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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 14

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Chapter 14

Tooth And Bone

A young blonde was held in the arms of two rough men as she screamed and struggled. A fine layer of dust still clung to the abandoned warehouse, which smelled of dried chemicals. As she kicked her heels against the cement floor, the men drag her body toward a shadowy figure. They knocked the wind out of her after being thrown to the ground. Slowly, she pressed her knees as her runny mascara gaze shifted to a pair of dark boots and a man in jeans. With black-rimmed sunglasses covering his eyes, his dreadlocks concealed his face. A slow grin revealed toothy fangs like those of a wild animal. Taking off his black leather jacket, he revealed his bulging muscles. As he howled, they pulsed and expanded. The girl shrieked, seeing the man transform before her eyes. She tries to get away from his giant hand but fails as he gripped both of her legs with one hand. The monstrous man dwarfed the two men while he lifted the girl off the ground. “Help! “Please!” she cried, trying to free herself from his grip.

In horror, one man kept his eyes on the concrete floor, and said, “I can’t watch this.”

The monster of a man bit into the girl’s upper body with a loud crunch. “Do not speak, no one can defeat Genova. He is the king of the city now.” The abandoned warehouse is filled with the sounds of slurping and gnawing as the two men’s blood runs cold.

Across from Machi and Solenne, Apricot drank from a straw. The three girls are seated at a small black cast iron picnic table in the park’s center. It’s nearly impossible not to notice how artificial the trees are. There was no question that the trees were plastic sculptures. Moreover, they did not grow or take on any color. Apricot presumed that the plants had to be made of polysynthetic materials.. After unwrapping their sandwiches, the girls poured ice tea into their glasses. As Apricot finds herself lost in her own thoughts, Machi and Solenne have a lot of small talk. Apricot finds herself in a strange situation. Having to deal with Shiori has been exhausting to say the least. Sleep has been scarce lately. Machi’s face fell, and Apricot had no idea why due to her lack of listening. Now that the tone of the conversation had changed, she was roused from her thoughts. 

“It worries me.” Solenne continued. “I realize the military won’t risk any of its soldiers, but still… the fighting has already begun.”

In the news, Apricot had read about the situation. Miners had discovered a remarkably large deposit of Urizen resources. Currently, Uchella and Aslana are fighting over the deposits. There is a demilitarized zone near it, which has been off-limits for years. Arjun was deployed about a month ago. Since then, Solenne has been anxious.

Machi chimed in, “Well, he is not in combat, is he?”

“He is,” Apricot recalls the conversation she had with the general. Still, the situation continues to deteriorate despite her unease. Solenne sighed. “They’ve seen a few air scares,” she observed. “I think he was in at least one dogfight, but he won’t admit it. Having scrambled a bomber, he proudly told me how he had sent the accompanying fleet away. That scares me.”

“I’m sorry, that’s terrible.” Apricot says to comfort, even though she imagines it wouldn’t be much use.

Machi added, “We’re just a phone call away.”

Apricot imagines Arjun wouldn’t want to worry Solenne, and he must feel exactly the same way about her when she is on duty. Similarly, the town is becoming more and more like a battleground as it changes. Maybe even more so if things continue to unfold as they are. “Arjun is an amazing pilot. Even if he’s in a dogfight, he’ll win.”

“I hope you are right, Apricot. One small mistake is all it takes.”

A shadowy underground corridor echoes with footsteps. A wolfish grin appeared on Genova’s face as he heard the steps approaching. His lips retreat from the nape of a young girl. In his usual black leather trench coat, Cortez emerged from the shadows, seemingly unperturbed. As Genova embraced two girls, one sitting on each leg, he said, “Cortez, my friend.” Both are of the typical brand that Genova is known for; street girls willingly sell themselves to join gangs in order to make money. Willing to give it away just for the opportunity.

“The hell is this? You have a throne?” Cortez grunted as he observed Genova’s stone chair.

Genova’s black sunglasses frame Cortez with a simple nod. “Yeah, I found it down here,” he replied. “This was probably an old cult chair. The world beneath this city would amaze you.” Genova rose from his slouch as he bounced the girls on his knee. “So, what do you want?”

As he reached into his pocket, he pulled out a wad of cash. He said, “I got the money I owe you. So now things are square?” he asked. “We can end this here.”

As Genova snickers, the teeth of his mouth are barely visible. Cortez raises an eyebrow. “Don’t worry about it. You repaid me more than enough.”

This is a very generous gesture from you.” Cortez observed with stone-straight eyes. His refusal to accept money is an omen of ill tidings that makes him sick to his stomach. Tremors ran down his leg as the urge to urinate hit him hard. At this point, the expectation of a well-fired gun shot was high. His gaze was darting to every corner. However, this was a strange place for a gathering, it already gave Cortez an uneasy feeling. If he would be offed, this is the place where it would happen.

As Genova cradled both girls in his arms, his jaw fell to the throat of one of the girls, and he whispered, “I owe you.” Digging deep into the flesh of the other girl, he firmly gripped her. As she scrambled to free herself, she shrieked. The blood drains from her neck as she kicks and screams as a red burst wets her tank top. As Cortez watches in horror, the girl grew pale while Genova suckled her dry.

“What the hell!” Cortez shouted, backing away from the hall.

His face becomes tight, his ears bulge like goat ears, his eyes turn red, and his teeth become razor sharp. The pulse of his muscles continues as he tightens. His hair begins to grow, as if he were a beast. His gaze flutters faintly as blood splashes from his mouth. He mumbles, “You look so shocked.” Suddenly, he releases his jaws, and the woman falls to the ground, sputtering blood.

“What the hell are you!?” Cortez responded with a hand to his chest. Genova rolled his head back and forth to get used to his brand-new form. “Those books you hired me to protect. They’re fascinating. I was so impressed with your father’s work. It was something you should have taken seriously.”

Cortez’s eyes are filled with fury. “I told you not to look.” he yelled. “You are now nothing more than a monster!”

“What are you going to do?” Genova laughed. “This was what your father was looking for as well. As far as I can tell, the cult had not achieved it either, otherwise they wouldn’t be searching for it. But it didn’t stop me from waiting for them down here. I’m waiting for them, hoping to eliminate my rivals before they eliminate me.” Genova pointed a clawed finger at Cortez. “I owe it to you.” he proudly said.

“I have never expected you to do this, even though you have always been a jerk, you murderer!” Cortez hissed as he clutched at his fist.

The terrified girl in Genova’s arms looks up at him. Runny black tears are streaming down her face. “When I was younger, they teased me for being a runt. I did not have many friends. This girl in my arms never gave me another glance. Everyone cast me aside as a nerd.” He smiled as he reminisced. She struggled in vain as he tightened his grasp on her. She yelled in pain as he tears at her skin.

“As I grew older, I understood why my life was hell. My helplessness was overwhelming. Cortez, weak people have no place in the world.” He turned his piercing gaze back toward Cortez. “When I became strong, people looked up to me. The strength I gained came faster than I expected. The others sought protection from me. Taking advantage of this, I even started my own business. My job was to protect them from other vermin gangs; from the government’s eyes. The nobles kept their distance.” He stared at the ground. “But then you showed up. This scared boy was trying to support his family. You were a strong kid. When I learned what you were hiding, I was surprised. You had the power, but you chose not to use it.”

“That is not power! That is just evil!” Cortez yelled.

“Call it what you will, Cortez. But I’m the Lord now. I will not let anyone stand in my way. I am the gate of souls, a ruler of both men and devils.” Genova looked up, hearing a metallic click. Cortez holds a pistol in his hand. “Struck a cord?”

Cortez faced the hideous beast that Genova had become with his gun outstretched. “You’re crazy.”

Genova growled, “Go ahead, shoot me.” As soon as he heard the loud bang, his eyes widened. A gaping hole can be seen in his chest as he was battered. The girl in his arms desperately tried to escape. There was a heavy smell of wet iron as blood flowed from his wound. He moistened his finger tips by raising his hand above his chest. He murmured, “I’m bleeding.” before laughing. Then he smiles and said, “Go ahead, shoot me again.” 

Cortez continued to fire his gun several times. The bullets scatter around Genova’s heart with each shot. Holding out his arm, he clicked the trigger while it chirped. “No bullets left.” Genova said. Cortez’s chest suddenly rose and fell. As he lowered the gun, his hand trembled. Turning his tail toward the hall, he ran along the corridor as quickly as he could.

“Maggots don’t frighten Kings,” Genova yelled out to Cortez. “Run Cortez, it’s only a matter of time.” Even as the girl’s scream echoed from the hall, Cortez kept running without looking back.

“The more people you can bring here, the better! Shiori, everyone! All of them!” Apricot pulled the phone away from her ear as Cortez yelled; his voice tinged with fear. 

Apricot commented, “You must really need Shiori’s help if you want his help.”

“Look, look, tell him I am willing to work with him. Apricot, now is not the time to joke. It’s the worst thing that could’ve happened. These are my notes, these are my father’s notes! There was some ritual performed on them. Now he is eating people alive! We must kill him before he gets stronger!” shouted Cortez.

A man who became a monster. Her mind kept floating back to the image of the man’s face splitting apart. The woman in the tunnel too. It had not occurred to her until now, but were those phantoms, or were they people? “Cortez stay calm. Let’s just remain calm. I’ll call for help. I am heading out the door. The Spook House is my next stop, so I’ll try to get as many people there as possible. Afterward, I will try to help. Are you OK? Can you give me about an hour?”

“Yeah, I’m above ground. A gang hideout in the old city has him hidden away. I’ll send you my location. But if he comes, I’m out. I think he is enjoying himself right now with the girl I tried to save. Gah, my lord, what have I done?” cried, Cortez. “I abandoned her!” he sobbed.

Apricot felt like he had a lump in his throat. The cool street urchin breaks down as he speaks. Something terrible must have happened to him. Apricot swallows the information and assumes the girl has died or is on her way out. There is nothing she can do except gather help. “I’ll call you soon.”

“She will sell us out for an article she is working on! Or she is an Okabi spy!” Apricot heard a woman’s angry voice. Apricot pulled open the door to discover Togashi sitting at the bar with an off-put expression. Akagi was drinking what looked like a soda out of a glass. A slim black-haired girl sat next to him with her eyes shut. She appeared to be Apricot’s age or one or two years younger.

“You’re silly, miss Ohara, I am disappointed.” Shiori laughed from the back room.

There is a loud slam before a tumble. “Don’t give me that bullshit! You know they did not secure her! She’s one of them!” The argument between the two continued in rapid bursts. While Shiori chuckled with his usual casual joking manner.

“What is with all the yelling?” Apricot asked as she made her way to the bar.

Akagi smirked. “O’ don’t mind them, Sumai and Shiori are fighting like usual. It will end soon.”

“Tiring squabble this one is.” Togashi drummed his fingers on the counter, rolling his eyes.

The twin doors to the back room breach open, exposing a red-haired middle-aged woman with blue eyes, which locked onto Apricot after spotting her. Their ferocity felt as if it gripped Apricot. “You need to leave!” she roared.

“What is this all about?” Apricot asked in a calm tone.

Storming up to the counter, Sumai shoved Togashi aside, receiving a snicker from him. “I know all about you Apricot! You are an Okabi spy. How else would you be allowed to get out of all the messes you have been in?”

Apricot raised both of her hands. “Wait what! I am not a spy!”

“Where did you get a gun from?” Sumai pressed.

Shiori staggered out of the room, his tie out of place. “Sumai,” she turned her head toward him. “Outside, leave her alone and cool down. As of right now, you are not permitted to enter the Spook House. So out.”

Sumai shook her head. “You are such a bastard.” Sumai huffed, walking out from behind the bar. “I am not done with this!” she announced to Shiori. Her scornful gaze quickly returned to Apricot. “I got my eyes on you!” Sumai growled, wagging her finger at Apricot as she stomped out the front doors.

“You are very early, Apricot,” Shiori said. “What’s up?”

Apricot regained her composure as images flood her mind again. She felt a slight touch on her back. “Don‘t let her get to you. Sumai is the same way with everyone. It’s just the way she is. She is protective to the end, a bit hardheaded, but in the end she will treat you the same way.” Akagi said, his face beaming.

“Cortez called me and told me that there is a guy who used some weird ritual to become a monster. He is waiting outside of his underground gang hideout or something. Apparently, there is a girl down with him. Some gang members, too.” It surprised Apricot to see everyone give her an unamused look.

“Heh, no.” Shiori grunted. “Cortez is a con artist, Apricot. Don’t trust him.” Shiori turned his back to Apricot and walked toward his office.

“Wait!” Apricot said. “Help him for me. I think this is serious.”

Shiori shook his head placing a hand on his hip. “It’s your funeral. You showed a lot of potential, but I won’t waste my time on a dog like Cortez. So help him. I will not clean his messes.”

Fuming Apricot is on her way out the door. After several steps, she rested her back against the side of the building to catch her breath. On her back, the bricks were warm from the sun’s rays. “How am I going to handle this?” She wondered. As time passed, this entire situation became darker. New questions arise, what exactly happened between them?

“You’re a piece of trash and you need to get lost or else.” Apricot scowled looking beside her to see Sumai glaring at her. Without a word, Apricot leapt off the wall, taking off before she said something she regretted herself. Surely, she was not inclined to stand for such abuse from a stranger. After about a block, she hears footsteps following her.

“Would you leave me?” Apricot asked, turning to look at the black-haired girl with the sapphire eyes. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were,” Apricot said.

“It’s fine. I heard what Sumai said.” the girl replied without moving her lips. It’s a soft, calm voice accompanied by deep, dark eyes. “I am Junko Morie. I apologize for not introducing myself earlier.”

This seemed strange to Apricot, making her thoughts race. “How are you doing that?”

“I speak through mental conversions. It is more comfortable for me to speak this way. Also far more private. For me that is.” Junko explained. Apricot strains her face in thought. Junko laughed, covering her mouth with her gloved hand. “It’s okay to use your voice. I can’t read minds, but at least I understand what I see.”

“That is a pretty cool talent,” Apricot said to Junko who nodded her head. “It is nice meeting you but I really have to go now.”

Junko frowned. “You seem sincere.” Apricot nodded. “I will come too if only to ensure your safety from Cortez.”

“Why does everyone dislike him? What did he do?” Apricot asked.

Junko shook her head. “It is not my place to say.”

Walking through this area of the city made Apricot uncomfortable. With broken glass littering the ground, it was a ruin that had been abandoned for a long time. Known by many as the trash land. If only they could hire workers to clear the grounds, the property would be very valuable. However, superstitions about ghosts and spirits are still prevalent. Therefore, this part of the city was inhabited only by the poorest and least moral people.

Apricot turned to see Cortez at the bottom of a set of stairs leading to a collapsed subway tunnel. Her soft footsteps divert his attention. A smirk crossed his face. “Nice shorts,” he remarked. Her jean shorts and pink tank top contrasted with Junko’s gothic attire. Cortez turned back toward the tunnel. “I am surprised to see you here, Junko.” Cortez murmured softly. “He’s not coming, is he?” Cortez moaned gruffly under his breath.

“Yeah, it’s just the two of us.” Apricot walks beside Cortez and looks down at the darkness below. The deep darkness appeared cold and unwelcoming.

As Junko looks over Apricot’s shoulder, she places her hand on her back. “I just came for her. Don’t cross your lines.”

Cortez grunted, “Yeah. I figured as much, so Shiori is too busy or what?” Apricot’s suspicions about Cortez’s prior relationship with the group grew. Junko must have known him. In her cold eyes, there was a kind of fondness. Concerning Cortez’s words, they felt pained. Their relationship was like an old friendship. Although Apricot diverted herself, her attention cannot be diverted from the subject at hand.  She can wonder afterwards.

“No, he refused as expected. I take it he is still there?” Apricot asked.

Cortez does not avert his gaze. The man has not yet appeared, if that’s what you mean. There are tunnels everywhere. He could have escaped through another route, but I doubt he would bother. I shot him. It did not even phase him. We need Shiori’s entire group, hell, we need a damn army.”

She waited for Cortez to continue, but he remained silent. “A monster?” she asked, hoping for more information.

Silently, he nodded. Both hands were clenched. “Call Shiori,” Cortez growled, “I want to confront that asshole myself.”

Apricot drew the black slab phone from her front pocket and opened it with a click. “You know better Cortez. He is not coming,” Junko said.

Take the phone from Apricot. Cortez said, “I want to know for myself.” 

The phone rang briefly, then clicked. In his usual condescending tone, Shiori said, “Heh, the dog boy wants to talk to me.”

“I don’t have time for bullshit.” Cortez said. “I saw a man transform into a monster. He’s already killed several people.”

“Cortez, maybe this isn’t the job for us. We should call the police. Leave it in their hands.” Apricot suggested.

Shiori’s laughter can be heard over the phone. “That would not be smart Apricot. They would kill you for seeing it.”

“What!?” Apricot shouted.

“What you did not know? My dear, you have figured out anything of this nature was covered up by the Okabe government. No witnesses will be allowed for these spooky rumors.” Shiori pauses. Doggy boy, what exactly led you to the badlands? Is it the work of your traitorous father?”

“Shut up, you don’t know anything about my Dad,” Cortez yelled. “But yeah, that file he had is down there. It was a gang I was paying to watch over it for me. Heh, you met them Apricot. Remember those guys who kicked the crap out of me when I met you?”

“Seems to be a common occurrence for you.” Shiori gloated.

“Shiori.” Apricot chided.

Shiori’s stifled snicker reached through the receiver. “Be truthful Cortez, we both know you were not paying them to look over that file.”

“I did but anyway, the tall one with the black dreads is named Genova. He is their leader.” Cortez said turning his gaze towards Apricot. “He solved the riddles in my father’s work, apparently. I figured he was a meathead and could not figure stuff out like that.”

“So your drug lord boss has a hit out for you and you want our help?” Apricot drops her jaw. “I’m not interested in helping criminal dogs like you, Cortez. You made your own mess. Apricot, I suggest you do the same.”

“Shiori, please, I need your help!” Cortez begged.

Apricot furrowed her brow. “Shiori, this is a lead in the right direction. We should at least investigate it. We will deal with Cortez after.”

“I won’t be a lap dog for this man’s gang troubles. Fair well.”

“Shiori, don’t go. I need your help.” Cortez once again asked.

After a moment, Shiori said, “And you lack it.” A click signaled the end of the phone call.

“You didn’t mention you were in a gang!” Apricot yelled, grabbing Cortez’s arm. “What have you doing with a gang?”

His gaze fell toward the ground. “I had no other choice, my family, they needed the money. The gang… well, they helped me.”

“Do you sell drugs?” Apricot asked.

“I sell all kinds of things.” Cortez turned his back toward Apricot pulling away. “I will deal with it myself if you won’t help me.”

“How?” Apricot asked.

“I don’t know. I was hoping Shiori would help… he might not seem like it, but he is strong. I kind of figured he would not be around so I had an idea of my own. It would be a lot easier with you two. Junko, please help me.” Cortez said.

Junko stretched her posture. “I am listening.”

“I will help you too. But I am not happy with you. So what is this plan of yours?” Apricot asked.

Cortez pulled out a vile containing some kind of putty substance. “I got this, it’s called Lyiatris, and I use it to break into places. A dot of it can blow a lock off.” Cortez’s gaze shifted away from Apricot. “But this tube carries a lot more danger. I’ve got a cell phone and a burner with me. I need another. I need a few wires, any wires will do. From this, I can rig up a few bombs. Three. There’s an extensive tunnel down there. We can string bombs along it. Three of them, not too far apart, but fairly close together. When he is in the middle of them, use a group call to detonate them all. That should collapse the walls around him and trap him. We need kindling because we want him to burn.” Apricot grimaced as Cortez described the gory details of his plan. “I figure he’ll be unable to reform if he’s burned to ashes. Just like old troll legends.”

She nodded her head in agreement. “Why not just light him on fire?” Her stomach turned at how casually she came up with such a terrible idea.

“Well, trapping him would keep him stuck in the flames. So, he will die for sure.” Cortez said as he stares at the ground.

Junko looked at the tube. “Will it be strong enough to do that? Those walls are made of concrete,” she said aloud.

“I hope.” Cortez turned to look away. “I am not sure though. I will act as a bate. Have him chase me. So, what I need you two to do is wait here while I scavenge the parts.”

“You are not leaving. I don’t trust you, Cortez,” Junko said.

“Fine you two, go find some kindling and a cable for anything, as long as it is for an electronic. I can rig it up with that.” Cortez said resting his back against the concrete wall. “You only have a half an hour before I do it myself.”

Blood flowed down the corners of the tunnel. Apricot shuffled her feet to avoid the puddle of blood at the entrance to Genova’s “lair”. An irony smell filled the air, making her nauseous. There are pieces of torn flesh scattered about the room. As Cortez walked along the dark corridor, he shielded Apricot with his body. In the dimly lit room, the only source of light was a small sewer grate that projects light down. A red glow emanated from a set of eyes in the shadows. A low growl echoed through the empty concrete walls, “Your bravery to return Cortez and what an offering.”

“Something like that,” Cortez said as he walked. His body jerked against each step. “I want my father’s file back.”

Genova sat upon his throne exposing himself to the light. He had to duck down when he stood up to the ceiling. His grin reminded Apricot of a wolf’s face. “You’re joking.” Genova grabbed his gut and cackled. Isn’t it obvious to you the situation you are in?”

“I am not,” Cortez said as Genova takes a step forward. The sole of his hooved foot clopped on the floor. “Now where is it?”

When Apricot saw the face of the man from the grocery store, her knees began to tremble. She felt a burning sensation down her arm as her heart pounded. She whispered, “Was that man?” Genova interrupted her train of thought with a loud roar that morphed into a laugh.

“You dare to make demands of me?” he howled. “I will break your legs and make you watch as I rip your friend‘s skin off.” He raised both his hands to the light displaying a set of large bear-like claws as he chuckles. “Scream for me!” he yelled stomping his foot.

Cortez backed away from Genova yelling, “Run!” Apricot turned tail and scurried back into the dark tunnels. Apricot clutched her cellphone tightly. Upon pressing the button, the bombs would go off. It was a relief to run past the first bomb. Junko awaited her at the end of the hall. Cortez can be heard running close behind her as the stomping of hooves thundered toward her. She passed the second one and continued until she reached a green x on the floor marked with chalk.

Watching Cortez cross the final red line, she turned around. Behind him followed the beast. Clicking the microswitch, she hudled. Nothing happens. As she does it again, her hands tense on the controls. “What are you doing?” Cortez yelled.

Apricot yelled, “It’s not working.” Her vision blurred as her heart sunk deep into her chest. “Oh no!” she shrieked. As the purple glowing aura returned, she felt a burning sensation in her arm. She looks at Cortez facing the monster and said, “Wait…” Junko grunted.  Genova stops dead in his tracks. Genova lets out a pained howl. Bobbing back and forth, Cortez draws a knife from his side.

Apricot noticed Junko holding her hand out, her eyes white and rolled back behind her head. Genova’s veins pulsate as he grimaces. She reaches for her arm band and pulls out a single knife. Genova raised his arm high above Cortez’s head. The knife flew straight into Genova’s chest as Apricot prays that she is correct. A burst of wet smoke sent him flying backwards. With heavy breathing, he stares down Apricot and Cortez. Junko gasped, falling to the ground. She cried, “I can’t.”

Genova grabbed the silver knife and ripped it from his chest. It sizzled as he screamed out “It burns!“ Throwing the knife onto the ground, Genova retreated down the hall leaving a trail of blood behind him. Cortez stares rigidly into the darkness.

“Should we follow him?” Apricot murmured, her body trembling uncontrollably.

In response, Cortez drops to his knees and let out a long sigh. “I don’t think we should.” as he rasped his breath.

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

Blue Ash Crisis Chapter: 13

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter: 13

Falling Pieces

Apricot took her usual route to the morning train, her eyes heavy and her head foggy with sleep. There was heavy pedestrian traffic on the sunrise sidewalks, which are bordered by a wall of cyclists. She galumphs sleepily whilst mumbling to herself. “Heh, darling, you look nearly dead. A late night on the town?” A male voice asked. Turning her head, she saw a man in an elegant suit standing on the curb. The moment she recognized that coy smile on his face, she was startled to see Shiori. “You won’t be returning to school today. Come, we’ve got much to talk about.”

“This rich brat has another thing coming if he thinks he can order me around.” Apricot scoffed, “And why would I do such a thing?”

“Because I’ll make it worth your time. Now, now, darling, just get in my car.” Apricot sighed, feeling as if she had been getting into quite a few strange men’s cars lately. Still, she was curious enough. Worthwhile means a lot of things to a noble, and she must admit, he’s cute—and most importantly, he’s rich.

The seats in the car are more than comfortable. Her body curves were perfectly shaped, the material being some kind of combination of leather and vinyl. One might compare it to the feeling of lying on a cloud. Aside from the blacktops, the armrests are made of a clear material. As Apricot surveyed the luxury car, she murmured to herself, “It’s nice.”

“I suppose a commoner would find this impressive. However, I find it quite boring. It’s a little too flashy for my liking.” Shiori said. The irony was not lost on Apricot. “Hands and feet inside, my dear.” Shiori pressed a button on the dash and the doors swung down slowly. As he continues, he sighs heavily. “Yet how can you resist your mother’s flamboyance when she is so persistent?” Shiori mused as he shifted the car into drive. He let go of the steering wheel and looked at Apricot, letting the internal AI systems handle the situation. “I’m really frustrated with you, darling.”

Her brows furrowed. “What? Why? What did I do?” she asked.

Shiori dragged out “That,” trying to either be dramatic or find the appropriate phrase, “The thing, was a reliable informant. Those who live on the other side aren’t all enemies, Apricot. At least, not directly. I was in contact with that monster last night, the one you slew, about what was happening on the other side. Your actions have harmed the entire society.”

“Society?” Apricot barked. “What society?”

A cocked head accompanies Shiori as he bends forward. “You’re not the only one who hunts these creatures. As I recall, I had clarified that earlier. In fact, quite a few of us do that. I must admit, you were reckless when you started out.”

Apricot blushed. “Thank you for the compliment.”

Shiori rolled his eyes and said flatly, “You still are.” That had been his plan from the start she thought. How snobby. 

“That phantom almost killed me,” Apricot said.

Shiori looks up at the ceiling, relaxing into his chair as he said “So you say.” With crossed legs, he turns his head to one side and gazes directly at her.

“I was going to be ripped apart.” He simply sighed in response. “You weren’t there!” she replied. “You have no idea.”

“In his domain, you were reckless, as I said. You were a trespasser from that moment on. Imagine how offended you would be if someone entered your home and began asking you questions?” Apricot shrinks back into her seat. The girl lowers her chin in shame and plays with her fingers. To her, the creatures were horrible monsters, so she never considered whether they were good or evil. “Oh well, at least you can learn from your mistakes, no matter how grievous they are. From now on, you are my pet.” 

What a condescending way to address someone, Apricot thought to herself. Fists curling as she prepares to strike him for his vagrant disregard of her. “What the hell does that mean?” Apricot shouted, nearly jumping from her seat.

Shiori laughs, “It means you’ll do what I say. In addition to going to school and studying, you will be working with me at night. As someone of potential, you’ve attracted attention. By following the path you are on, you will attract the attention of others, even more than you already have.”

“How did you find out about that?” Apricot asked.

“I am a noble and keep track of persons of interest in regard to the Okabe family. I will keep you from getting into trouble. Consider me a friend of yours. The royal guard knows your name now. Did you know that? They have been keeping a close eye on you missy. The hell did you do to get that kind of attention?” Shiori scorned.

Apricot murmured. “It turns out my suspicions were correct.”

Apricot watched as Shiori raised his eyebrow, and his eyes hid something at that moment. Was he concerned? “And what would those be?” he asked.

Apricot pointedly said, “The nobles know about the phantoms.”

“Well, they are not ignorant. Yet, you continue to call them phantoms. Does that name have any significance or is it just shorthand you adopted?” Shiori chuckled as Apricot shook her head. “Of course, I have secrets as well.”

“Why would I work with you?”, Apricot asked as she turned her attention to the window. Old buildings surrounded them. Though it was probably less than a decade old, she assumed the locals would refer to it as an ancient part of the city.

“First of all, I’ll pay you…hmm…hmm, what is a journalist’s salary? About eight thousand marks per job, I guess. And bonuses if I think you deserve them.” Apricot nearly fell out of her chair when she heard that number. It was more than she could have hoped for after laboring for months.

Apricot said, “That’s over six figures a year.”

Shiori looked unamused. “Girl, accept it. I’m not inclined to negotiate.”

“No no. That’s fine.” Apricot raised both hands.

“Now that that is settled, it’s time for you to meet the rest of society.” Shiori turned his head and placed his legs on the steering wheel.

Apricot feels ashamed to have been so easily purchased. She said, “You know, you’re a right ass.”

“Darling, I can afford that opinion,” Shiori replied.

Dusty old antiques and trinkets surround the market tent. As she walked through the inner city labyrinth, Apricot was unsure about her choice, but after measuring Shiori, she knew he wasn’t dangerous. When she looked at the displayed goods, it was difficult for her to decide if they were junk or if they were valuable. Either way, they were a testimony to time. The objects are covered in dust and a layer of patina that appeared to be growing on them. Ancient artifacts and old technology created a style all their own. As if by a process of overgrowth, the two have merged. “Don’t forget this location, darling.”

“What is this place?” She asked, her voice filled with confusion. Despite everything appearing to be junk, she was almost certain they held substantial value. She resisted the urge to touch them for fear of damaging them.

It’s a friend’s place, and if he likes you, it’ll be yours too. You might be able to get him if you show a little more cleavage.” Apricot blushes, feeling the sudden urge to switch shirts. With a casual pluck, Shiori rings a bell. Unseen behind a pair of curtains, a man emerges with gray hair concealed by a black ushanka.

He stretched out his arms toward Shiori and said, “Hello, my friend.” His gaze briefly turned to Apricot. “And who is this?” The man eagerly inquired. “Come here, girl.”

In response, Apricot glanced at Shiori, who gave a smirk and lowered his forehead while raising his eyebrows in an expression that said, “Don’t be rude.” As a result, Apricot walked toward the strange man. Wrapping his arms around her, he embraced her. His eyes are deep brown and inquisitive, probing into the very core of her being. “Is this the one everyone talks about?”

Apricot stepped out from under his grasp and said, “I don’t believe I am.”

“She may well be. How about showing her around? Give her special treatment.” He dropped a stack of cerulean bills on the table in an unassuming yet commanding tone. Once upon a time, Uchella attempted to gain access to Castor’s banks, but that is a distant memory now.

Aprit glanced back at Shiori, who is leaning against a painted black metal pole in the tent. “What do you mean by special treatment?”

“That dreadful pistol of yours is far too loud. Additionally, it is illegal, and that silver pipe you got is smart, but you need a real weapon.” Shiori replied, looking up toward the sky.

“How the hell did you know about that!?” Apricot screams.

Shiori laughed loudly. “I told you, I keep an eye on subjects of interest. You seem so shocked.” The idea of Shiori “watching” is bothersome, to say the least. It also implied that others might be watching closely as well.

“Introductions! Darling, this is Harjal, think of him as your outfitter. Harjal, this adorable darling is Apricot. She is a student journalist. She tells everyone that, more than once. I’ll save her the trouble.” Shiori’s winked. That really grinded her gears. “Pity the girl’s entire identity is that ridiculous trope.”

“I am standing right here!” Apricot thought to herself. “And I do not say that… that often.” A faint blush covered her cheeks as she realized Shiori was right but he didn’t have to be so direct.

“Fair enough. Welcome, Miss Apricot. Let’s find you something worth Shiori’s patronage.” Harjal grasped Apricot’s arm as he led her into the back. The room is full of weapons. In barrels, spears are stacked. There are swords hung everywhere. There are various kinds of firearms, some of which have long chains of bullets. Apricot couldn’t name half of the weapons, but she knows when she is looking at something highly illegal. “Pick your poison, Missy,” said Harjal. “I recommend sticking with silver. Shiori believes it kills them.”

Apricot searches the lanes like she is in some sort of post-apocalyptic grocery store. She had a hard time grasping the situation. “You’re not planning to kill me, are you?”

“Only if you have loose lips,” Harjal replied. “I do the service. One your group needs. There is no discrimination against the clients I serve. People from many walks of life use my services. You may be surprised to learn how many people use them. In any case, I stay silent. We are the closest of friends if you stay silent too.”

Apricot saw several throwing stars. They initially fascinate her since they remind her of a ninja, but she lacked the skills and time to master them. Her eye caught one of the short blades. Her hand easily grasped it when she gave it a full grip. However, the length did not appeal to her.

“You seem to know what you are looking for,” Harjal commented.

Nodding, Apricot runs her finger along the edge of a knife. “I used to fence, so that might explain it. Are you a member of the society?”

“The society? I don’t have a clue what you are talking about?” Either he was acting dumb or he wasn’t. Apricot really couldn’t tell which. A whip crossed her eye, but that was too stereotypical for a girl. The mere thought of holding such a weapon would make her feel embarrassed. Including, she isn’t hunting vampires. She notices a decorative straight blade across the room. An opening in the tent’s roof allows light to shine on the blade as if it was made for her. She lifted it by the handle. “It’s long,” she thought. After slashing the blade a few times, she found it most convenient. The handle is a simple cross guard that’s easily concealed. She turned to Harjal and said, “This one.”

“That’s a very useful little weapon. It doesn’t look unattractive either. I bought it from a sword maker in Eindzaal. I’ll throw in these too.” he said, flinging down a black armband with several throwing knives hidden inside it. “You can wear that under your shirt. They are pure silver,” he added. “These babies could solve problems distantly. You wouldn’t even need to get up close to them. It would be quiet too, if you hit your target. Miss and you’ll hear metal clanking, so don’t do that.”

Shiori glanced at Apricot as she exited. “Took long enough. Got what you need?” Apricot nodded, holding up the blade. “I see. You went with a sword. At least you have taste. I guess we better get moving. The Spookhouse is about to open. It’s almost noon.”

The “Spookhouse” is dimly lit, nearly empty, aside from a bartender and a few staff members chatting. Apricot was guided through the empty bar by Shiori’s hand on her back. “This, my darling, is the Spookhouse. Many of the patrons here are well informed about what is happening in Blue Ash. Most importantly, I will always be here as I own the business. You can think of this as the resistance’s headquarters against the phantoms. Our efforts have been tireless in securing this refuge. Not even the Okabes can reach us here. Not without starting an international dispute between the clans. You are therefore free to express yourself here. Upon entering, we will let you know if a stranger is present.”

“You must be away from the Okabe family for some reason,” Apricot suggested.

He strokes his chin. “If you have to ask, then you’ll never know.” He turns to a woman with long black hair and said, “No point in explaining. Just a moment, dear. I have some business to attend to. Have a seat. I think you will find Togashi to be a wonderful conversationalist.”

Apricot walks toward the bar as instructed. In a stylish waiter suit, a man polishes a glass. With his grin, he looks almost like a cat. White bleached hair adorns his head, accentuating his polished blue eyes. “Hello. How do you say, a friend of Shiori’s?” he asked with a thick accent from another country she could not place. How odd. The man appears to be of Uchellan descent. Apricot nodded while she plopped down on a bar stool, resting her arms on the long stretch of polished wood. “Care for a drink, yes?”

“Just a glass of water would be nice.” Apricot said. “So you‘re Togashi?”

Taking a glass, he walked over to a black slate polished fridge. “Indeed, I am.”

“Where did you get your accent?” Apricot felt prehension as the words left her mouth. Was it insulting to ask where an accent came from? His eye upturns towards her as that sly cat-like grin grew.  “I meant nothing by it.”

“No my dear.  How you say, it is fine.” Taking a blue bottle from the fridge, he pops the cap off and pours a decent amount into the glass, topping it off with a few rocks of ice. “I hope you don’t mind the ice. But you are Castor are you not?”

Apricot half-smiled some. “Oh, how could you tell?”

“No Uchellan would have such fair skin.” Apricot felt a slight blush coming on. “I am not the native of Uchella. I hail from Sarlimar. My father is Uchella but my mother is an Estarius.”

“Wow, how did you end up back in Uchella?” Apricot asked while Togashi slides the glass towards her. 

Togashi smirked. “All the questions are we, dear. Ah, I see, I know you. You must be Apricot, the reporter girl. Am I correct, no?”

Apricot blushes. “I am, but how did you know my name?”

“You are, how do I say this, topic of interest around these parts. However, to answer your question I am chemist and in Sarlimar chemistry viewed as witchcraft, you may know. Sadly, mother and father were murdered by locals. They viewed my father‘s sciences as weapon of evil. I escaped attack. Left to the world as teen-aged adult, I searched for family name. I traveled UIchella and accepted by family. Togashi Siochiro, not famous house but servant house. Still it’s life more than I could have dreamed having in Estarius.”

“I had no clue. Your story is amazing. Would you mind if I wrote an,” Apricot is swiftly cut off by Togashi’s white-gloved hand.

Raising his index finger, he shakes his head. “Not the slightest words. I tell you why! I am vassal of Lord Kinjo. My mission is to protect him. Any address of me will bring, unwanted attention to my Lord. So no, no interview, no story, no topic of interest.”

The tug on Apricot’s shirt nearly caused her to fall out of her seat. When she turned her head, she saw a raven-haired boy of about eight or nine years old looking up at her. “Hey Miss!” he shouted. “You’re Apricot, aren’t you?”

“Ah, who are you?” Apricot asked a little baffled.

His grin spread across his face. “It took me a while to research you. I’m Akagi. I’m probably the finest hacker in Okabi, perhaps even the world.” He beamed with pride. “By the way, I suggest that you tape your webcam,” he adds. “Your computer is extremely vulnerable. By the way, heh, do you always sleep nude?”

“What?!” Apricot shouted. Apricot felt violated by a young deviant, no less.

As Shiori entered the bar, he yelled, “Akagi, leave her alone, and he is only joking. Go play some video games or something. It’s time for the adults to talk.”

Furrowing his brow, Akagi stares at the ground. “I was just introducing myself,” he said. “Gee, Shiori, why are you being such a jerk?”

Shiori points to the back and said, “Go.”

The young hacker sighs. “You know I will just listen to you anyway using your cell phone.” As Akagi walked out the back door, he smiled smugly.

“I left it in my office.” Shiori smiles. Akagi stamps his foot, leaving. “Let’s talk business now, now that the little terror is gone,” he said.

“So, what now Shiori?” Apricot sip’s her water and looked into his calm face.

“You addressed me by my name. I believe for the first time,” Shiori replied warmly. Shiori begins, “Right now, you can rest. We need to decide what to do next. There is no clear answer. It seems we need to look into this further. Could you please explain why you chose this path? You know my biggest secret. I am trying to make sense of these strange events.”

She felt a lump growing in her throat. However, she was comfortable all the same. Apricot described the events that led up to her meeting Shiori. Initially, he appeared distant, but as the conversation progressed, he became more interested. Even though it seemed like Togashi wasn’t listening, he too seemed to be interested when she told them about the attack at her house. She left out the reaper and Cortez in her story.

As Shiori drummed his fingers, he said, “That’s an interesting story.”

“It looks like you’ve got a pretty good network going on. Who else is involved?” Apricot inquired.

Shiori pauses for a moment of reflection. He takes a deep breath and glances at Togashi who nods in agreement. “I’m not quite sure,” he admits. “There are others who aren’t in my network. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t very good. I was hesitant to pursue you at first because I thought that you would soon die. But I was proved wrong. When did you discover Apricot?” the bartender smirked.

“About the time she broke into East Way Park. You can thank Akagi for notifying Shiori of your wandering.” Togashi said. “There is how you say a fondness for you around these parts.”

Shiori nodded in agreement. “You’re right,” he said. “Our team has been watching and protecting you for quite some time. When you were recorded by their surveillance systems, we have disrupted the police’s operations frequently, so they couldn’t collect data about you.”

Apricot sighed. “It’s a lot to take in, but I’m glad someone has my back.”

“Truly, it is a two-edged sword. While it may be comforting to know someone is protecting you, it does mean that we have violated your sense of privacy. I apologize for that. I had to know if I could trust you.” Shiori paused. “I do by the way.”

Apricot rocked her head in a slight nod. “Now, when you say not all of them are good, do you mean they work with the phantoms?”

“No, I don’t think so. At least, that’s not my impression. A lot of them are just killers. It is a way for them to live out their fantasies. Sickos. However, there is one insane person. That person is Natsukawa Okabe. A dirty, little-known secret of the Okabe family. As well as being a serial killer, he also deals with phantoms. Basically kills everything that comes his way. Sincerely, he scares the hell out of me.” Shiori said grimacing. “They should really put him down. It’s no life to live as a mad dog.”

Togashi laughed “So we call phantoms now?”

“Can you come up with a better name for them?” Shiori laughed. “We will count it as Apricot’s first contribution. She is our shorthand maiden.”

Apricot blushed at being called a maiden. Apricot replied sheepishly, “I know someone who knows something about the phantoms too.” Shiori raised an eyebrow at this. “Well, sort of. Honestly, I am not sure. I have no idea what’s going on. He probably has no idea as well. I’m sure something terrible will happen if we don’t stop it. The more information we can gather, the faster we can solve the problem. I also believe he is trustworthy though.”

Nodding his head, Shiori continued. “All right, let’s find this friend of yours. With their help, perhaps we can figure something out.”

Only a single wall light illuminates the alleyway. Apricot leans against the brick wall while Shiori sits on top of the dumpster. A shadow emerges from down the alleyway. Cortez said, “Hey. You had something to talk about?”

“It’s been a while,” Shiori said, waving. “I didn’t realize you meant him, Apricot.”

Shiori gazed at Cortez as he paused in his stride. “Oh shit, what is he doing here?” he yelled, cutting the air with his arm.

A little surprised by Cortez’s reaction, Apricot said, “Oh, you both know each other.”

“Sort of,” Shiori added.

“What are you doing hanging out with noble scum?” Cortez yelled.

“Excuse me!” Apricot erupted.

Shiori laughed as he slapped the top of the dumpster with his gloved hand. “Listen to the bark of the common dog.”

“Shut up!” Cortez shouted. “Apricot, if you expect me to tell him anything, you’re crazy!”

“What? What is going on?” Apricot asked utterly confused.

“He is a user Apricot. In no way does he care about us. Shiori isn’t like us!” Cortez exclaimed. “He thinks of us as his puppets. He flashes his money around like it’s something special. He lives above everyone else, but gives us common folk table scraps.”

“It is the right place for impure muts like you. Cortez, you should be glad the ruling families paid blood for this land.” Shiori replied unflinchingly. As Cortez approached Shiori, he stared down at him atop the dumpster.

“Our families fought in your wars!” Cortez replied, causing Shiori to laugh.

“The masses are nothing more than animals.” Cortez grabbed Shiori’s leg and pulled him off the rubbish bin. Shiori stumbled and fell to the ground. “Is the dog about to bite me?” Shiori scoffed as he stood up.

“You’ll regret that!” Cortez took a swing at Shiori only to find his fist in the grasp of the metal claw. Between them stood the reaper who materialized out of nowhere. It squeezed down on him causing him to scream in pain.

“Thee fools, wherefore doth thee speaketh such ills for each other?  Doth thee not see that thee art allies?  Cease thy combat at once.” The reaper said throwing Cortez back. Shiori’s jaw dropped in disbelief. As the reaper turned to face Apricot, he asked, “Haven’t thee desired a meeting with me, Apricot?”

“Do you know this freak?” Cortez backed away with his arms raised.

“How shameful?” The reaper grunted. “Cortez, lay down thy guard.  Thee art mine ally.  I seek not to harm thee.”

The grin spread across Shiori’s face. He replied, “So you finally decided to show yourself to us. Why didn’t you tell me you knew claw fingers? It seems like you are allying with us. Please prove it.”

“Claw fingers? This yond what they art calling me?” He remarked toward Shiori before turning his gaze toward Apricot. “I cameth to giveth thee a treasure in the form of knowledge. Hark, thither is much to be done. Thee art hunting the phantoms and has’t done well so far but thou has’t been doing so without direction. Blind, in the dark. Allow me to pardon your burden. The phantoms has’t cometh for thy world. Thither art people assisting them for their own ends.” He said, turning toward Cortez.

“Coequal now these phantoms buildeth an army. Thither art warlords leading the phantoms through the threshold. Tis not with their own power, however. Thither art witches that direct these beings. They assist the phantoms crossing ov’r from the other side. Tis thee that must cease those doing so. The Okabe family hath refused the calleth and art not worthy to carryeth out their duty to cease this.” The Reaper slowly approaches Shiori.

“Tis by their meddling the phantoms entered this world as you must know. In thy words the “Blue Ash Crisis” causes all this. A passage between their world and yours wast hath opened and nev’r closed. Now the phantoms lay in between worlds, as ghosts until they art manifest as flesh.”

“You want us to kill people?” Cortez asked.

“Sadly, if ‘t be true, that is what must beest done.”

“How do we know we can trust you?” Shiori wondered.

“Prove me wrong. If ‘t be true I has’t lied then I must not beest trusted. But if ‘t be true I has’t given truth than thou has’t no choice but to trust me.”

“Why reveal yourself now?” Apricot was frightened by what he was suggesting.

“Time is short. I cannot sustain the situation much longer. If ‘t be true something is not done all wilt beest lost and in the hands of careless ones who seek to maketh a new world and consume this one. This cannot beest allowed. I seek to returneth home myself. I cannot doth so until either this world is restored or destroyed. I seek to save this world, don’t thee?”

Shiori pondered, “So these phantoms, where do they come from?”

“The phantoms art the original inhabitants of the world ere this one. Those gents cursed themselves and destroyed their world. At which hour the new world wast born all who hath lived in the fusty one wast sealed. Now, these beasts seek to devour this one and taketh this world for their own. I tire, I must leaveth thee now. At the fusty shrine on the hill thee wilt findeth me. Thither I rest, please hie time is short.”

At this, the reaper ascends into the sky like a shooting star disappearing behind the buildings. “What do we do now?” Cortez inquired.

“We work together,” Apricot said softly.

Snarling, Cortez turned his back and walked out of the alleyway. Shiori stared at the starry night sky. “Apricot.”

“Yeah,” she replied distantly.

“Cortez is a coward. At the first sign of trouble, he will run. Remember that.” She turned to look over at Shiori who too is walking in the other direction out of the alleyway. She sighed staring up at the sky wondering what exactly is about to unfold.

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 12

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 12

Rumble Stadium

A number of books line the walls behind the graying diplomat in the redwood study, while the lighting competes with the cool winter blues from the large window. Across from Apricot, the elder sat at an expansive desk. Looking at the questions in her notepad, she identifies the most pertinent ones. “Thank you again, Lord Ietsuna, for agreeing to be interviewed.”

He was a man of impressive size, dressed in military fatigues. A row of medals ran down the center of his chest, and pins decorated the collar of his shirt. A large military cap mostly hid his snowy white hair. Other than a pair of thin strips above his lips, he is clean-shaven. “My pleasure, you have a very impressive portfolio. You have achieved so much at such a young age. You may call me Tetsuro.” he says gruffly. That is not an option Apricot will accept. Calling a Lord by their first name is too uncomfortable for her. Especially one as powerful as this man. That is why she rarely blurred the line between the two. She would resign all her statements and not mention his name at all in order to avoid such embarrassment.

As she looks at her notes one last time, Apricot bows her head in gratitude. “Can you clarify what your role is as the Ietsuna clan’s representative?”

While Lord Ietsuna bobbed his head, a bubbly smile spread across his lips. It appeared that this man was in a cheerful mood, Apricot wrote. “I present the Okabe clan’s perspective to the Ietsuna clan. Having embraced the western world, the Okabe clans require greater respect. Hence my presence. I oversee the modernization of Okabe and make sure it remains distinctively Uchellan. In a secondary capacity, I assess military movements and Uchellan reactions to those movements.”

As she asked such an absurd question, Apricot laughed inwardly, raising Lord Iestuna’s eyebrows. Apricot immediately returned to her previous professional demeanor. “For any foreign readers, I was wondering how the Ietsuna clan is connected to the other clans of Uchella.”

The posture of his body stiffens as he grins. “We are Uchellan’s true rulers. Other clans, such as the Okabe, fall under the Iestuna clan. The Ietsuna clan has been responsible for maintaining peace between warring states since the Uchella agreement. Emperor Uchella Ietsuna led a most glorious campaign to conquer all the lands of the Empire five hundred years ago. Instead of destroying the clans, he formed a coalition to end the age of war. With the advance of the west, they would soon reach the eastern shores, bringing conquering armies with them. Thus, we have maintained our hegemony in the world. I hope you do not take offense, but we are extremely proud of our people. We treasure our traditions.”

Apricot bowed her head in respect. She raised her head and continued. “I think that’s a fine response. Pride in one’s ethnicity is a good thing. We become better people when we do that.” Her next series of questions make her uncomfortable. She breathes deeply and speaks. “I was wondering if you might be able to speak with me about the tension between Uchella and Arslana. According to the Sotaro clans, Kubebna ships have been passing through their waters to reach the demilitarized zone. How accurate are these claims?”

“I’ve heard the rumors as well. I believe them. Kubebna, Stezyl, and Tvekala have positioned themselves as possible aggressors in Uchellan waters. As you may already be aware, we have had several naval standoffs. A military alliance has been formed between Akiyama, Iori, Kinjo, and Sotaro in the event that Arslana escalates the situation. As of now, the Tatsumi and Okabe families have not gotten involved. In contrast, Armaryol and Tortau have been moving vessels through western waters. I’m afraid we’ll have to begin military operations against the Aristocracies of Arslana if this trend continues. Almost certainly, the Uchellan Empire would unite to defend her lands if that were to happen.” The smile that had once been so bright was now fading. Although it wasn’t much, Apricot noticed. 

Apricot diligently wrote his words. She glanced up from her page. “Off the record, just out of curiosity between us. What do the Ietsuna believe?”

The man smirked as he sat back in the large padded chair. “That’s intuitive of you to notice that I haven’t offered you that. You can record this. Our lands should not be invaded, and our support for the Empire is unwavering; we are the Empire. While they are small and easy to deal with, the northern clans are still our people. Uchella, the ancient dragon, will awaken if Arslana thinks they will violate our sovereignty.”

Slowly, Apricot nodded. “What about Castor?” Apricots asked. “Would the Uchellan Empire make an alliance with Castor?”

“No. To maintain our borders, we do not need invitations from other countries. And we don’t want them either.” He asserted firmly.

“I suppose you feel the same way about Estarus.” Apricot replied.

Lord Ietsuna nodded toward her in a measured manner. “Estarus is a peculiar case,” he said. “We have an agreement of non-indulgence. We remain on our lands and they remain on theirs. This is what we prefer. We do things our way.”

“So, what are your thoughts on Okabe’s robust immigration policy?” she inquired, no longer paying attention to her notes.

Ietsuna’s eyes changed, and he seemed to be filled with a positive light. As he smiled warmly, he said, “I am proud of Okabe’s openness to foreigners. Their presence makes our community more colorful. Discovering novel things requires fresh eyes. As long as it stays in Okabe, I don’t see anything wrong with this experiment.” 

She extended a handshake to him, which he warmly accepted. “I really appreciate you taking the time.” She said. “I think that’s all I need to ask. Is there anything you would like me to strike out?” Apricot asked the man as she presented her notes. Normally, she would not do such a thing, but a man in this position could easily ruin her family. Having examined the pad, he gives it back to Apricot.

“This is fine with me. Journalists rarely feel any responsibility toward the subjects they interview these days. They’re more inclined to go for big scoops than the truth.”

Apricot replied, “I try my best.”

This is how Apricot’s life continued. After meeting those strange men, her life appeared to have returned to something reasonable, ordinary, and completely free of curiosity. After class, she headed to the gym and exercised, then returned home to prepare essays and finish her studies. A few times a week, she conducted a casual interview with a member of the community when she had investigations to perform. The interviewees were usually government officials or local celebrities. On weekends, she spent time with her friends. Since then, several months have passed.

After the sun had set, however, in the evening…

A strong smell of mildew and dust emanated from the abandoned building. Apricot emerged from the hall into a ruined auditorium. The stadium was littered with torn-up chairs and bleachers covered in layers of dust. The stage was adorned with a few props that were leftover from whatever was held before the shutdown. A gray-scale humanoid with wings and a horn that grew from the front of his head and sat atop a splintered piano. Apricot thought he looked gargoyle-like. A starry night sky could be seen through the open, destroyed ceiling of the room. “So we finally meet,” he said in a deep voice, rising from his stance. 

“I’m glad the reports were true about you.” She pulled a pistol from her side and replied, “I can talk to you.”

The creature snorted at her in response. “I am different from my peers.” He roared so loudly that the wooden bleachers burst into fragments. Apricot veered to the side just in time to avoid being directly hit by the blast. Several pieces of wood, however, cut her arm partially. “Yes, you are pretty fast, aren’t you?” Apricot looked down at the rubies that gushed across her skin, cascading down her arm. An iron odor filled the air. With Apricot clearly wounded, the gargoyle grinned proudly, “But it’s not fast enough.”

“It’s nothing devil,” Apricot growled, looking away from her arm. “Before I kill you, tell me something.”

“The hunter of my kin seeks an audience with me. Child, I am a lord of vengeful spirits! Why should you have this privilege?” he asked.

As Apricot walked down the aisle of the auditorium. “This can turn out either way. It can go peacefully, or it can become brutal.”

As Apricot neared, the creature opened his wings and cried, “I prefer the second.” She dove to her side and pulled the trigger, shooting precisely in mid-air. After impact, the bullet fizzles as it burns into the creature’s skin like acid. “It burns!” he shrieked. 

Apricot snarled, “Silver bullet,” as the monster tumbled through rows of benches. The bleachers covered his body in splinters as he arose from the ground, grasping at his arm. He ripped at the injured arm with a roar. The wet bursts caused his skin to pop, revealing the muscle beneath as the tendons thinned. A torrent of blood poured from the limb after he severed his arm. Apricot winced at the sight of blood. He flung his useless part to the ground. As Apricot looked at the maimed creature, she remarked, “That is dedication.” The creature looked surprised by her comment. “What is your purpose here?” Apricot asked.

From across the room, laughter echoed as his gaze engulfed her. When he took a step forward, his blood flowed to the ground in measured beats. “We’ve been here a long time,” he said. “The wait was long. We came first. The intrusion came from you. Now, our world must unite with yours. As they merge, everyone will be able to see the real world.” As he approached, Apricot pointed her gun at him.

“Sure,” Apricot replied as she squeezed the trigger. When the monster flicked its arm, an invisible force flung the gun out of her grasp. With his drooling fangs out, he charged at her in a fury. A vicious slash comes from his clawed hand, forcing Apricot back a step. The nails on his claws barely missed her chest as she backed away from him. She pulled a baton from her side and struck the creature in the face. Similar to Shiori’s rod, a burn appeared on its face. She tried to strike the monster again with the baton, but it grabbed it instead. Shivering, he gripped the rod in his hand. He ripped the smoking baton from her grasp, then threw it away.

“Even silver can’t save you, girl,” he growled, spreading his fangs as he opened his jaws and lunged for her throat. As her hand glistens purple with fire, she punched the creature. Besides shattering the creature’s spine, the flames burned through its stomach. Apricot extended her arm and cut its upper body in half. Within a second, the monster was divided into two halves. She watched the creature disappear into the open air, leaving no trace of its existence behind.

With her teeth clenched, Apricot breathes hard. She looked down at the ground with wide, furrowed eyes. The sound of clapping on the other side of the room made her sigh and think, “Not tonight.” She felt a shiver run down her spine.

Her head snapped rapidly when the clapping man emerged from the shadows, and a familiar voice called out, “I thought you were a goner. It has been a while, reporter girl.”

She was drawn to the man’s shabby appearance. He is immediately recognizable to her. “Cortez?” Images of the train ride flow through her mind. The alley where he spat blood. She remembers the camera he gave her, too.

“Yeah, you remembered me this time.” Cortez laughed. “I didn’t think you were a mage, but look at you. There’s more to you than meets the eye.” He jumped off the stage and walked to the bleachers. “So, you handled everything yourself,” he exclaimed. “Heh, wow. Never would have guessed you were capable. I assume you have done this before. At least experienced enough to bring silver.”

“Do you know about all this?” Apricot asked, puzzled.

“No, not really. To be honest, I probably do as much as you do. Come on, let’s grab a bite, shall we? Is that alright with you?” replied Cortez. Apricot was thrown into an ocean of confusion. His audacity, acting as if they were friends. Of all times, too.

“What are you crazy?” Apricot shouted.

A sigh escaped Cortez’s lips. “No, I am hungry. After that fight, I’m sure you are, too.”

Despite Apricot’s indignation, Cortez was right. Apricot was hungry, and the idea sounded intriguing, to say the least. “Sure, whatever,” she replied.

“Yes, I have a place where we can eat and it is private, too.”

There is a little smoke in the room, and the floor is black and white tiled. The diner is decorated with red and white booths and black tables. To Apricot, it was a strange place. It seemed as if the people sitting around were shady. Even the waitress was wearing a low-cut uniform implied she was a lady of the night. “What kind of place is this?” Apricot inquired.

“Heh, a booth where we can talk and no one cares,” he said, his head resting against the cold window. “I am curious how long you have, you know, worked at it?”

Apricot made sure nobody was paying attention by looking around the room. “For a few months. Around the time I met you.” She shrugged. “I picked up a couple of tricks, but I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“So, how did you do it?” Cortez whispered, leaning closer. Apricot frowned, furrowing her brow. “The thing with the fire. Can you tell me how you did it? Could you show me?”

Apricot shrugged. “I can only do it when those things get close to me. I don’t know how it works. The first time it happened, I nearly died. It kind of clicked after I hunted those things. I’ve killed twelve, well, thirteen tonight.”

“Hmm, you’re pretty tough, right?” he replied. “I had not met any other girls this brave. So what makes you do it?” Cortez asked.

Putting her hand up, Apricot paused. “Wait a minute. I have a few questions of my own. I’m wondering how you know such things.”

“Well, if you insist.” Cortez rolled his eyes.

She lowered her gaze. “Yes, I do. I want to know who I am dealing with.”

“Okay, so this city is pretty shady. Right, so my father was a cop. Great guy. He was an investigator with the SDP. A very smart man whom I respected a lot. Probably about a year ago, maybe closer to two. Like he had this case dragging on. Something about internal corruption among nobles. Apparently, they were kidnapping kids for sacrifice rituals around town. He gets called out one day to respond to an emergency. At the mall, someone had become a gunman. They dispatched my dad and other officers to deal with the situation. The active-shooter got away, but my dad got shot in the face.” said Cortez, gnashing his teeth. 

“I am sorry.”

She could see Cortez rolling his eyes. “Save it; I am not done yet. In case of his death, my dad wanted me to keep his records hidden. When the old man came knocking in uniform, I knew dad was dead or gone. Under the floorboards, I tucked his file away. When the police searched for it, they almost destroyed our home. They really wanted it. He told me to burn it. But I didn’t. I looked through it. It contained many horrible things. Little girls with their bodies chopped up like they were in a butcher shop. The floor was soaked in blood. Unending reports of monsters. Okabe’s are to blame. After I got some balls right, I looked for a temple in that area. I found a few scattered around the city in unexpected places.”

Apricot raised her soda to her mouth and sipped out of the long straw. She couldn’t take her eyes off Cortez. “Yeah, well, I found one.” he continued. “In the industrial district, I guess. Man, it was just like any other temple. So, while I’m walking around this temple, I notice it was empty, and it really is an abandoned temple with no groundskeepers or anything. I had the feeling that I was being watched the whole time. Suddenly, something hideous came from the shadows. This was like some type of rat dog creature. It had a big mouth, like half its body.”

“Made of shadows?” Apricot added in a dull tone.

Cortez choked. “Yeah, you saw one too?”

Apricot nodded. “In my kid brother’s room.”

“Shit. “ Cortez’s breathing rasped. “I grabbed anything I could find. A silver rod was hanging from the wall. After striking it, it exploded into dust. I rushed out of there in a flash. I figured there were more of them, but didn’t want to find out. I did a little more digging and discovered there are places around the city where people who know about this congregate. This is one of those places. It’s safe here, and people respect each other enough to keep out of each other’s business. Like all these stories about terrorists, they’re all lies. No bombs, no chemicals. This stuff’s been carrying on for years. And they keep happening. There’s a panic brewing on, and I feel like something big is about to happen.”

“I have felt the same way, too. So what now?” Apricot asked.

On this issue, Cortez remained silent. Outside, a light drizzle fell against the window. He stretched his arms and his back. “Hell if I knew. Keep in touch. After all that, I feel a little uneasy myself.” Cortez said. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulls out a wad of marks, leaving it on the table. “You be careful. If you need help, you know where to find me. Every morning, the train still rolls in.” Apricot nodded as he left the diner. As she sipped her soda, Apricot muses on what she heard just now.

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Chino’s Story

Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis

“This is an inspiring entry. We at Eerie Truths Monthly receive a fair number of letters from aspiring informants. Usually, they deal with a variety of subjects, from aliens to cryptids, and even sometimes government conspiracies. Last week, we received a letter from Chino Tokuma, who claims to have been involved in a secret project that led to the Blue Ash Crisis.”

Apricot skimmed the article and concluded that it was mostly opinion. There are a lot of sensitive topics in Chino Tokuma’s letter, but even Eerie Truths avoided going into them. Apricot gently brushed the magazine from her lap and headed to the hallway to get a directory. With a little searching, she found Tokuma’s address. “What were you on about, Shiori?” she said to herself as she penned the address on a legal pad.

A few children were playing in the alleyway next to Apricot. Yhanjo proved to be an enjoyable, quiet urban neighborhood. She had always considered the inner city to be devoid of nature, so the sight of plants spruced up in several houses was a welcome sight. There is so much concrete and so little green space in cities like this. However, this area was stunning. So much foliage surrounded brick apartments that it appears to grow naturally from the walls.

From the other side of the road, a stream echoes. Apricot smirked as she saw 1514 Dujho street’s black cast-iron fence. The address is a few years old. She hoped this remained as Chino’s current house. She hiked up the concrete stoop and knocked on Chino’s forest green door. The door opened a few moments later, revealing a mature Uchellan woman. Apricot couldn’t place her age despite graying hair and crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. In a blue button-up shirt and blond slacks, she looked cheerful. “Hello dear, is there anything I can help you with?”

Apricot bowed her head. “My name is Apricot Signa. Currently, I’m a student journalist. Your story about what happened during the crisis fascinated me.” Apricot tried her best to sound professional. “I was wondering if you would mind doing a follow-up with me.”

Chino smiled half-heartedly. “Come in.” When Apricot stepped onto Chino’s finely polished hardwood floors, her Uchellan heritage was on full display. The low black furniture with mats, the lighting is soft and the tray planters are attractive. All the marks of a traditional Uchellan. Apricot followed Chino through a narrow hallway to sit at a small table in a much larger living room. “I’ll make us some tea,” Chino said.

“Thank you, I would much appreciate that,” Apricot replied as Chino left down the narrow hall. The experience of drinking tea with an elderly Uchellan brought Apricot a fair amount of distress. While she tried to recall the proper etiquette for drinking tea, she couldn’t remember any of it. Uchella’s mannerisms were lost on her being a foreigner and all. She worried Tokuma would perceive her as a “galijoh,” a derogatory term in Uchellan for a careless overstayer.

Apricot put her knees together as Chino returned with a plate of hot tea. She is seated so her rear just touches her feet. While bowing, she tried to hide the fact that she has forgotten most of the conventions of tea drinking, which are very important to the local culture. Chino chuckled. “My dear, you are an immigrant. Are you not?” Apricot blushed sheepishly. She continued, “With a name like Signa, I could expect nothing less. My children don’t even seem to have learned the old way of doing things. I appreciate your effort, though. Now sit down as a modern lady.”

Apricot’s body initially felt tense, but she soon relaxed. At the back of her mind, she felt it disrespectful. “Your home is so beautifully decorated, Miss Tokuma.”

“Flattering an old lady like me will not get you anywhere. You develop a little intuition when you’ve been around for as long as I have. So it’s only natural you’d want to hear what I have to say. I won’t waste your time with pleasantries.” Drinking her tea, Chino said, “I understand you young people are so busy.” Apricot smiled, appreciating the thought. “Before we begin, I would like to know why you want to interview me,” Chino replied.

“Well,” Apricot said.

In response to Apricot’s words, Chino raised her hand. She lowered her gaze, revealing a perceptive expression. “I want the truth. Not a slippery way of saying things.”

Apricot chuckled, enjoying the old woman’s demeanor. “I don’t know why, myself,” she said. “Maybe it’s just that I’m curious. I might find an answer to a question I have if I understand the question, to begin with.”

“What question is troubling you?” Chino placed her teacup on the table and covered her hands with her chin.

Apricot stiffened. “No, my answer will sound crazy.”

Chino stroked her chin ever so delicately. “As a young girl like you, I would also have thought the same thing. I won’t force the matter. If it is the Crisis, I imagine it would be a difficult subject. It is unusual for a foreigner to be interested in such a serious issue. You could never write a credible article about it.”

“It’s something I already know. I’m not writing a report. I lied about my intentions. It was more of a personal interest.” Apricot wondered if Chino already knew. Considering her claimed experience, she imagines that this elderly woman has gained a lot of wisdom over the years. She had become an oracle or something like one. Apricot dismisses it as dreaming. “Did you hear about the Ichigari Grocery attack?”

“How could anyone have missed that?” Chino said. “The news covered it for days.”

“I was there. I saw it. Can you believe what they are telling you?” Apricot asked.

Chino leaned over to pick up her tea. “I suppose I shouldn’t.” She took a sip.

“If I told you there was a monster, would you believe me?” When she finished speaking, Apricot fell silent.

A slow, uneasy smile crept across Chino’s face as she answered the question. “If you mean, if I suspect you to be crazy, then no,” she said. “I’ve seen some strange things myself,” she added. “I am now an old woman, and I can no longer continue. That strange man who runs that rag of a magazine listened to my story. But he didn’t publish it.”

“What is your story?” Apricot asked.

“Well, I grew up as a farmer’s daughter in Yoshima. My parents, their parents, and so forth, until antiquity. As a child, my parents noticed I was proficient at studying. At ten, I became fascinated with electricity. Around twelve, I designed a water-powered electric generator. As a result, the state contacted me to work on the Blue Ash project. Blue Ash was a small mining and fishing community. Very rural. As soon as I arrived, my first task was to help set up power lines with city planners.”

“Within a few years, we turned Blue Ash from a sleepy little town into a bustling metropolis. Meanwhile, a drilling expedition was underway.” Chino finishes her last cup of tea and says, “It became a cover for what we were doing.” Lifting a silver pitcher from the table, Chino inquired. “Would you like me to top off your drink?”

The story completely enthralled Apricot, “No thanks, but keep going.”

Chino poured herself a cup of tea and set the pitcher back down on the table. “Below the city, we built an elaborate machine. It facilitated teleportation. We were rather proud of our work. Previous tests showed we could transport matter from a single end of the base to the other in a matter of seconds. Our first manned test, however, changed everything. It proved that our assumptions were incorrect. There was a black void, like the vacuum of outer space surrounding the gate. We called it the between plane.” Chino smirked. “This is where things get weird.”

“The Okabe family and an individual named Urias Hilderic led the group. Urias had an eccentric personality. I later learned why, but he seemed focused on his work.” In the main corridor, Uraias would mumble to himself while taking notes. The plans and schematics he created were far superior to anything anyone had ever seen before. His demands were met. The gate was quite unlike anything else. Rather, it looks into hyperspaces. Additionally, he had specific coordinates.”

“We had built a satellite that would serve as our observer. The process went smoothly. Using the transmissions of the satellite, we observed what hyperspace looked like. Despite what we expected, everything turned out to be different. There were orbs in the hyperspace. We had believed they were pockets of energy that had balled up similar to ball lightning and could not disperse as they were trapped in the void.”

“Urias built a second satellite to harness the energy. After it was inside the void, we sent a technician out with it in a suit. That day, I handled the electric output. It was a laborious task. It was important to keep the power on for those above the gate while maintaining it so our technician would not get trapped. Urias did not appear. This only compounded my initial feeling of unease. Then I noticed something large in the distance. It rushed through, destroying everything it touched. Its sound was so loud that the radio speakers were damaged. Several pieces fell on me. They burned.”

“We suddenly found ourselves in a panic. Everything went black. After we left the control room, we found Uraias surrounded by those orbs in the main corridor. He had torn apart a pair of workers before devouring them. He mumbled crazy things while saying he was in a new world. Balls of light kept flinging out of the gate. Whispering around the room as though they were alive. The Okabe clan emerged and destroyed the gate. They arrested and took all of us into custody. The charges against me were dropped, and I was told not to mention it.”

Apricot nodded in concern. “That sounds terrible.”

“I’m not done yet,” Chino said. “They built the city according to a particular plan, and sigils are magical symbols used to enhance the power of spells. Everything was part of a ritual. The residents of the city above were spirited away. I can only imagine what happened to them. The city, however, remained intact. No explosions occurred. The sun turned black for a few days, but it wasn’t due to smoke. I never found out what those blue orbs were or where they went. The only thing I did was stay. I did nothing. The fate of Urias remains a mystery. Nonetheless, he wasn’t alone.”

“In our minds, he was always talking to himself as if that was the way he thought. He seemed to take orders from somewhere. But it wasn’t just him. That device didn’t come from him. This is my story.”

“Who designed them?” Apricot inquired.

Chino frowned as she looked down. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Apparently, something grabbed his ear. Perhaps he was just crazy enough to listen.”

“Thank you, Miss Tokuma,” Apricot said. “I’m grateful for all the information you’ve given me. I understand better now.”

“I am delighted to hear that, dear. With my story living on beyond me, I can now rest easy.” Chino said. “The nights are getting longer lately, aren’t they?” she said. “Now, get on with your day. I did my good deed for the day.” Chino left Apricot at the front door. She couldn’t help but wonder if Chino didn’t tell her everything, and as she left, Apricot fears that those blue orbs could be phantoms that escaped the reaper.

After leaving Chino’s home, Apricot boarded a train. She traveled over several lines before reaching the public records library. If Chino was telling the truth, it should be easy to prove it with a few key pieces of information. The baroque wooden front desk was manned by a young Uchellan girl who is a couple of years older than Apricot. Standing in front of a flat-screen, she used a scanner to scan documents as she checked them in. Apricot cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”

As she glanced up from her pile of documents, the lady sighed. “Yes,” she replied.

“Hi, I’m looking for microfilm of the city’s original zoning plans. I’m hoping you have them. I know this was before the crisis, but I can’t seem to find anything else on it.” The woman tapped her fingers rapidly on the table with a blank stare. Upon closer inspection, Apricot noticed a faint light emanating from a holographic keyboard. “That’s an interesting keyboard,” she said.

“Given how much we use our keyboards, the department thought this would be better.” As she typed, the girl had no inflection in tone. She glanced over at Apricot and said, “I liked the old ones, but you know how it is with the government.”

Apricot gave a nod of agreement despite having no clue what she meant. “Well, computers, you know?”

Blowing a puff of air out of her mouth as if blowing bubblegum, she further replied, “I am afraid I cannot provide you with that information without the necessary clearance. It’s not a public record.” Apricot pulled her badge from her wallet and placed it on the counter. The lady nodded as she inspected it. “It appears you’re a state journalist. So dressed as you are, I wouldn’t have guessed you were one. It’s a stereotype that state journalists are all rich men, you know?” Apricot resisted rolling her eyes. “Let me see if you have access.” The young woman placed the badge on the counter, typing the numbers into it. “You’re in luck,” she said. “Your clearance has been granted. I will gather up the viewing room key for you and grab the film you are looking for.”

“Thank you,” Apricot said to the librarian as she returned the card. With a smile on her face, she rested her back on the counter and looked at the library’s entrance doors.

“What are you doing here?” A male voice asked to her left.

When Apricot saw Sato approaching, her eyes lit up. “I’m just getting some info for an article I’m writing. So, what are you up to?”

As Sato shook his head, he looked down. “I had to register again.”

“The review’s a pain! How did you earn that?” Apricot asked.

“My photo caught a state official breaking the law. Instead of chasing after him, they took it out on me instead.” Sato smirked. “I had to pay back my earnings and make restitution to the state. That’s how it works.”

“Yeah,” Apricot replied, unsure of what to say. As a foreigner, there are advantages and disadvantages. She was untrusted by the government, and as a result, what she did as an Uchellan citizen was never taken seriously. Misgivings by natives are harshly punished. In most cases, what she did at the bank would have prevented her from becoming a journalist or even caused her to serve a long jail term. In other words, a foreigner working for the Uchellan government was a sign of progress for the societal position of the Uchellan in the world.

“I’ve got something to show you, Apricot. Would you mind dropping by my house later?” Sato asked Apricot.

“What is it?” Apricot inquired.

“It’s your pics. Heh, but I can’t explain it right now.” Having to explain a picture she took intrigued her.

“Sure, Sato,” she replied.

“Great. I’ll see you later. I hate to leave, but I’ve got to go. Machi needs a ride home from work, and I’m running late.”

Apricots smirked. “Go get her. I know how sensitive she can be when waiting.” Sato chuckled and waved to Apricot.

The librarian returned at last. Then she handed Apricot a small rod and said, “Mam, follow me.”

Only the mechanical squeals and hums of the viewing machine can be heard inside the darkroom. Apricot pressed her face against the viewfinder as she turned the knob to browse through photos and zone information. Half an hour later, she finds what she was looking for. A map of the city’s oldest streets. She traced out the paths with approximate sizes on the paper. As in the image of Vs and Xs, the roads converged, and the last road looped around everything in a complete circle. “It’s true what Chino said. They built the city around some kind of massive sigil.” As she pulled away from the machine, she sat back down in her chair. Looking up, she took a deep breath.

Sato’s apartment is in a large office building. It is for rent as office space, but Sato has converted it into a dwelling. Apricot is certain that if the right people found out, they would make him move. There’s a gray door outside a hallway where people are dressed in their usual business fatigues. Suits, ties, dresses. As the door opened, Sato had strung photos around every corner of the room. The place is a collage of memories and events preserved in gelatin resin. “Welcome,” Sato said, ushering her in.

Apricot hesitantly stepped into the rather wild-looking apartment. “Sato, I’ve never seen your apartment before, but your decor reminds me of a serial killer.” She laughed, to which he joined in.

He closed the door behind her, smirking. “I started with a few, but I have so many good ones that it grew into what it is now. Can’t part with them.”

Apricot smirked. “How was Machi?”

Sato shook his head. “Machi was feeling like Machi.”

“A little upset about being late?” Apricot asked.

“Just a little bit.” Sato walked over to his desk and picked up a pair of photos. “I have to ask,” he said, turning the images toward Apricot. “Where were those things when you took them?”

At the center of the photos, someone is disappearing into smoke. The figure is blurred and pitch black. Her jaw dropped as she shook her head in disbelief. “Nope, but I dropped the camera, so the negatives must have got damaged.” Apricot tried to play it off as best she could.

Astonished, Sato turned back to the photos and remarked, “I have never seen anything like that before. I thought the same thing, but these are the only two I’ve seen. Other photos are fine before and after. What’s scary is that there are a couple of images between them.”

Apricot laughed. She told him, “They weren’t there when I took them.” Sato nods his head. “Maybe something has gone wrong with the roll since it arrived from the factory.” Apricot speculated.

He laughed, “Anyway, they freak me out.”

“Likewise,” Apricot thought to herself. “Likewise Sato.”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 9

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 9

Long Nights In The Park

Apricot looked at the spray-painted crown and pitchfork on the sidewalk and thought, “Finally.”. The tail-end pointed toward a dirty, worn-out automobile shop. Over the rusty doorway, “Grease Monkey’s” was displayed in large letters made of dead halogen tubes. Apricot strolled through the streets, following signs and symbols as she traveled. The sun had set by now and it was getting dark. She repeatedly ventured into bars and other shady-looking places without success. She had been kicked out several times today, and she was certain the police had been contacted at least once by now.

Leaving the shop, Apricot walked out with a hanging head. Despite her inaudible sigh, she grumbled, “This is impossible.” Just as she was about to give up on the entire idea of finding an illegal gun, she heard a loud “Psst!” from across the street. As she looked up, she saw a middle-aged man wearing normal clothing waving at her. “Here, miss.” The man directed her with a hand toward an alleyway. “I got it, we don’t do business in the front.” An extreme amount of apprehension had gripped Apricot. This was not what she was expecting. Even so, she didn’t know what to expect, but she knew that it wasn’t this. In this part of town, walking into an alleyway with a stranger seemed dangerous. Although she was reluctant, she decided to go. The man put his hand on her back and guided her down the empty backstreet. “Yo, kid, you’re looking for the wrong thing.”

Within seconds, she knew she didn’t want to be with him. There were enough memories in her mind from movies to know this is where the girl got kidnapped. Several men with bats, clubs, and metal poles popped out of the backdoor of the building she stood behind, confirming her most dreadful fears. Trying not to be cornered by the man, Apricot tries to back away. An additional three men are waiting at the entrance she just walked through, blocking her escape. The man next to her sneered, “There is no way out.”

“I don’t want any trouble,” Apricot yelped, holding her hands up to her face. The thought of being brutalized and trafficked has her heart pounding.

While they circled her, the man spat on the ground. “Sure, kid. One of my boys said a funny girl was moving around town looking to buy a gun. Real pretty girl with brown hair. You would not be her, would you?”

Her mask of horror was covered with an enormous smile of joy as Apricot turned her head towards him. Like chocolate and onions, her horror of death and her excitement of her excursion felt so strange together. She trembled in stutters. “Y-yes, I am.”

“Sure kid, funny thing, you have no clue what you’re doing, yet you knew how to find your way around.” The man did not appear amused as he approached the brick wall. She was surrounded by a group of dangerous men, who were waiting to tear her apart, or worse, and no one knew where she was.

“First-time buyer.” She jokingly replied, trying to lighten the mood. A few chuckles and even a smirk escaped the man she now believed was the leader.

Nodding his head, the man continued. “Yes, first-time buyers.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe a first-time buyer just cracked our code. Who told you?”

“No one,” Apricot responded.

Taking a deep breath, the boss man closed his eyes. Then he said, “See, I have a hard time with this because you did what the cops do. We got those old pitchforks, but you didn’t ask properly. Your persistence was annoying. I feel like a cop told you this. Not a good cop. Even the cops are not as sloppy as you.” A lump formed in her throat as the man nodded. “Heh, well, I guess you don’t want to talk about it.”

“I am interested in purchasing a gun. I urgently need one.” She burst out hoping they would believe her if she insisted. “Please.”

The boss-man cocked his head. He glanced over to a young man holding a black plastic baton, wearing a red hoodie and a white shirt. “Yeah, you will need protection,” he said. The boss man nodded. Jumping up to Apricot, the young man let out a grunt. As he weaved in her direction, she backed up.

Her heart nearly leaped out of her throat when she bumped into something solid. Glancing up, she saw a huge bald man grinning down at her. His arms wrapped around her and lifted her up. Dangling in his grasp, she kicked her feet. In response, the group merely snickered. As the man was about to strike her, a voice from the crowd yelled, “Ji Li, man, this isn’t right! You don’t need to do it that way.”

“Oh yeah, I see. You willing to vouch for her?” Apricot’s eyes scan the group to find the guy who may save her, but the two men in front of her block her vision.

The man hesitated. As she listened to the silence, her mind raced to the possibilities. Whether they would just beat her up or kill her, Apricot didn’t know. “Look at her, she’s not no one. Neither has she done anything. Just let her go.”

Ji Li snorted. “You gotta vouch for her.”

In a gang of hardened criminals, who would stand up for her? A gangster with a golden heart, perhaps? That kind of drama is unlikely to occur in real life. Maybe a cop? What did it matter? The only thing she knew was that someone might just get her out of this alive. “Please!” Apricot pleaded. A thump burst into her stomach as she grunted. Everything stopped at that moment. She lost consciousness as her eyes fell blank. As she looked down, she saw the young man pressing the baton against her. The tea she drank earlier spews out of her mouth onto the man.

“Whatcha do that for?” Ji Li inquired of the young man. “Ah shit, she’s got it all over her. Get her something to wipe her face off.” Ji Li told the guy next to him. “Can’t you see we’re talking? Are your ears broken?”

The man trembled. “She was disrespectful,” he said.

“You’re disrespectful. Heh, Balbo, you let that girl down.” Ji Li gestured his hand. The big dude set her feet down as he lowered her. “You’re spitting up shit, kid, get the hell out of here. Walk her out, man. Ensure she is okay.” The other guys are heading in all directions as they begin to clear the area. 

Seeing that her situation had improved, Apricot took a deep breath. The men walked around her as they avoided eye contact. She looked up at another man with a half-smile, holding out a rolled-up towel. He said, “Here, wipe up with this.”. Apricot accepted the towel and covered her face with the white rag. After removing the towel from her face, she felt faint. When she buckled at the knees and stumbled to her feet, she said to herself, “Don’t faint.”. As the man stepped away from her, she saw his expression. “Shit, what you thinking?” She heard Ji Li grunt as he walked into the back of the building.

As a result, she was alone in the alley with the other man. His hair is neat and he is clearly of Uchellan descent. A little androgynous, he had short, spiky mint-green hair that was strange to her. Wearing a red shirt with a high collared neck and black pants, his clothes are more traditional in style. The sleeves of the shirt were too wide. Apricot had noticed the style becoming popular with some subcultures. She assumed this one was likely a member of a nationalist gang. “You okay?” Apricot asked as she walked straight toward him. Her legs were trembling. She was straining to breathe.

Regardless of these facts, she huffed, “I’m fine.” The man walked with her until they were several blocks from the shops. The secluded alleyway provided the perfect cover, Apricot thought. “I was interested in buying a pistol.”

She was told, “Kid, stop that.”

“You don’t get it. My life is at risk. Please help me. I need a gun. I cannot explain it.” Apricot insisted.

The man stood straight up. “You are lucky to be alive, kid.” he said. “Imagine if there hadn’t been anyone to speak up for you. You would have died. But I knew you didn’t work for the cops. They wouldn’t hire someone as obvious as you.”

Apricot smirked. “Yeah, because you’re a cop.” The man rolls his eyes at her joke with an uncomfortable glance. Her suspicions were confirmed by this reaction. Apricot repeated, “You’re a cop.”

The man snapped, “Don’t even joke. So what does a girl like you need a gun for?”

“I am fighting phantoms,” Apricot told the man with a straight face. As a cop, he would have heard about spooks. Perhaps he saw some himself.

His thin lips were curved into a grin. “Right, aren’t we all?”

“No,” she replied. “I mean phantoms. Monsters, things that appear and then disappear right back into thin air. The terrorist attacks, heh, foolishness.” Apricot said to the man. His eyes widened in discomfort. “You know what I mean because you are a cop.”

“Stop with the cop thing and anyone will look at someone funny talking like that. Now get the hell out of here.” He turned his back on Apricot, taking a few steps away from her.

Apricot assured herself, “He won’t walk away. He knows I am telling the truth.”

Just as she predicted, the man turned back and sized Apricot up again. He pursed his lips and blew a puff of air after examining her. “You are not wrong about those things, though,” he said. “Do you know what they are?”

“I have not a clue. I know I would be better off if I kept quiet. Ichigari Grocery is where I worked. Hence my need for a gun. One of them was at my house the other night. In my little brother’s room. I’m sure he wanted to eat him. A horrible wolf monster. I killed it with his baseball bat. I wish I could tell you more, but I have to stop them.” The man took a deep breath and reached into the pocket of his shirt. Apricot found the object she sought. A gun at last. As he approached her, he placed the gun in her hand. She wrapped her fingers around the handle, feeling a sense of power and security wash over her.

He squinted down at the gun and did not let go. “It’s a 45. That means the bullets it uses have points four, five on them. “Don’t get caught with it.” he warned, letting go of the pistol. “It carries the death penalty.” The man shook his head. “The number has been removed, and the tracking device has been removed. It should work in jammed areas. It’s the real deal. Even though I am not sure why I am doing this, I feel like it is the right thing to do. Whatever you do, I hope it works.”

Turning away from her, he headed back the way he came down the road. Putting the pistol in her purse, she zippered it. A smile spread across her face as she petted the side of the purse with her hand.

“Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster ………………………………………………………………P. 04

Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster

“If you have been out at Eastway Park at night and have found yourself lost, you are not alone. A startling number of reports from passers-by have said this small little park at night appears as an endless labyrinth. So many, in fact, that the city of Blue Ash has put a ban on entry after dark. So you won’t be able to check this one out for yourself. We would not suggest you try, anyway. If you thought those reports were strange, what lies inside police records might have you even more on edge.”

“People said inside that labyrinth, there were monsters. Strange creatures of various descriptions. Some reported seeing strange shadows along the walls. We have also received many letters pertaining to this matter. One letter detailing a monster reminded us much of a flying squid. The only thing we know for sure is something strange is going on in Eastway Park.”

Apricot jumped off the barricade and stared into the darkness of Eastway Park. She is determined to test these claims for herself. The rest of those stories may hold some merit if this one is successful. While walking home, she had a thought. What if all these “paranormal” things are actually the phantom’s effects? Since she already knew they could cause electrical disturbances and alter the temperature, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. There might be other things they can do. If that was the case, she would have to investigate these weird urban legends around town. Her peace of mind was heightened by the thump of the gun against her hip.

As she walks around the pavement loop, she passes a fountain located at the center of the park. It wasn’t long before she found herself back at the beginning again, unable to find the “labyrinth”. Rolling her eyes, she walks towards a small patch of trees, the overgrowth battling with the man-made order. While strolling through the park, she felt like an idiot for even trying this stupid charade.

Apricot decided it’s best to leave, all but done with this embarrassing fiasco. As she abandoned the park, her eye is drawn to something she hadn’t seen the first few times. There was a tunnel with strange markings. It had spirals, triangles, and circles painted on it. “If there was a labyrinth, then this must be it.” Apricot concluded.

Her nose was filled with a rancid smell, reminding her of the sour scent of rotten meat wafting from the labyrinth. Taking hold of the pistol’s grip, she slowly slid it from the waist of her blue jeans, leveling it into a stance she had seen on TV. Peering into the tunnel, she surveyed its interior. The walls were covered in faded and peeling paint, revealing blackish brick underneath. As she walked deeper into the room, she noticed red puddles on the floor. However, there were no bodies to be found. But it still looks like blood. Warm wetness hits her head as she continues into the dark tunnel. There were some very large veins visible in the ceiling as she glanced up. 

Her heart raced as they wiggled like they were pumping. The walls of the tunnel pulsed to a rhythmic beat as she listened closely. As fingers touched the side of her arm, she let out a shriek. A pale hand rests on her arm, catching her attention. Looking up, she is greeted by cold dead eyes staring at her face. Laughing, Apricot said, “You scared me.”. No words came out of the thin lady’s mouth, but her face moved closer to Apricot’s. When she felt the sudden sense of danger engulf her, she pulled back as if a dog was about to bite her.

“How long have you been here?” Apricot asked, noticing her clothes were from another era entirely. The woman opened her mouth, still stretching her face toward Apricot. Her tongue snaked out but then sank back inside. “Do you understand me?” she asked without replying. Her nerves were on edge. Such behavior cannot be human.

Her neck appeared to be stretched further as she strains it. As she leans forward, her arms are straight. Like dried paper, her face splits down the middle, revealing a skull with skin covering it. Apricot estimated that the woman stood to a height of at least ten feet as it stretched several feet from her body and its pulsing muscles became visible. Its chest bursts out, revealing its larger shell-like carapace and arms resembling a praying mantis’ scythe. Its shell was brown, and its legs curved oddly and her thorax wiggled from the rear.

Apricot leveled the barrel at the creature and screamed. Her hand flew into the air when she pulled the trigger, and pain flooded her wrist. And worst of all, it appears the bullet has little effect on the creature. Apricot ducked to hear the blade scraping across the wall as it slashed.

After turning and running toward the entrance, she was unable to see it from this distance. Instead, the tunnel seemed endless and dark. Her only source of light was the dull red glow of the veins above her. A strong vibration indicates the creature’s approach. It wasn’t far behind her. As it continues down the tunnel, it hisses at her. As she turns around, Apricot fires again at the creature. This time, she watches the bullet impact its chest. Sparks fly as the bullet hits and then disappears. “What!” Apricot screamed. This was it. Apricot was going to die. As she huddled into a ball, screaming, the creature dove.

“That’s not apt to help you.” remarked a male voice. The girl turned her head to see a young man holding a decorative rod in front of the creature’s scythes.

Apricot was stunned. “Who are you?”

As he pushed with his arm, he forced the creature back. “So you like picking on little girls?” he growled, walking towards the creature who was now screaming a high-pitched roar at him. “Yeah, yeah, you can complain all you like.” The creature lunged and swung its blade. The man parried the blow, knocking the claw aside. He repeated this several times until he used the back end of his rod to strike the creature in the face.

A large spark erupted from the creature in the blink of an eye. The skull underneath was exposed after the skin from the creature’s face fell off. It appeared that only a few pieces of the creature’s visage remained, dripping out like slime. Turning away, the creature fled into the distance. “What?” it asked. “Don’t like silver?” he sneered and threw the rod at the creature, knocking it to the ground as though it was being electrocuted. As it lay on the ground, its body convulsed. Once the monster had shrieked for a while, the flashing tunnel returned to darkness, and the monster became quiet.

Getting closer to the rod, he lifted it off the gunge. Looking back at Apricot, he gloated. “Hello, my name is Shiori Kinjo,” he said.

“Kinjo!” She felt a wave of shock wash over her. “He is royalty!”

She feels as if the man can read her mind, since he confirms her thoughts. “And yes, I am that Shiori, the heir to the Kinjo family nobility. Now tell me, dear, why are you carrying an illegal weapon in these tunnels?” Apricot was taken aback by his firm tone, thinking about her response.

Apricot murmurs, “I’m hunting phantoms.”

As Shiori rubbed his chin, he smirked. “How interesting.” he said. Maybe I can get along with you. “However, I have never seen anyone hunt a phantom while curled up in a ball like a coward.” Apricot had not realized, but she was still lying on the ground. She sprung up immediately.“For now, I will not take any notice of your pistol. If you plan on using it, you should learn how to use it.” Apricot is unsure what to say. Rather than speak, she nodded. “It appears. You don’t speak much. Star-struck? Hmm?” he beams.

Apricot said, “I almost died.”

Shiori said, “Get used to it, miss “phantom” hunter.” He continued walking past her toward the end of the tunnel, “Most things aren’t too friendly when you’re trying to kill them.”

“Hold on!” Shiori glanced at her back. “Do you know what these are?” she asked. “Why are you here? What is happening?!”

“I will answer just one question. You decide.” Shiori replied smugly. Apricot reviewed the questions. Which was the most significant? Where would the most information be found? “If you are going to waste my time, I have elsewhere to go. The night hasn’t ended yet.”

Apricot makes a snap decision. “Do you know what these things are?”

Shiori walked again and smiled as he said, “I do.”

“What! “Aren’t you going to tell me?” Apricot shouted.

“Not a chance, dear. As I promised, I answered one question.” Shiori laughed. “If you survive, I might reconsider.”

Apricot followed him. “You’re a jerk, you know?”

“A jerk that saved your life, my dear. Remember that,” he chuckled. “There is one thing I can give you. The Crisis. Start there.”

Grasping at her face, Apricot squinched up. “What do you mean by the Crisis?” This time, he didn’t respond. Instead, he accelerated. At the end of the tunnel, Apricot expected Shiori to at least say goodbye to her, but he doesn’t even pause to say goodbye. “You’re such an asshole,” Apricot said in a growling tone. “But at least I’m not the only one.”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

Buy A Magazine, Get A Gun

The wooden gate opened with the tug of Apricot’s pale hand. Cars and well-kept shrubbery lined the streets around the Signa family home. The shadows from the fixtures under streetlights purpose a constant suspicion of danger. “They are coming to my house now,” Apricot whispered under her breath, her eyes darted towards every strange shape. Stretching her fingers through her hair, she tugged at her roots, the pain stealing any hope that this was a bad dream. The cool night breeze made her shiver as it brushed against her skin. Strangely enough, this brought her comfort, as the air was not frigid.

Apricot had concluded these phantoms cause phenomena in their surroundings. Arctic temperatures followed them along with electrical disturbances. These two signs satisfied her as guiding stones to identify when these beings were near. Moving through the night streets, Apricot could not help but notice how empty her quiet burrow seemed. As if the civilized world had vanished with the night, like crossing some forbidden threshold. All the talk of terrorist attacks must have people scared of going out, she figured.

She stops in the middle of an intersection. A convenience store lights the night street, shining like a glowing beacon, and there it was, the subject of her curiosity. Peering through the large store window, she noticed the magazine rack with a stack of Erie Truth’s Monthly on a lower shelf. The store door opened with a synthesized bell. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” she mumbled under her breath as her heart pounded with embarrassment. Behind the counter, an elderly man gave her a quiet nod, acknowledging her presence. She waved back at him, a simple but kind gesture of reciprocation. She passed by several assorted racks of junk food, a fixture displaying new gum, and a cooler filled with various soft drinks. Glancing over the magazine rack, she considers grabbing several, hoping to mask her intended purchase. Instead, she looked through the issues pages. She held the copy reading over the embellished cover as a bead of sweat dripped from her nose onto the magazine’s face. “Well, I can’t go back now,” she said as the splotch seeps into the paper.

Apricot tossed the magazine onto the counter, flashing a smile at the gruff-looking old man. “Will this be all for you dear?” he inquired with professionalism from a time past Apricot admired.

“Yes, weird thing to get at night huh?” Apricot submitted.

The old man chuckled. “I have seen stranger things, hun. These can be quite the entertainers. I read the Daily Notes myself.” The Daily Notes, Apricot, grunted in her mind. No one but the most desperate journalist wrote for that one. Then again, the same could be said for Eerie Truths, and yet she looked for answers where she knew better not to.

“You don’t say.” Apricot sensed the heat around her getting more intense. “You like this place kept warm, huh?” she commented. “Perhaps, maybe… no, that is not the pattern.” She thought to herself.

“The place gets a little chilly every time that door opens. So I like to keep it at a solid 75 degrees,” he said after ringing up the magazine. “Your total comes to five Marks, my dear.”

Apricot drew a plastic card from her pocket, swiping against the reader. The little screen displayed the number of marks being taken out of her account with a short animation to show the transaction going through. “75 degrees, you say.” Apricot hesitated, feeling as though the heat was well over a blistering one hundred and twenty.

“You know now you mention it. It is feeling a little warm in here.” the old man offered. He raised his hand to his head, removing several beads of sweat. He walked over to a beam behind the counter looking at a small white box. “Nope, the heater is set to 70. It seems cooler over here. Must be my dang computer system overheating again.”

“Yeah, the computer system,” Apricot added, reassuring herself. “Maybe temperature changes are a signal.” Apricot considered. “But if that is the case…”

The older man doddled back over to the counter. “Young lady, I am sorry if it caused you any discomfort.” He apologizes, handing the magazine to her in a white plastic bag.

“Oh, not at all. It is fine. I feel bad for you having to work in this kind of heat.” Apricot commented. “Thank you, sir.”

“No, no, thank you. Now you go enjoy that magazine of yours.” the man said before lowering behind the counter grumbling about unclogging the dust from the computer’s fan system.

Apricot could not get home fast enough. As she left the man’s store, she was close to a full sprint. The heat seemed to follow her. Through her front door, she snapped the locks shut and up the stairs, she went. Once in her room, she jumped onto her bed, flopping on her stomach, flipping open the magazine. As she rested on her bed, she glanced over at the window. “It’s locked. It’s not open.”

She begins by flipping through the first few pages, spreads of various advertisements for survival equipment, something with a man with a taped-up face. She was not entirely sure what it was about and some other uninteresting text plastered pages. Once she found the table of contents, she scanned the magazine for anything that might explain things. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” she thinks to herself while browsing the page.

Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster – P. 04

Religious Cult And Ritual Performance On Stage At Matsume Theater – P. 15

Tricked Into Initiation By Vampire Club – P. 28

Man-Eating Leeches Found In Okabe Sewers – P. 33

Boy Claims To Be Alien From Another Planet – P. 40

Claw Fingers Linked In Ikijoji Murders NEW PHOTOS – P. 42

Mental Travel And Astral Projection – P. 51

Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis – P. 57

International Conference For Paranormal Studies Blocked By Okabe Government – P. 62

After looking down the list, she chuckled to herself, “What am I doing?” Apricot flipped to page 42 to see an image of “Claw Fingers” caught on surveillance footage.

“It appears wherever disaster strikes, Claw Fingers appears. Many people have theorized that Claw Fingers has caused disasters around Okabe since he appeared several months ago. Claw Fingers was first photographed during the subway disaster in Tsungdung, appearing inside the subway tunnel while crews were removing the wreckage of redline 45.”

Some grainy images showing what appeared to be the reaper standing accompanied the text of the article. However, it is hard for Apricot to tell considering the images are so blown up and manipulated.

“He has had several sightings around the city since then. There were reports of him watching from the rooftops at the mysterious Bokohara antique shop attack. Still no information on what that was about. Now we have new reports of him being sighted on Ikijoji street last week before and after the murders had occurred. What we can say is that Claw Fingers is not going away and is being increasingly sighted. Authorities have refused to comment on the sightings but have suggested that this is some kind of mass public hysteria. I think they know something and they are not telling us. What do you think?”

Apricot stopped reading the article by putting it down. “He said something about being a reaper. Maybe he is there because that is his job or something.” Apricot let out a laugh. “Listen to me. I am theorizing about a freaking urban legend,” her giggle frenzy came to a halt with a sober acknowledgment, “One I saw.” With a hard toss, she sent the magazine flapping across the room. It struck the wall and landed on the floor. With one glance at the open page of Claw Fingers, she turned away and leaned back in her bed. “They are as clueless about everything as I am. I was crazy to think one of these magazines could hold the answers I was looking for. This Claw Fingers is not my threat right now, though. It’s these phantoms. I can’t keep running away from the truth. The reaper said something about having to stop them. What is he crazy? I can’t fight those things on my own. I can’t even see them. And I can’t tell the police, that is for sure.” Apricot mused. She let out a sigh, placing both her palms atop her eyes laying against her pillow.

She glanced back over at the magazine on the floor. On the other page next to “Claw Fingers” is an advertisement for a pistol. “A gun,” she said aloud, removing her hands from her face. “I need a gun.”

The next morning, Apricot made her way across town. Two subways, a bus ride, a bite to eat at a small restaurant called “The Blue Lady”, window shopping and still she could not find the nerve to purchase a weapon.

She had passed Bullseye’s several times. The shop window was plastered with flyers for ammunition and new tactical gear along with Ready To Eat Meal specials. She watched as a young lady about her own age strolled out of the shop with two bags. “Well, maybe it won’t seem so strange to them,” Apricot assured herself, rousing what little courage she had.

She crossed into the storefront until she noticed her fingers tingle. The unoiled door opens with a creak, greeting her with walls overspread with every kind of black tactical weapon she had ever seen and even some she hadn’t. Her eyes grew wide as it struck her with intimidation. Several glass cases displayed various knives, along with some decorative swords. Survival gear and backpacks with an assembly of accessories line the other walls. As she looked around, she was overwhelmed. “You look a little lost, hun. Whatchya in here for?” commented a young man at the counter.

Apricot sheepishly walked to the counter. Each step was small and deliberate as she scrutinized the room with her eyes. “I want a gun. A pistol,” she said.

“A lady that knows what she wants. I like that in a girl.” He chirped. “A pistol, huh? First-time buyer?”

Apricot nodded, looking at a rather menacing long-barreled rifle. “Is that a sniper rifle?”

“Why yes honey, that is a rifle. Why this is a Maji-O’ B15A112, a pretty little girl isn’t she? If you got the right sights, you can land a shot dead center from half a mile away. Gas piston, so she needs a little more love than your spring variant, but she is hell’a more accurate.” the man told her. He bent behind the case, picking up a small pistol from the back. “Since this will be your first gun, I suggest the Markov C14, also known as Justice,” he chuckled, admiring the short-barreled silver polished weapon in hand. “This little gun is a standard issue for civil servants. It has a carrying capacity of seven 9mm rounds, plus one in the chamber. Lightweight, easy to carry, and won’t break the bank either. You don’t need to clean it as often, but she still needs love from time to time. It is good for first-time buyers because she is easy to care for and the recoil won’t be breaking your wrist.”

Apricot’s stary eyes could not be missed. “Yeah that. That will work. How much?”

“Well, tell you what, normally I would sell this to you for 400 but since it’s your first gun, how about 250 Marks?”

Apricot drew several Jade cards out of her wallet, placing them on the counter. “Done,” she said.

The man smirks at her. “I like your enthusiasm. I do. But you need a background check first.” he said, drawing several papers out of a folder. “I need you to fill out these forms and then we can send it on in.”

“How many hours do I have to wait?”

“Eager, heh, well, it takes about a week. Sometimes longer depending on how many are sent in.”

Apricot shakes her head. “No, no, I need that gun today.”

The man shakes his head. “Sorry sister, that won’t be happening? Gun laws, you know. Did you get into trouble? If you do, I would suggest going to the police before taking things into your own hands.”

Apricot nods. “I am a student reporter, sir. I need a weapon for protection.”

“Heh, you think that will convince me to break the law? Honey, do you understand the amount of trouble I could get into if I let you have this gun without a proper check?”

“I do, but this is different. I really need it. I can’t explain why but I need it.”

“No. I am sorry hun,” he said, taking back the papers. “I don’t feel comfortable selling this to you. Like I said, if you are having trouble, go to the police. I can’t help you. Sorry.”

“Fine, I will do the background check. Look, I need this, OK.” Apricot retorted.

The man turned his back on her. “This is not something I’m comfortable with. I will have to ask you to leave my store. Since you are searching for an article, I won’t report this to the police. However, I would suggest you don’t do this with anyone else. You got it.”

“I just want to buy a pistol.” Apricot fumed turning away from the counter and out the front door.

Apricot relaxed on a bus hunched over on the small window sill ridge. She watched the buildings and cars below pass by as the bus continued down the long stretch of roadways. Deep in thought, her mind spiraled with worries and fears. She realized she sure as hell was not getting her hands on a gun, not legally, that is. However, even illegally, it is not like people advertise that sort of thing. She thought about wandering around the more shady parts of town. However, without knowing what she was doing, she figured she would be in danger of being trafficked. She could ask Cortez, but she was positive he wanted nothing to do with her after the whole camera incident.

Her thoughts turned to identifying people she may know that know something about illegal firearms. That is when her mind landed on Solenne. She is an officer. Traffic cop most of the time, but an officer nonetheless. Though she considered her reaction to asking her about getting a firearm illegally. If she were to do something like that, she may find Solenne handcuffing her. She had to uphold the law, after all. But being a journalist, she could offer the idea of being for an article. Apricot smiled to herself, taking out her cellphone.

“So why did you want to have tea with me at this hour?” Solenne asked sitting back in a private secluded corner. The fabric of the lounge chairs in the teahouse was gray, matching the carpets in the cafe’s center. The floors on the raised platform where Apricot and Solenne sat are warm hardwood. Above them hung large red ball lanterns with golden tassels hanging from their light. The cafe had a conic shape for it. A live pianist serenades the air with background music.

Apricot sipped her tea with a flushed smile. “You don’t waste time.” She chuckled.

Solenne grinned. “Rarely do we go out for tea, just the two of us? So I got enough intuition to know,” she said lowering her gaze to Apricot. “What exactly do you want to know?”

“To know?” Apricot said innocently.

“Well, your text kind of made it obvious. Solenne, I am so stressed about my next article. I can’t think of anything to write about,” she mocked Apricot, rolling her eyes. “Want a scoop?”

Apricot nodded. “I kind of want something specific. I was looking through the official reports about that bank robbery.” Solenne smiled. “Well, they had illegal firearms. How does a criminal get an illegal firearm here?”

“Oh, there are black markets all over the place girl.” Solenne gestured with her hand. “You would not believe how many there are. We have an entire department dedicated to busting up illegal markets and almost all of them have firearms.”

“Yeah, so how do you guys find those guys?” Apricot asked.

“Well, they don’t make it easy. It’s not impossible to find them, but as I said, it is difficult. Especially for police. They know who is a cop and who is not normal. A lot of our officers get messed up looking for them. We use undercover cops. Infiltration is the best method.” Solenne explained, taking a sip of her tea.

“So, how do the undercover cops find these groups?” Apricot set her tea down, grabbing her notepad from her side.

Solenne chuckled, seeing the notepad come out. “Oh, I am being interviewed now.”

“Something like that,” Apricot said. “Completely anonymous, of course. Just for my research.”

“Well, the first thing to look for is their calling card. It’s normally a bar with a crown with a pitchfork going through the crown. That is how you know it is an illegal arms seller. However, you just can’t ask to buy a firearm. They won’t like that. So we have to find these spots. The symbols can be hard to find, but normally the pitchfork’s base is the arrow pointing in the ship’s direction. You can search all over town until you find the specific shop.” Apricot bobbed her head as she jotted down Solenne’s words.

“So how dangerous are these places normally?”

“Hey, you’re joking, right?” Solenne said smirking. “Dangerous. I know I would not want to be on assignment anywhere near those types of people.”

Apricot frowned. “I know, right? I can’t imagine having to do something so dangerous daily.”

Solenne pauses, straitening her posture. “Apricot,” she said in a firm tone, looking her in the eye. “Don’t do anything crazy with that knowledge. I think that is enough to give you an article.”

“Plenty,” Apricot punctuated. “Thanks, Solenne.” She puts down the notepad, placing it back into her coat pocket. “So, tell me, how are things with you and Arjun?”

The constant clatter of the decorated glass plates and small teacups and the murmurs of distant conversation filled the room. A group of men sat in a distant corner of the teahouse. A house servant poured their drink from a large kettle. She bowed as the men raised their drinks to her with a smile. With a chirp and a giggle, she made her leave to the men in their private section of the room.

“Now we are alone. Let us begin the proper conversation. Something needs to be done about Kyo. She has no respect for the order.” A man with short, fading black hair said. “We all watched her murder my brother and everyone celebrated because of old stories written by a senile woman. I can’t allow this to stand.”

Another man nodded his head, his head a field of gray. “Yes,” he coughed. “I agree, Naju. Yet, what can we do? She has the support of the lesser order. If we were to remove her, people would blame us for the failure of the rituals.” He took a sip of tea.

Another man spoke up. “The four of us know what needs to be done. Ujima, don’t act innocent. We need to kill her. The question is who will carry it out?”

“I will,” Hegia stated. The other men turned to face him. “I already planned to speak with her. We are going to the theater to discuss plans for the future. I will push her off the balcony. The fall will kill her for sure. I will do this, in Mitsura’s honor. He did not deserve that death. May his soul find peace.”

“Then it is settled,” Naju said. “We must keep this meeting secret. If anyone were to find out our discussion took place, it would be rather ill-received. Do we have an agreement?” The other men nodded their heads. “Good, then let it be considered no more.”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

A Dog In The House

An elegant spire, far from the imagination of commoners, filled with low chants as the nobility of Okabe gathered. They are seated in their stilted chairs, dressed in the most expensive suits, ever vigilant and omnipotent; in their own minds. A circle of candles surrounded Lady Kyo, the young high priestess, as she rested on her knees. Her brush painted bloody signs and symbols all over the checkered floor. As she sang her haunting croon, the shimmer of her cloak flew through a haze of dull red smoke.

In front of Kyo, on the ground, is the body of a young girl. As blood poured onto the floor from a pool that kept growing, the throat of the girl was slit open like that of a lamb. As the girl’s body paled in front of Kyo, she dropped her arms to her sides and took a deep breath. The girl is about 12 years old, Kyo thought inwardly to herself. That is about the age when she should be going to middle school. Maybe. However, the sacrifice she made did not seem to be appreciated. Despite this, however, it was for the sake of appeasing her masters and it must be done.

Tonight, however, will prove to be one of many useless killings in the future. With her sights lowered, Kyo gazes into the scarlet pool once more. “It is I that have watched you in your perpetual slumber, and in return, I have given you that which you seek. Blood, drink of it off the floor like dogs. For you stand at the threshold of paradise, but paradise eludes you. You have brought the place that you had once regarded as the highest low, and now you have unlocked and opened the door, but you have not found habitation in it, rather you have given a home to every unclean being. Hence, your nightmare will begin, and I will release you from the shackles of that seduction tonight, and I will do this favor only for you and transcend where you have failed so far.”

“What is this?” Mitsura hissed from his ceremonial throne. This act usually would have scared Kyo, but not tonight. In fact, she was surprised that she had little reaction. Now she was High Priestess, not Kyo; niece of Lord Mitsura. Compared to her duty to her Lord, her duty to the Okabe clan was far greater. “Is this a joke? Lady Kyo, you violate our ritual so foolishly?”

Kyo stood at this point, shutting down Mitsura’s outburst. Brazen courage surrounded her. “My chance has not come to me. You gave your alchemy to a secret weakness, and you could not capitalize on it. There is a pressing need for quick action, for fresh blood to resurrect the Okabe family.”

Like hounds waiting on their master, the other cloaked men drew their daggers. The blades, though sharp, don’t frighten her. If the scry was true, she would stand in front of the gates of Evermore and see the New World born from her own hands. A feeling of curiosity sat in Mistura as he raised his hand, putting the cloaked men at ease. The mask remained on Lady Kyo’s face as she rounded a glance at the other men, her expression obscured behind it. As Mitsura went back to his previous position, she took a deep breath. “All these sacrifices. For years, you have been performing these rituals without understanding what you were doing. Do you not realize how many children like her have died? Have you not seen the results yet?”

“The result,” Mitsura smirked. “I suppose with a mouth like that you should know better?” Mitsura asked. “We cannot see the spiritual realm. What we do, the world beyond responds to.”

As Mitsura watched Kyo take the dagger out of her own sleeve, his eyes grew wide. She cut her palm clean open with the cold steel held against her palm. It gushed, pouring out blood as the steel made the wound. Suddenly, her hand closed, causing a stream of blood to fall into the scarlet pool. When it landed on the ground, it reflected like silver. “My Lord,” she said. “You’ve never understood.”

“She has done it.” A noble clapped as the onlookers craned their necks to see the spectacle. As all the noble outbursts are heard, the room is in a commotion at the new revelation.

The throne’s armrests are gripped by Mitsura as he jumps to his feet. “How is that possible?” he barked as a small stone formed from the blood puddle. Astonishment filled the room. While looking out over the others, Kyo looked up from the pool locking eyes with the Lord. “I have received a vision. The time here has dwindled. What they have completed, you have failed to accomplish. Because of your ignorance, the nobility of Okabe has forgotten the greater work to accomplish. The Azoth’s death was because of your corruption.”

“You are just a child. You dare to speak this way to your elders. Kyo, do you think this kind of trick impresses us? This is not an Azoth either.” Mitsura snidely remarks, “That stone is hardly complete.”

“I would agree with you. There is a need to create a new world as soon as possible. That was my call, was it not? Yes, that is exactly what I shall be doing. We can no longer stay here. The long night is upon us and with it, an endless nightmare as well. I am sure that you have heard of the birth pains that we have all experienced. We are now living in an era of oblivion. If we do not complete the greater work, all will be lost. There has been a time when I have seen you eating the bones of your children, Lord Mitsura. We will all be forced to eat the flesh of the dead until we become one with them. It will be the night of the full moon, and the sun will never rise again. Light will be robbed from us and everything will fall into disarray. Despite the plans of disaster you have drafted, I refuse to follow them. I know the way to the new world and I am determined to follow it. There is still a hunger for what we have forgotten in this Azoth, therefore it is not complete.” Lady Kyo beckons Lord Mitsura into the circle, holding out her hand. “I shall show you.”

Throughout the silent room, all eyes watched eagerly as Mitsura’s reluctant steps echoed. Kyo grabbed his hand and led him to the pool, where he stood in front of the dead girl. Like a babe sucking on its mother’s milk, the stone below trembled as it consumes Kyo’s meager portion of blood. Then Kyo moved in close and rested her head on Mitsuru’s shoulder, breathing warmly over his earlobe as she did so. “We used to use our children. That is the secret. That’s what we did, it’s what we still do.” A stinging pain entered Mitsuru’s stomach as Lady Kyo plunged her dagger deep into his gut. In eviscerating his body, she carved a hole that was open to the sky. Amid Mitsura grabbing his side, he saw blood spraying out of his body. The blood glistened between Mitsura’s fingers as it falls to his feet like a fountain. Taking a step back, he stumbles into two men who grab hold of his arms and grab hold of his neck. Mitsura, gasping in agony, screamed until he realizes he is about to go unconscious. “Your lack of enthusiasm is troubling Mitsura. To be honest, I thought you would be happier.” As Mitsura looked down, he noticed the stone had grown in size as his blood flows into Azoth. “This is actually the first true Azoth since the old ones were corrupted.”

By pulling Mitsura’s hair, Kyo raised his head and revealed his throat. As he hung agape, sweat pours from his red face. His lips trembled as a low moan emerged from them. Kyo chirps, cutting a nasty laceration in his neck, “It’s all in the nobility.” She told him. The moment she released Mitsura’s head, it fell to his chest, the torn muscles no longer able to support the weight. Kyo raised her hands, she looked back at the rest of the nobility singing, “Our great work has begun! Let us begin!” With her hands still in the air, she walked out of the circle of candles spinning like a ballerina on the floor. The black-and-white tiles where she walked left a trail of bloody footprints every time she stepped on them. The last thing that Mitsura heard between his wet gasps was the sound of his compatriots clapping their hands and giving Kyo a standing ovation for her performance.

A white-haired man appeared to be part dragon, as a pair of horns crowned him and had eyes that looked like those of a serpent. Using a long spear-like sword, he attacked another red-haired man, who blocked the attack with a large blue cross shield. During his leap into the air, the red-haired knight slashed at the horned attacker, but his sword met the grip of the dragon man mid-air, and he pulled the sword from his grasp. The dragon-man wrested the sword from the man and knocked him to the ground with a roar. Using a powerful hack, he sliced the mighty knight through the middle, draining his life bar. In shining golden letters, the words “Falaris Wins!” flashed across the screen.

“Haha, I won! I won! I won!” Apricot shouted, raising her controller in the air. “Sweet, sweet, victory.”

Jasper kicked up his feet as he growled under his breath. His face twisted into a frown. “Of course, you won,” he said. “You picked Falaris.” He glanced at the floor as he folded his arms together. “He’s so much better than Brigeld. You only won because of that.”

“Are you interested in a rematch?” Jasper looked at Apricot with a smiling face on his face. Giving a slow, slight nod, he smiled to himself. Apricot thought to herself that playing games was always fun when both players have emotions. A deep, satisfying feeling welled up in her heart when she won with both players trying hard. Actually, she enjoyed competing with Jasper the most. Although he had pride, he never went overboard.

As she hovered her cursor over a man in red armor, Apricot said, “All right, well, I’ll pick the moonstone guy this time.”

“Well, if you’re going to pick a Drakr,” Jasper said, grinning while moving the cursor over the big black dragon. “I’ll pick Valis!” he shouted as he started the match.

Apricots went wide-eyed. The screen turned black, displaying a loading screen. “You chose the dragon! How am I going to win?” Jasper stuck out his tongue at her. “Fine, fine, even if you play with a dragon, I will still win and wipe that stupid smile off your face.”

Over several matches, each of them won a fair amount. “You know Apricot, you should find a husband,” Jasper suggested.

Apricot nearly dropped her controller at the random statement. “What!” she laughed to disguise her surprise.

Jasper commented while he mashed buttons, “Well, you are in danger a lot.”

Even though she knew he was right, Apricot still chuckled. However, no husband could save her from such danger. Apricot said, “I haven’t found the right guy yet.” Deep sadness overtook her at that moment. She hasn’t found the right guy, and never will at this rate. Not until this nightmare that has encroached upon her life is over, and who knew if that was even possible. The idea weighed heavily on her mind.

“What about Sato?” Apricot’s face flushed at the thought.

“Sato and me!” She shook her head. “No way, that would never work.”

Jasper looked over at Apricot. “I don’t see why not? After all, you both are into journalism. He could take photos and you could write the articles. Besides, you two are great friends, right? You probably think he’s cute, too. It’s obvious. You would be safe, too. You could stay at home instead of working at the supermarket. These days, I don’t think it’s safe to go out. Just let him take care of things.”

“Sometimes you’re such a kid, Jasper.” a faint smile crossed Apricot’s lips.

“What!” Jasper shouted. “What do you mean by that?”

Apricot laughed out loud and continued playing the game. “He’s worried about me. That is kind of sweet of him.” Apricot thought to herself.

“Where are Mom and Dad?” Jasper asked. Apricot looked up from her desk, which was cluttered with papers and her laptop.

“They’re on a date tonight. And then they’re going away for two weeks.” She continued typing her grueling report on the duties of a state journalist. In the past, the subjects were just as boring as ever, topics that really had nothing to do with journalism at all. It was still necessary to do the work as an assurance to the state that you understood when it was time to shut up. Whenever Jasper stood in front of Apricot’s door, he waited for her to open it and invite him inside. However, after a while, he would get tired of waiting for her invitation and enter. He leaped on top of Apricot’s bed with a loud crash and slammed into it. “Jasper!” she shouted.


“Don’t break my bed you little monster.” She snapped at him.

Rolling onto his back, he snuggles up under her covers as he lies there. “I’m not.”

Apricot continues to read her textbook “The role of media in civil society is to control the collective narrative and to propel people in a positive direction. The advancement of,” she stated when Jasper interrupts.

“Is it likely there will be more terrorist attacks in the future, Apricot?” Jasper asked, in a concerned voice.

Apricot puts her book down, pausing her reading. It seemed like terrorism was the buzzword of the day at the moment. Almost every day, an attack occurs. These attacks are all pseudonyms for paranormal activities that took place; Apricot considered. And yet, the public is going bonkers over all of them. “I hope that is not the case. You never know though.”

An awkward pause ensued between the two. “Was it scary? The attack I mean.”

“Very,” Apricot said, picking up her book once more. “I don’t have time to talk now, Jasper. I have to finish this paper for school.” She said, half wanting to avoid the subject as she had finally put those memories behind her. Those thoughts she wanted to keep buried among the layers of slumber and the relaxing calm of gaming.

“Yeah, I know but, can’t you do it later?” Jasper asked.

“No Jasper. I played games with you earlier, and now I have to finish my paper.” She raised her book to her eyes. As she scanned the page, Jasper let out a sigh. “Jasper, go to your room.”

“Well, can’t I stay here?” He whined.

Apricot groaned a bit before she added, “Yeah, but you have to be quiet.”

“Ok.” he chirped.

As she picked up her book, she glanced at what she had read last. “So, what is that book about? Let me see.” Jasper asked, bending over her shoulder.

Apricot gestured to her door with a finger as she said, “Out.”

“I was just wondering what it was all about!” said Jasper, in a state of shock.

“Out Jasper. It is way past your bedtime, anyway. Go to your room.” Apricot said to Jasper.

As soon as Jasper gets off the bed and runs out of the door. He yelled, “You are such a jerk!”.

Apricot shut her door and walked back toward her desk. Before she even got to her seat, however, she heard a knock at her door. As she opened the door, she saw Jasper standing there, looking up at her with a disheveled look on his face. “What do you want now?”

“There’s a dog in my room,” Jasper quaked, his eyes filled with an almost convincing look of fear.

Her eyes roll back as Apricot sighed. “You’ve been taking home stray dogs again.”

Jasper then spoke so fast that the words were hard to understand. “The window had been open, but I didn’t even realize it was open. I think it had come through the window.”

Considering the weakness of the excuse he used, there’s no doubt that he was trying to rouse her. Apricot shakes her head in disbelief. “On a two-story house, of course.” She said. “Are you really expecting me to believe that? I don’t have the time for this Jazz.” How foolish did he think she was? It was almost to the point of being insulting.

“I’m not lying. There is a dog in my room.” Jasper whimpered. “It has a lot of teeth and red eyes.”

“Then go downstairs,” Apricot replied, not believing anything he said.

“Apricot!” he shouted at her in a loud voice.

As she gripped her fists, she felt a wave of anger wash over her. Jasper shivered to the bone by the roar that followed. “Downstairs, Jasper, don’t bother me again or else I will ground you when our parents get home.”

“But Apricot!” Jasper cried, clutching his fists to his chest.

“No! I said. I have heard enough. Now go downstairs and let me study.” Apricot stomped her foot, causing Jasper to rush down the stairs in a hurry.

Getting back to her desk, she reached for her book and sat down. During her study, she heard a stirring in Jasper’s room. Then she smiles to herself. “Silly kid.”, she thought. “Thought he was going to make a fool out of me.” A few moments later, she heard a loud crash coming from his room. Apricot jumped to her feet and made her way across the room towards Jasper’s room, yelling with a loud voice: “What are you doing?”

Jasper had turned the lights off. “Jasper, stop playing around. I have to finish this report by the end of the night!” She growled. Flicking the switch on to see Jasper’s shelf lying on the floor with pieces of his models scattered around it. Apricot felt a sudden chill in the air as the room’s light flickered off and the temperature plummeted. “Phantom,” she whispered to herself in a hushed tone. As she reached toward the door, she grabbed Jasper’s baseball bat. While looking through the darkness, she detected several red eyes lurking in the shadows. As she raised the bat to her side, Apricot clutched it tightly in her hands. Apricot murmurs to herself “Just like softball,” and takes a slow swing at the ball. Her memories of proper softball form suddenly flood into her mind. Apricot whispered to herself, “Feint, Perry, Riposte.”

Apricot recalled her fencing technique from primary school as the creature approached her. It moved through the shadowed room, it appeared to be more like smoke than flesh. The many red dots on its head suggested that it may have many eyes. With the streetlight outside of Jasper’s window, Apricot can just make out its prowl across the room.

“Come on!” Apricot roared, feeling herself grind her teeth. It seemed as if her fear was being washed away by a surge of unimaginable anger. The wolf monster opened its thousand razor teeth at her and lunged. Apricot dives into the creature, slamming it in its mouth and promptly throwing a few bloody teeth into the air. She turned her head toward it and saw it land on the ground behind her. “I think it’s blocking my exit.”

Apricot watched as the monster stared at her, baring its teeth, before preparing the bat for another blow. Suddenly, the creature once again dove at her, this time biting her on the arm. Apricot worked the bottom of the bat and slammed it against the monster’s head, which caused its teeth to tear into the sleeve of her shirt. When the snarling beast struck into her again, she did not have time to recover from the attack. In a single blow, her bat mauls the creature in the head, crushing it to the ground. As the smokey creature rose to its feet, it snapped at her only to be met with another swing that knocked it into a wall. It stood up injured and snarling at her.

Grasping the bat, Apricot drew back. “Get out of my house!” she screamed, jumping up and slamming the bat as hard as she could onto the monster’s head. Apricot continued her flurry with the bat as the beast crashed to the floor. The beast’s body erupted in a puff of smoke as each blow was dealt. It sparked like a blown circuit when it was struck. After the flashing has stopped, the lights turned back on, leaving the creature nowhere to be seen, as though it had vanished into thin air.

She dropped the bat to the ground as she fell to the ground on her knees. She could feel the sweat running down her face. When she turned her head, she saw Jasper staring at her wide-eyed. “I told you there was a dog.” Apricot nodded, her eyes wide with fear. The look in Jasper’s eyes is almost the same. For several moments, the two stared at each other in silence.

“We can’t tell Mom or Dad.”

Jasper nodded shaking, “Where did it go?”

“Out the window.” She groaned. “Keep your window closed from now on.” She advised. “I’ll keep mine closed too.” She has been lying a lot lately since everything happened. There is a part of her that is feeling guilty about this. It is better if no one knows what is really going on she told herself. This is especially true for jazz. After all, he doesn’t need to be bothered by these kinds of problems.

Jasper looked around the room. With a frown on his face, Apricot can see that he was frustrated and worried. “What are we going to tell Mom and Dad?”

The room was a total mess; everything was scattered all around it; broken plastic and model pieces littered the floor. “We better clean this up before they get home,” Apricot said. “They can’t know anything about this, Jasper. They wouldn’t believe us even if we told the truth, and you, mister, will get in trouble for bringing in a stray dog.”

“But I didn’t!” Jasper yelled.

Apricot nodded. “I know. They will think that I am covering for you if I tell them it came in from your window. In that case, I might also get in trouble. We will then clean up before they get home and forget that it ever happened.”

Apricot’s blood has seeped through her light orange shirt and Jasper noticed it when he looked over at her arm. “It bit you, didn’t it?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

Apricot glanced at her arm with little thought. Looking back at Jasper, she tried her best to smile. “Yeah, it got me when I was trying to shoo it away. It’s not a big deal.” Her eyes drift back to the ripped sleeve. The wound was stinging but not as bad as she had expected. At most, she felt a dull throbbing pain from the gash. Apricot picked up a piece of Jasper’s model as she gazed around the room. “Come on, let’s get this done.”

“You have to study.” Jasper’s voice quivered.

Apricot reached out and grabbed Jasper’s wrist. She rubbed his hand, sighing. “It doesn’t matter now.”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 6

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

You Have Been Exposed

A ray of morning light lit up the living room bay window. Breakfast comprising rice topped with beans and poached egg, scrambled eggs and chicken with mayonnaise, cold tofu stacked with scallions and black sauce, and four small bowls of onion soup sat atop their living room table. Apricot’s mother, Winifred, rarely came home in the mornings, but when she did, the event usually turned into a celebratory one. Apricot always longed for mornings like these. Aside from having her mother with her, the large spread also became a tradition. Taking in the savory aroma, she eyed her healthy portions. Jasper commented while helping himself to the rice, “I am worried about my test.”.

“Have you been studying as you should?” She teased, as all older sisters do.

With a swift glance, Jasper thrust his chopsticks towards her. “I know you’ve seen me carrying my textbooks around! My whole life is about studying.”

“Jasper.” Winifred snapped, and he quickly lowered his chopsticks once more to his food.

Jasper defended himself by saying, “I was just saying.”

“If you study, you should do just fine.” Apricot continued to tease, leaning onto his back and wrapping her arms around him.

As Jasper poked at his food, he looked up at his parents. “What subject is causing you trouble?” Apricot’s father inquired.

“History. Nobody’s name makes any sense to me. All of it is confusing and boring, so it doesn’t matter. All the people are dead. What’s the point of feudal wars? They’ve been over for decades.” Jasper pouted.

Apricot’s father said, “Hmm, I wasn’t a fan of history when I was your age either.”

“Is it all right with you if I let you watch the house for a couple of nights?” asked her mother.

Apricot shrugged reluctantly. “It’s no big deal.” She lied. “They sent you on another long trip?”

“Yes, the plane is going around the globe in a full circle. We’ll stay in Castor for a few days. It will be nice to be home for a change.” Winifred replies.

Apricot’s father raised an eyebrow. “Wow, all the way over to Castor?“ A small demon sat atop Apricot’s head, hearing about her mother’s fortune. This demon was called jealousy. Too often it visited. She yearned to walk the stoney streets again. It was a beautiful place to be in Castor with the calm, peace, and nature all around. Unlike this island. Even what little nature they had is now a captured entity, surrounded by the city and its modern appeal. “My news is interesting as well.” Her father added. “They selected me to work on a new project.”

Jasper’s eyes glowed as Apricot watched them. “So, what’s the project?” Jasper asked.

“My role at the Uchellian space department will be to design an atmospheric elevator. For supply shipments, we will suspend a hydraulic rail system reaching to the space station.” Apricot could see her father’s announcement utterly blew Jasper’s mind. He seemed to burst at the seams with excitement. Jasper’s jaw dropped as their father elaborated with techno-jargon that eluded her. At Jasper’s reaction, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Whenever technology is discussed, he’s a nerd, and that’s a defining characteristic of his personality, she figured. It was clear to see that she had the same impression as her mother. Her father and Jasper are carbon copies of each other.

She wondered if she was more like her mother? She could have described flight attendants as adventurous, similar to journalists. In some ways more than in others. Apricot believed they balanced each other out. They both had an element of uncertainty.

A palm stroke from Ms. Signa cut off Apricot’s father’s rant. “Apricot, you received a message from Fukugata. They are interested in interviewing you about your story.”

Chopsticks fell from Apricot’s hand. “How is it you forgot to mention that? It should have been the first thing brought up today.” Apricot thought.

“Yes, quite a few people have read that story. I think it’s a good one.” her father said. Her cheeks flushed at his statement. It hadn’t occurred to her it had been widely distributed. When the technological department was talking about it, this meant that it had become mainstream. The department’s employees had little time to spare.

Winifred nodded. “I hope you don’t do anything so reckless again.”

Almost unable to believe what she just heard, Apricot shook her head. “You said Fukugata!” Fukugata is a local news network, but because it is the primary source of news in Blue Ash, it reaches most people in Okabe. Apricot mused to herself, what a great opportunity this is.

“Wo, guys!” Jasper quaked, pointing at the television. Apricot turned and watched the broadcast. Medical personnel and police block off the scene on screen. It is too quiet for anyone to hear the news reporter speaking. Along with the ticker, it said, “Roe Okabi jumps off the roof of the Rinjioh Shrine and commits suicide.”

“And there goes a legacy,” Apricot remarked to herself.


The subway’s clangorous wheels create a constant rolling ambiance. This morning, Apricot noticed the cart was much less full. It drew her attention to a man lying rudely on the backbench as he scanned the few people riding the cart. Apricot gripped the overhead rail tightly as she made her way toward the black-haired man wearing tattered clothes.

He raised his head from the seat. “Ah, damn,” he murmured under his breath. The man sat upright on the blue seat as he pressed his arm into it. The man rested his hand on his forehead and glared down at his feet. “Whatch’ya want, reporter girl?”

“Do you still have that camera you were trying to sell?” Apricot asked, unable to place a name.

Rolling his eyes, the man looked away. “Heh,” he replied, slumping back on the bench. “Don’t suppose you’re interested in purchasing it from me.”

Apricot’s soft smile spread across her face. “Well, yeah!”

He lowered his head to stare her in the eyes. “You should have bought it a few weeks ago.” He fumed at the girl. “I already sold the damn thing.”

“Oh, that’s a pity. I needed it.” Apricot groaned.

“Well, too bad I haven’t got it.” She frowned as she turned away. As her first steps were taken, her hair stood on end as he gripped her wrist. As she turned back, she saw the scruffy man standing up. He shoved his hand into her stomach while placing something in her arm. “I don’t need your sympathy,” he growled with a sneer.

Apricot glanced at the camera resting in her arms. “I don’t?” Apricot was quickly cut off.

“I know what you are doing,” he said with a down-turned glare. Rather sarcastically, he said, “Those mean men always beat Cortez up. He needs help. Well, I’m not looking for charity from you. I just want you to keep your hands off of me.”

“I ah…” Apricot held out the camera for him to take.

A grimace covered Cortez’s face as he spat into the air. “Keep the damn thing,” he said. “I don’t want it.” He immediately started running. Hissing loudly, the door closed behind him. The tightness in Apricot’s throat soon subsided, as she realized she would repay Sato.


Brick palaces stretched far into the distance, along the hall of buildings. Apricot walked the long street in the quiet city, almost as if it were still. A pair of headphones clung to her ears, cutting the cool breeze against her uniform of a tight red button-up short-sleeve shirt, yellow apron, and yellow shorts with a yellow stripe down the side. “Nothing is stronger than love.” Apricot sang along with the music. “Troubles that surround me, all go away when you are here.” She had a slight skip in her walk. “When you need me, baby, nothing keeps me away.” Hips swaying with each stride. “Oooo ahhhh!” she chirped, laughing at her absurdity.

In a stiff embrace, the chill swept through the air. A plume of warm breath came gushing from her mouth as she raised her pale hand to her rosy lips. The vapor encircled her fingers as it dispersed into the frigid air. “That’s odd,” Apricot observed. Her eyes scanned the road behind her to see all the street lights were out. A shiver ran down her spine.

“Nothing stronger than our love. Nothing stronger than our love. Nothing stronger than our love.” She took the player out of her pocket. The multi-touch display flickered, rewinded to the spot, played, and repeated. She pulled her headphone cord out in a swift motion. Apricot watches the screen, silently, as it continues to glitch. Despite the eeriness, she returned the player to her apron, continuing her stride.

The streetlights produced a flicker of light. In the blink of an eye, she saw a burned-out bulb fading to a dead tube. Another step forward, the next light goes out, and the next after that, and the one after that. As this strange event continued, her stride turned into a sprint. Apricot’s heart couldn’t keep going after three blocks. She grabbed her knees with both hands.

Her fatigue eased with a deep breath. Her surroundings brighten naturally. Turning to the strobe-like lights ahead, her heart thumped. “It’s a power outage.” She mumbled to herself. “It must be something like that.” Apricot stood up as she contemplated the idea of anyone witnessing her embarrassing panic attack. Even though there was no one around, she still observed the abandoned alleyway. Checking her surroundings one more time, she went on her way.


Placement of products on shelves had always been Apricot’s least favorite task. As she continued to restock shelves with no end in sight, she found the boxes to be overly colorful. On the front, cartoon characters were featuring various animals that brought back memories of her early childhood. Getting up before school in the morning, scarfing sugary flakes down before heading out the door.

Taking a step back, Apricot eyed the row of boxes to make sure they were evenly spaced. She glanced over to her left in time to spot a man staring at the light fixture. He was mumbling to himself, but it was too quiet for her to hear. Grabbing another box from the stack, she ignored the strange behavior of the man.

While placing the next box on the shelf, the man whispered. “Why are you staring at me?” Apricot glanced toward him. She ignored him, hoping he would leave. As she reached for another box, the man swiveled his head to stare directly at her. “Why are you staring at me?” he screamed.

The hollering surprised her, causing her to jump. As she gathered herself, Apricot placed a hand on her chest. “I am sorry, sir. I did not intend to look at you. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Stop looking at me!” the man yelled at her again. She turned away from him, clutching the cereal box. He fixed his stare on her as he let out a low growl. Her eyes widened. The man barked with bladed words, “Don’t look at me.” Taking several steps away from the man, Apricot kept her eyes on the ground.

“Why are you looking at me?” the man yelled again, letting out a loud, audible gag. His mouth spilled liquid onto the floor. Apricot rounded on the man with fluid running down his face.

“Are you okay?” she gasped, reaching for him.

“It’s too much to look at me!” the man howled, gagging once more. A set of long-fingers grabbed the sides of his mouth. Apricot froze, unable to comprehend what she saw. The hands pulled on his jaw, unhinging it. Red blood gushed out of its open face as its muscles tore. His throat split open as it released a mucus-like fluid. Upon opening, a wad of ripped tumorous flesh emerged from the dark cavity. She could see a sideways mouth in the middle of the flesh. The opening revealed teeth and a long tongue that resembled a snake. The hands pulled further, revealing a slimy, slime-coated body.

Apricot screamed, backing away from the monster. People gathered at the end of the aisle, watching in horror as this abomination emerged from the pulpy mess. In its attempt to escape the cocoon, it is stuck like a snake with half-swallowed prey. After a bloody burst and a groan, the creature ripped the body in half, exposing its bloody carcass. The creature clutched half of the corpse in each of its hands. The abomination gazed at the soggy curtain of tissue. After shifting its head toward Apricot, the creature hurled the flesh wad at her. Apricot landed on the ground covered in gore after being struck by the slab of meat.

She shrieked as she tried to remove the remains from her skin. Apricot kicked away her feet and twisted her body to prevent the sight of the creature. Anything she could to escape the abomination. As she jumped to her feet, she slipped on the blood-stained floor and landed on her knees again. It hurt, but it’s not her biggest concern at the moment. It drew her gaze to a man smashing a glass bottle onto the thing’s back. She saw the monster turn around, Apricot could see that several pieces of glass protruded from its back. After turning towards the man, it grasps his head with its fleshy fingers in a fluid motion. The man started screaming. She saw it rip off his head with a pop, as if ripping off a blossom. She could see part of his spine because it had ripped the tethers of his neck off. “Holy shit!” Apricot shrieked, jumping to her feet and running away as fast as she could.

Then she rounded the corner and ran through the aisles to the produce section, where the warehouse was situated. Suddenly, her eyes were drawn to the shelves avalanching like dominoes. It startled her when the creature leaped over the shelves towards her and vaulted, like some kind of feral animal. Sprinting as fast as she could, Apricot dives past carts of vegetables and fruits as she heads towards the warehouse. In the middle of the produce’s middle section, a young boy stood frozen in terror.

As she swooped in, Apricot grasped the boy in arm like a bird. She yanked him along with her, belting, “Come with me.” At first, the boy hesitated, but soon he ran next to her. After entering the warehouse, they ran past several iron shelves as they headed to the back of the room. Several others have already joined her, including a few of her colleagues.

“What the hell is that thing!” cried one of her coworkers.

He breathed heavily as Apricot held him in her arms. She reassuringly stroked his head. “It is ok.”

As Apricot takes a deep breath, she hears a voice entering her head, “They hast not to lend mortal folly Apricot. Thou can save those folk. Giveth to the powers, I hast given thou.”

Her eyes remained fixed on the entrance for the longest time. The screaming and crying did not improve her mental condition one bit. Her gaze remained dazed as she watched the men grabbing objects to protect themselves. Apricot let go of the boy and clenched her fist tightly. There was a deep sense of dread in her voice as she whispered, “It will be fine soon, kid.”

“Hie, fight!” commanded the reaper in her head. Faced with neon flames, Apricot takes a measured step forward as a surge of fire runs down her arm. It was as if her heart was drumming like an ancient tribal war song. Almost as if her fear of death was burning into a blaze inside of her.

In an instant, a bizarre parasitic creature charged through the entrance, its mouth wide open and its claws like bone extended, charging at Apricot. A strike from a metal pole lanced the creature in the chest, just as it was going to impact her. Awed by the sound of the creature’s wet scream, Apricot’s adrenaline rushed to a halt. The snapping creature was being held by one of her colleagues. “Get back!” he yelled. While waving its tongue, the monster emitted a strange hiss as it grabbed hold of the man’s neck with its tongue.

The butcher passed Apricot with a knife as she stepped back with a step. In a burly slicing motion, the knife slices through the tongue, freeing her co-worker. He tumbled to the floor, trying to get away from the monster. In response, the creature turned its head to the man, letting out a roar. But the pole jabbed in its chest buries itself deeper as the coworker twists it, letting out his roar.

In a rage, the abomination swung its arms at the man holding the metal pole straight in front of him. The claws of the beast just missed the man’s face. A flash of light appeared out of Apricot’s corner of the eye as she saw the door to the warehouse flash open. As soon as two officers entered the room, they fired several shots into the beast’s back. White flashes pierced through its body. Suddenly, the creature burst into static before fizzling out like dying embers, releasing one last cackle before dying. When the metal bar fell to the floor, it was as if it had never been there.

As Apricot watched the events unfold, her mouth hung open. A boy next to Apricot whispered something into her ear. “I don’t like your friend very much.” She turned her head to look at him, but he had run to the back of the room and out of the fire escape.

“Everyone stay calm.” said one of the police officers. “We can get everyone out of here if everyone complies. You have been exposed to a hallucinogenic substance. Please come with us so that we can administer the antidote.” Apricot turned to see several other officials in white hazard suits walking into the room.

“That was not a hallucination. That was real.” Apricot said to herself.

The reaper was observing Apricot from a dark corner of the warehouse. “Thou hast become a shameful disappointment.”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Leisure Time Of A Daredevil Journalist

Apricot tossed and shifted all night long in her bed, her eyes closed tightly to avoid all of those muffled whispers crawling through her head. A handful of voices are convincing her the frightening tones don’t come from within her head, but from all corners of her bedroom, from under the floorboards, and from the edges of sanity. A hanging evil now enclosed her room, which is no longer connected to her house. The twilight shadows seemed to conceal creatures peering at her. Through subtle glances, she found herself convinced they were there.

Her stomach turned over in terror as the slithering fingers grip her sheets, tracing lines on her legs. Shadows of an eternal sunken pit haunt her dreams. An old ruined city rose from the pit, its construction distorted; doors without stairs, and openings in walls where they should not be, rods hanging off the faces of architectures and looming towers flapping toward the ground. Within that dark vortex, the demonic world swirled. The countless creatures who roamed in it gaze back at her, looking from a nature very different from her own. As they lay in the shadows, they call out to a king and whisper tales about when they will cross over. She could feel their eyes cutting deep into her soul as she sat in her desolate room alone. There was something deep inside her telling her the dreams were just beyond the looking glass.

“Quite the daredevil, aren’t we, Apricot?” Miss Akagi’s roar rang out of the lecture hall, rattling Apricot to the bone. The other students could hear every word outside the room, she supposed. Her instructor’s stern finger wagged like a bludgeoning rod as her brown eyes shifted with the motion of her fingers. “You are to report the current events, my dear, not become part of one.” She straightened her posture, gripped Apricot’s paper, adjusted her glasses, and stopped her tongue-lashing.

As the stabbing silence continued, Apricot pulled her nails into her thigh. Miss Akagi continued, exhaling exaggeratedly, “However, I must commend your piece. It is rather enchanting.” She turned her attention to Apricot, walking from her podium. “If it weren’t for the strike you received, the story seems like a novel. Entering a crime scene unauthorized is a very serious charge, Missy.” She shook her head in defeat as Miss Akagi uttered the scalding words. “I should expel you,” Apricot choked on the words. “But rarely do we have anybody so daring? I will stand for it this time!” She emphasized, raising her eyebrows. “Fortunately for you, the Ministry has allowed me to decide how harshly we should punish you for this misbehavior. Don’t do it again or you will lose your state license and have to find a job in the private sector.”

“Yes, mam.” Apricot stammered, ashamed.

“Good. Let’s talk about your paper.” Apricot glanced up with a calm look on her face. She knew she had averted disaster. “Considering you are a junior journalist, it’s quite thrilling. It would be dishonorable to let it go to waste. Wouldn’t it miss Apricot? I could present your story before an actual journal, could I not?”

“A journal!” Apricot jumped. “Really? A real journal, like a state paper.”

Her reply made Akagi smirk. “Hm no,” she replied with a slight chuckle at the right time to appear snobby. “Neither a state paper nor an undergraduate journal. Such publicity belongs to independent publications. A weekly. Are you willing to sell it to me? Perhaps I can publish it for you.”

“Sell you my story?” she asked, awestruck. “I would love to.”

“Good, good,” Akagi sang as she flipped through the pages. “Keep it up and you may pass Apricot, that is, if you can remember to come to class.”

“Yes, Mam.” She nodded with a lively blush covering her cheeks.

As the city bustled with high-frequency jingles and flashing holograms from advertisements, the center is washed in entertainment. People were bustling along the streets of the downtown metroplex as Apricot and her friends walked. She was swept away by the day’s excitement. The highlights of the visit included window shopping through the side shops, stopping for delicious grilled chicken skewers at an outdoor stand called Oorudo Chiifu, and a fun cart racing session.

During Apricot’s ride up a large glass elevator, her friend’s conversation faded as she overlooked the city. Locals refer to it as “The Big Tower”, since it is the largest elevator in Blue Ash. The Big Tower was home to thousands of businesses and employed about two-thirds of the city’s population. The tower was not just where business took place; it was where Okabe ran most of the country’s government as well.

The Big Tower’s panorama normally marveled Apricot. This day, however, it seemed like a labyrinth. There was something strange about the city that made her nervous. That sprawl of metal and concrete timbers became a shadowland of unimaginable dangers. She could not help but wonder if something was waiting for her in that modern jungle, some kind of primitive horror, or maybe something so alien she could never understand. A totally frightening thought. As an instinctive reaction, she involuntarily peeled away at her fingernails. Her teeth ripped at the ends, causing jagged edges to appear from unevenly split nibbles.

For the sake of her well-kept nails, she couldn’t afford to think of the unimaginable horrors that waited in the hidden places. Her eyes fell on Solenne, a friend she had known for a long time. In her cute blue sleeveless hoodie with white stripes, she looked adorable. Under her hoodie is a black shirt with an obscured white logo. Even though she wouldn’t admit it to Solenne, Apricot always envied her fashion. Although Solenne was petite, Apricot found it hard to believe she was an officer. The way her boyfriend, an Arslanian immigrant from the county of Stezyl, tucked her into his muscular arms brought to mind a doll. His name was Arjun, and his body matched that of his namesake, the great bear.

Apricot came to understand that Stezyl had a terrible authoritarian regime in place. Because of all the horrible stories about Arjun’s childhood and all the reading she had done on the topic, the impression she had of the place was wanting to put it mildly. Likewise, it appeared as though things were turning the same way for her own home of Okabe. Her heart longed to return to Castor. The homeland of her soul.

Even so, her gaze turned back toward the street as the window called to her. “The city below, so far away.” Apricot pondered.

“What do you think, Apricot?” Solenne asked, jarring her from her trance.

It is unclear what the conversation is about or how to respond without letting everyone know she wasn’t even paying attention. In the end, she told it straightforward. “It’s scary.” She mumbled.

Machi scrunches her face in confusion. “Huh?” she barked. “How is it scary?”

“It’s not that… it’s that we are high up. Just imagine what it would be like if we had a bird fly into the tube. I bet the air pressure would take us out and we would fall to our deaths.” Apricot turned from the glass to see Arjan smirking and Solenne’s expression filled with concern.

“Apricot, you’re sick in the head? Who talks like that?” Machi shook her head in disapproval.

“O’, sorry I….” Apricot rubbed her arm, turning away from Machi, who shot her an iconic stabbing glare.

“Don’t worry, I was feeling ze same. I always do on zese thing. It’s… mile up the least, right?” Arjun’s accent was thick. Whenever there was a Th in a word, he always pronounced it as Ze. Besides those, he often used poor verb conjugations. Arjun may lack a good grasp of the Uchellian language, but that could be easily forgiven.

“The distance isn’t even half a mile!” Machi commented, slamming her arms to the side. “Stop talking crazy! I don’t need to think about stuff like this.” Apricot snickered. Arjun and Solenne soon joined, which completely stunned Machi. “You’re all horrible people.”

In the dark alleyway, the clicking of a man’s steps could be heard. “Damn it, they can’t keep doing this.” He said. Apricot jolted as Machi wrapped around her arm. Silently, the audience was watching the large silver screen with a semi-holographic display. As she ate her popcorn, she tried not to disturb anyone with its jarring crunch. What was the point of giving out popcorn in the theaters anyway, Apricot wonders? Popcorn was one of the noisiest snacks you can eat. The crinkle of candy wrappers was also audible. It was the quietest thing—food—and yet they find the loudest ones. It was as if they wanted you to interrupt the movie so they would have to watch it again. A shot of the back of the man showing a long dark alleyway drew her back into the movie as the screen panned away from the man. During his approach from the opposite side, shadows obscured him. A close-up of his shoes was shown.

Apricot winced, assuming that a jump scare was about to occur. She glanced at Machi, whose face appeared milky white in the screen’s light; eyes stuck to the image. It was obvious from how Machi’s nails buried into her arm.

“T-Tobei? Is it you?” the young man stuttered. As the young man walked in the dark, the man stopped. “Thank God, Tobei.”

Tobei’s grinning face emerged from the darkness into the light to reveal long, tapeworm-like eyes and his mouth opens just as the man screams, latching onto his face while he looks at it.

At that moment, Machi shrieked so loud that her scream overshadowed the screen, and the entire room joined in. In a panic, the hair on Apricot’s back stood on end. When Machi realized what she’d done, she shut up. Her face fell into a pout as she curled up into her chair. Apricot noticed the brief event painted her face with a rosy pink hue. “Sorry,” Machi mumbled. Apricot stifled her giggle as she petted her palm.

Over the din of electronic chatter, Arjan teased, “Gee, you scare me to death, Machi. That little scream of you make movie terrifying.” He pressed his foot against a machine that resembled the nose of a fighter jet and rested his arms on its board.

While piloting the digital plane, Machi glanced over her shoulder. “I wasn’t scared, it was just… that thing looked so strange.”

Arjun snickered. “Zeat, what scared is?”

The screen flashed as a group of rockets was fired into a plane, burning it down. Across the arcade system, a man shouted, “Ah, damn it!” which caused a sly smile to spread across Machi’s face.

“Alright, Machi!” Apricot cheered. Both Solenne and her are watching Machi’s expert maneuvers over her back.

Arjan spat a quick burst of air. “Zeink you hot Machi? Bet ya can’t beat me.” Arjan challenged.

“Arjan, she is enjoying her game. Let her be.” Solenne shushed Arjan, causing him to roll his eyes. His slack arms were placed behind his head as he slumped over the arcade machine.

Machi laughed modestly. “If I did, you would be an embarrassment to the military. Also, I wouldn’t feel safe knowing they let in people who can’t even compete in arcade games.” As Machi’s childish retort made Solenne sigh.

“Those two,” Apricot said under her breath.

“You’d think by now they’d get used to each other.” Solenne agreed. She continues, “I was busy filing reports all week. It’s like this city has gone nuts!”

“You don’t say?” Apricot inquired, a hint of curiosity settling in the back of her mind.

“Yeah, my poor baby has been coming home late much night this week. Zeomeday she doesn’t even get home.” Arjan mused, grabbing Solenne by the waist and kissing her cheek. “Leaves me lonely.”

Solenne nodded. “It’s true. Although I may not discuss it, there are murders everywhere. In addition, there was that bank robbery the other day, but you know all about that already.” Apricot felt her cheeks warm. As Solenne paused, her eyes became smaller and softer at the same time. “Apricot, this isn’t something I told you. It’s off the record.”

“I don’t understand why you’re picking me out.” Solenne narrowed her eyes at Apricot. “Okay, fine, I won’t write an article about it.”

Solenne went on. “Something happened that disturbed me. We got a report this morning about a singer who had her face chewed off by her fans backstage. The photos looked terrible, and the report wasn’t clear at all. It’s as if some sort of evil force was controlling them. We have the kids in custody, and they are acting like wild animals. They rumored it in my department that it is some Arslan biological or something like that.”

Apricot’s stomach clenched with dread upon hearing that information. An unidentifiable voice grunted, “Someone chews your face off.”

“Is it just me who heard that?” she thought. “That’s horrible.” She mumbled to herself.

“You said it. It’s unlikely that I’ll sleep tonight. As if the movie wasn’t bad enough, now you are telling us that people are being poisoned to eat each other? Thank you, Solenne.” Machi grumbled.

Arjun shook his head. “Don’t worry, zeis is just war hysteria. Biologicals cannot be released here by Aslana. It would be terrible weapon, anyway.”

“The war between Aslana and Castor is causing issues even in Uchella,” Apricot said, looking down at her feet on the red carpet of the stained arcade floor.

“That reminds me. Apricot, consider changing your route back home.” Solenne watches Apricot in concern. She further said, “If you ever need a ride home, call me or Arjan and we’ll get you.”

“Why do you say that?” Apricot chuckled, trying to cover up the growing sense of dread.

As Arjan shrugged, he looked away. “You listen, all right.”

“All right. I will be sure to.” Apricot said.

“Well, did you see anything or hear anything last, Ventaro?” Solenne asked.

She swallowed a lump. It was Ventaro that she encountered that weird thing. “Ah, no, why do you ask?”

Apricot saw the fear well up in her eyes as Solenne’s words left her mouth. “They found some bodies after people reported… things.” Something like boiling black sludge, tarring her inside. The firmly clasped arms of Solenne wrapped around Apricot as she hugged her. “My heart goes out to you. I know how hard that robbery was on you. Like I said. Just call us whenever you need a ride.”

Through the throng of people at arcade machines, Apricot looked beyond Solenne. There was a shadow that stood in the dark behind the people she watched pass. She saw it cross the wall. A flowing cloak traversed alongside its twin horns while they bent in various directions. “Sure,” Apricot replied as the shadow passed by, disappearing into the crowd.

“Has anyone else noticed that it is hot in here?” asked Machi as she stepped out of the machine’s cockpit.

Arjun nodded. “Zeought I was zee only zeinking that.”

The thing went missing, gone. It had passed her by this time. Her guess was that it was because of the crowd. It’s observing her for sure. Her heart pounded. “Well, it’s getting late,” she said. “I should probably head home. Thank you so much for the fun day out.” Apricot replied.

“Sure, need a ride home?” Arjun asked.

Apricot can’t look away from the shadows. “Nah, I shouldn’t have any problems walking home. The train station isn’t too far away.”

Apricot hollered, “Mom, Dad, I’m home,” as she kicked off a pair of red and white sneakers. She ran up the stairs and closed the door behind her. She found sanctuary in her bedroom. As she sat at her desk, she flipped open her laptop. “I’d like to learn more about these murders now. Solenne, you’ve got me curious.”

The government has restricted or removed most of the items. The forums seemed to be manually censored in real-time. They immediately edited topics on the subject, leaving them blank or removed by the user who posted them. Suddenly, her attention is caught by her phone. Grabbing the black slab, Apricot flicks it with her finger to reveal a message from Bonni. “Hey, girl, wanna meet up at the park?” she asked. “I want to show you something.”

Visiting the park at such a late hour filled Apricot with dread; however, if Bonni were to discover she was with her friends earlier, it might hurt her. She texted back, “Sure” against her better judgment.

The park is a shadowed nightmare. Apricot examined every tree lit by artificial light. Every sound made her twitch until she spotted Bonni on a distant bench. “Bonni,” Apricot called out as she approached her. “I’m so happy to see you. At night, the playground is spooky.”

A magazine rested on Bonni’s lap as she crossed her legs. With Bonni’s fingers splayed over the cover, Apricot could not make out the image, but she could make out the title, Eerie Truths Monthly. After the events last week, she wasn’t sure whether to roll her eyes. “It’s nice to have a seat. Since the train is out, it takes a little longer to get to this side of town.”

“I know what you mean. It can be a real pain. I would have shown up at your place, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there, so I texted you instead.” Bonni lifted the magazine. “I want to show you this,” she gestures to the pages, wagging in her hands. “I know, I know, this is a weird magazine, but,” she chirped when she reached the folded page in her hands. “This is what I was talking about.”

Photos taken with low-resolution cameras are littered across the page. One picture shows something jumping off a building. Apricot realized the picture was fabricated. “Thank you, Bonni,” she replied. One finger interrupted her.

“Wait, before you say anything,” Bonni interjected. High-resolution photos show a silhouette that closely resembles the reaper she saw floating over the city. It made her heart stop. “See what I mean. That is not normal. I see this all the time.” Apricot clutches her mouth tightly. “He’s called Claw Fingers.” Her mind raced for what to say. There was no way she could tell Bonni that she had seen that creature. “The report says he offers people power for servitude.”

“These stories, Bonni. When did these stories start?” Apricot asked in a cute tone, hoping to hide the horror engulfing her.

“Only a few months. I’ve read this magazine for years, and it got its first mention two months ago. Even creepier is the string of murders that happened last week.” Bonni turned the page to reveal a bent corner. She unfolded it to reveal the header, “The Ikijoji Street Murderer.”

“Bonni!” Apricot shouted, standing from the bench. “Stop it!” She snapped, scowling at a wide-eyed Bonni. “You need to stop reading fantasy stories. Don’t include me in this thing if you want to believe it.” She felt her heart sink as her fear seized her.

As she folds the magazine, Bonni lowers her gaze. A sullen tone rose in her voice as she declared, “I thought you would be interested in this stuff as well.”

“It terrifies me,” Apricot croaked, folding her arms. “I walk down there almost every night, and I don’t want to hear about someone butchering people around there.” Apricot took a few deep breaths. “My head is spinning enough already with school and work.” She explained. “I don’t need to worry about some imaginary paranormal activity.”

Silence reigns. A faint smile flares up on Bonni’s face. “Clearly, this all has you scared. It’s okay, Api, I will not bother you anymore. If you would like to discuss imaginary spooks, I am always ready to listen.”

“Ah, sure Bonbon. I guess we’ll catch up later.” Apricot muttered. “I apologize, but you’re right. This is frightening.” A shallow hug from Bonni followed. “I don’t like that.” Bonni nodded.

A smirk spreads across Bonni’s face. “I have something to tell you before I leave. I heard more from the SDP police. The lady from the other day. There was some kind of spectral anomaly, causing bullets to bounce off her. They had not seen anything like it before.” Her blood froze. “That’s why they had that machine at their disposal. They needed a large projectile to eliminate whatever was protecting her. It may seem silly to listen in on their conversations so intently, but Apricot, they are hiding something. I just thought you should know.”

“Why me?“ Apricot asked.

“I’m not sure. I just have a feeling. Maybe it’s intuition. Maybe it’s superstition.” Bonni softly said. “Well, it is really late. We should leave before we look suspicious. The guard may think we’re doing something wrong.”

Apricot waved as the two started down the dark park road in separate directions. She fixed her eyes on the starless sky. “This is all getting real. Too real,” she thought to herself, an eerie feeling that she was being followed taking over her.

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