

Machi muttered as she looked into her tea, “Yeah, it could’ve happened to anyone.” Stirring her tea with a spoon, she added sugar to it. “It scared me, Apricot,” she said. “There was an announcement that it was a terrorist attack. In a flash, I saw on the news that it was the store that you worked at.” Machi’s voice quivered. “I was so scared for you.” Apricot looked up to see Machi’s lips quivering in fear. “I thought you might have been seriously hurt.”

“Nothing happened to me.” Apricot sipped her tea. “I was just scared.” She said. Trying her best to stay as calm as possible. The thoughts of the monster, the man’s head, that slow snap of his muscle tethers breaking. She could hear it even now. The screaming and crying. It all rushed through her mind as the taste of tea danced on her tongue and so unceremoniously she recalled her childhood memories. The entire experience is surreal in some ways.

From the tray, Machi picked up a cookie. After dunking it into her tea, she bit into the soggy sweet. “I saw the hideous clothes they gave you.” she said. “Those blue-green scrubs. Where are your old clothes?”

“Taken for evidence,” Apricot said, considering what that evidence may have been.

Machi shook her head. “That seems odd.”

Apricot said, “Fabric analysis so they can identify the agent used.” It made no sense to search for that, and they knew it. “There must be a reason they are keeping her clothes,” she thought. Given the amount of blood on her uniform, she almost gagged at the thought of keeping it.

“How was your interview?” Machi asked.

Apricot glanced up. “The interview?”

“You know the one about the robbery,” Machi added.

Apricot forgot about the interview she had earlier this week. “I had a wonderful time, but you reminded me I have to see your brother.”

Machi frowned a bit with the suspiciousness of a little sister. “Why is that?” There was a hint of anger in her tone.

“Camera, I got him a new one,” Apricot replied. “It’s used, but it’s a Nihon Dazzler. Bought it from a friend of mine.”

As Machi rolled her eyes, she sighed. “Give it to me. I’ll make sure he gets it. Stay home tonight and get some rest. You better not get sick.” No doubt attempting to keep Apricot from meeting him one on one. Apricot nodded and hugged Machi one last time. Apricot climbed back under the covers in her bed immediately after Machi left. Until Jasper came home from school in the afternoon, she closed her eyes.

Apricot was in the middle of a room. She could see herself standing in the room at the same time. There was darkness outside of the floating room. When the floating room was further examined, she discovers it was actually her bedroom. The room was silent in the floating void. However, it was only then that she heard scraping sounds coming from the walls. There was an invisible barrier which fingers dragged, but whatever was clawing was desperately trying to make its way a crossed it. There was an endless ocean of monsters outside the room that were battling with each other to tear a hole in the room, and she could see them from outside the door.

She heard an inner voice speaking something. “Let us in.” Apricot looked around in a panic while holding her chest as she screamed. Although the things couldn’t get inside the room, the walls buckled and shook. It was a loud bang that brought her door crashing to the ground. At the threshold of the doorway, there floated a head about the size of a human torso. The face was covered in a thick layer of flesh that reminded Apricot of an uncooked hamburger wad. She could hear a shrill scream when the pulverized face collided with Apricot.

As she pushed herself up from bed, she let out a scream of her own. It is cold in her room and she shivered as she curled into her pillow and looked around. Her gaze traveled over to the closed door of her bedroom as she shook. She wondered whether she will even have the courage to open the door.

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