Playlist: A Short Story

6:32. I open my eyes slowly to the gaze of the red flashing numbers on the bedside clock. I was dreaming about something, I can’t remember… A few moments pass and then I pull myself out of bed. Toilet, wash-up, breakfast. I find my place in line. Someone I don’t know is staring at me. In every room, there’s a clock.

7:33. I go to work. The people beside me are not my co-workers. No one speaks, and no one listens. I go back and forth mechanically. One of my non-co-workers goes away without warning. I don’t know where she is going.

8:34. I go outside. The field is large and spacious and empty. I walk around it a few times, whistling to myself quietly. No one is there to hear me. But there is still a clock on the fence. I walk until I’m too tired to continue walking, and then I sit down in the grass. There must be a groundskeeper, but I have never seen them.

9:35. Back to work. It’s a busy life I live. One of my non-co-workers is asleep on the floor. The clock ticks rhythmically. In an empty room, the sound of a ticking clock can drive one crazy. A cat slips in through the doorway, stops there as if observing the proceedings, and then vanishes.

10:36. Free time. I go back into my room and stare at the numbers on the clock. Something about them intrigues me. I still can’t remember what I had been dreaming about. I lay back on my bed to rest, but my eyes won’t close.

11:37. I get up to go to the toilet. Someone I don’t know is washing their hands. They stand there scrubbing for much longer than twenty seconds, and they leave the tap on. When they finally leave I take their place. There are no more paper towels. In place of the mirror, the clock stares back at me. I hum under my breath, a long-forgotten melody from my dream.

12:00. “Happy Birthday” is playing. I go to lunch. It’s my friend’s birthday, and everyone is singing. We bring out a cake and have a great feast. The cat comes back and we offer it cake. My supervisor tells a joke, and I start to laugh.

Joe Hisaishi’s “First Love”. We go to clean up after our lunch. I’m in charge of putting away the decorations. I go in and out of the cafeteria, taking away the balloons and party streamers. As I walk I notice that every room has a speaker. The girl I have a crush on spots me and smiles, and I smile back at her.

X Japan’s “Say Anything”. Back to work again. The cat comes and lays near my feet while I work. My supervisor says she has a terrible headache and goes to take a nap. The girl I have a crush on stands next to me, and we start talking.

Yiruma’s “Reminiscent”. Free time. I go back to my room. Someone somewhere is playing the piano, and the speakers amplify it. I lay back on my bed, close my eyes, and drift off to sleep. There’s no need to count sheep anymore. When I wake up I remember what I was dreaming about.

SID’s “Otegami”. I sit at my desk and start to compose a letter to my parents. Outside my room, several friends are chatting. I listen to the sound of their voices as I write. The cat finds its way into my room and leaps onto my bed. I sketch a picture of it on the back side of my letter.

Brahms’ “Intermezzo in A, Op.118 No.2”. It’s the last work session of the day. My supervisor comes back, saying she feels better. We finish working early. A friend gives me a handknit sweater as a present. I put it on and go to mail my letter. Naturally, the cat comes along.

Sakamoto Ryuichi’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”. We line up for dinner. My roommate is next to me in line, and I hug her. The girl I have a crush on sits next to me at the table. She complements my sweater. The cat curls up in my lap, and I put the speaker on full blast. The food tastes great, and I’m happy. There was more that I wanted to do today, but that’s alright, I think. In this case, there will always be tomorrow.

Entry #38 – Synchronicity Reflection

風の中に舞う笑い合う声
煌めく夕日は明日への約束
月が映し出す君をみつけた

– GACKT, 「ASH」
lyrics from JPopAsia

Hey all, Kohaku here. I hope everyone is doing well. I haven’t been great mentally and emotionally this week, but I’m positive things will get better for all of us. It’s been raining so much…

The last part of Synchronicity came out on Monday – how did everyone like it? Synchronicity is a story that I think you need to read all in one sitting to get the most impact and meaning out of it. Each part is short, anyway, so it’s not like it would take that long. But anyhow, if you only read a few parts piecemeal, or if you didn’t read it at all, I recommend going back now and reading it at once from start to finish. And then, if you haven’t before, read the short story Affinity. They’re paired, like A-side and B-side tracks, in a way, and I do think there is something to be gained from reading them together. With this project I was trying to convey something that is difficult to put into words, something that might not even be totally clear after reading both stories, so I would love to hear your thoughts on what you took away from it afterwards.

I think that’ll probably be it for this entry. Really, this week was so bland and numb I sat down to write thinking “I’ve got nothing.” I’m going to do my best to heal and take care of myself – you all do too. Hopefully our art will catch up.

Lots of love,

KT

Affinity

One windy August morning, Kioko Sashihara walked onto the empty, artificial tourist beach with an overdriven desire to die.

Where the paved road merged with the grainy off-white sand, she knelt down and removed both of her sandals. Then, carrying the pair in her left hand, she stepped almost ceremoniously onto the beach proper. Her bare feet buried themselves without warning in that ridiculous pile of eroded shells, corals, driftwood, reeds, and plastic. Kioko looked down and frowned.

A few moments later, her distaste dissolved into the fantasies of her willful imagination. She likened the plastic-sand mixture all around her to the deadly quicksand she had seen in movies, and she wished it would hurry up and drag her to her doom.

The dream didn’t last long. Nothing happened, after all. No sinking, no slow, agonizing death. Kioko pulled her feet up, sighed, and kept walking on towards the shoreline.

As the sun slowly rose along with her and the wind danced through her silvery-blue shoulder-length hair, Kioko revelled in the unusual emptiness of the beach. Not because she particularly enjoyed being alone, or because she dreamed of becoming a hermit living a secluded life somewhere out in nature, but because the lack of tourists, the lack of people on such a beautifully hot and windy day, was a sign that she wasn’t supposed to be there. She could have easily picked a different sign – the actual physical metal signs posted every twenty feet along the edge of the sand, or the martial law shelter-in-place order nailed to the front door of her house – but these did not bring her nearly so much excitement as the empty vacuum she had dared to use her body to fill. Kioko wasn’t a rebel. She took no delight in carelessly breaking rules. She just very easily, very simply, wanted to die, and if breaking martial law meant she was perhaps one step closer to death… well, it gave her some warped kind of happiness, and she was content with that.

Reaching the shoreline with these happy feelings in mind, Kioko dropped her sandals into the damp sand and ran daringly into an approaching wave. The force of the chilling seawater as it wreathed around her legs and knocked her backwards was disappointing. This was not a beach that produced those great waves that surfers like to ride.

Kioko regained her balance and stood ankle-deep in the murmuring water that couldn’t seem to decide whether to advance or retreat. Another small bubbly wave came and left. Firm-footed, she gazed out at the marine horizon, remarkably empty of all the fishing vessels this town used to be known for, and nodded to herself for no apparent reason.

It was not a bad day to die.


At precisely 8:30 on a fateful Monday morning, Rin broke out of home quarantine and snuck through familiar back alleys until she had successfully made her way down to the cove. The adventurous escape took her twenty minutes. She paused to rest four times.

When she reached that spot where the walking path met the soft beach sand, she quickly tore off her shoes and stepped into that strange grainy warmth that characterized the only beach she had ever known. She savored it for a moment, eyes closed, feeling incredibly glad to be alive.

As she left her shoes behind and ventured forth toward the beautifully calm ocean, Rin glanced over her shoulder a few times, observing her deathly-silent town. She hoped that the soldiers wouldn’t spot her – and that if they did, they wouldn’t shoot her. But she knew it didn’t matter in the long run. She was going to die anyway. Today, tomorrow, what’s the difference?

She kicked her feet a little as she walked along, enjoying the hot sand and the muted wind that filled her nostrils with the scent of the salty sea. This is incredible, she thought to herself. Now, if only there were people…

It was pointless to dream about that. Had there been other people, she wouldn’t have been able to come. Her immune system was too weak; she was forbidden to interact with the general public, especially in large crowds such as those often found on tourist beaches. Even so, she couldn’t help but wish for companions. Home quarantine was too dry, her only ‘friends’ being masked nurses and the occasional soldier visiting at her window with flowers that had to be left outside or children’s toys that had to be disinfected before she could play with them. And she wasn’t even a child. She was seventeen. The toy guns and dolls and single-player board games they brought bored her to death – but they were trying their best, she knew, so she always pretended to be delighted. What she really wished for was a book, a real book with covers and a spine and hundreds of pages in which she could bury her face to breathe in the smell of print and paper, but books had been outlawed long ago. Here in this coastal town, all the books had been taken and piled on the old fishing boats and dumped somewhere at sea. That same day, those boats had later been hauled in, tied in a long ridiculous line, and set aflame. She remembered seeing this event from her window quite vividly; now, walking across the wide, empty beach, she thought about it again with a sense of longing and a deep, bitter disappointment.

She had always wanted to be a sailor – and if not a sailor, a naval engineer. But it looked like she would never get her chance.

Rin stopped well behind the waterline marked by the edge of the wet, dark sand. She wanted nothing more than to jump into the water, to feel what the sea feels like, to taste what the sea tastes like, but she knew that she shouldn’t. For the time being, she contented herself with just standing there and watching the waves busy at their gentle play. Now, that’s freedom, she thought. You don’t realize it, but you’re lucky. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.

But it was alright. Rin never let herself dwell on these kinds of thoughts for too long. She had to be happy with what little she had – and right in this moment, standing barefooted on the hot sand and closer to the ocean than she’d ever been, she was happy enough to be alive.


After an appropriate amount of time had passed, Kioko turned and began walking westward, parallel to the sea. It did not seem likely that standing in the water would fulfill her death wish. Medusa would not leap out from the sea and turn her to stone – and if the soldiers on watch had not noticed her yet, they might never. An animal in motion is more likely to catch the hunter’s eye.

It is important to note that nothing was particularly wrong with Kioko. There was no illness, no injury, no genetic defect or problem in the brain that made her want to die. She just did. Knowingly. Rationally. And she did not care for other people to know her reasons. But even if there was nothing medically ‘wrong’ with her, even Kioko had to admit that she was somehow, in some strange way, quite special. She had wanted to die for some time, but even in the life-loving years she’d experienced prior, she had more or less known that the gods were calling, that death was coming. It was like she had been born with an expiration date tattooed on the inside of her left wrist, and once that date passed, she expected with perfect certainty that she would just stop living. But, unfortunately, death was not that simple.

Kioko had come close to death many times. As a child, and now as an adult, she had always walked that thin tightrope between one world and the next, now falling this way, now falling that way. Sometimes the event that taunted death had been what others would label an accident; other times it had been of her own doing. But no matter what happened, no matter what she did, Kioko would always end up living.

At first she had hung on to the belief that the gods were toying with her. They had given her this expiration date, and now they were taunting her with it. They were chaining her to that heavy rock called life and they simple refused to let her go. But over time, as events piled on top of each other and patterns began to emerge, Kioko came to believe that it was actually quite the opposite. The gods were doing their best to deliver on their promise; they were trying with all their might to claim her. But it was the human race that refused to let her die. Once Kioko understood this, she gave up on the idea of suicide. It would never work – at least not here, in a human-ruled world, in a time and place where men could defy the wills of gods. She stopped putting so much active energy into her efforts at death, and for the past few years she had simply floated along from one near-death experience to the next, hoping that one day, someday, the gods would become strong enough to take her away. That, or humanity would become strong enough to let her go.

Kioko began jogging gently down the beach – still heading westward, still parallel to the sea. She thought that just maybe the figure of a person running would be enough to crack the nerves of some anxious soldier on guard duty on the waterfront. But a few minutes passed, and nothing happened. It seemed like no one had seen her. Kioko looked toward the town in slight dismay and began wondering if she was already dead. Perhaps the soldiers couldn’t see her because she was a ghost. Or maybe there were actually no soldiers at all, and she had somehow slipped without warning into some kind of spirit world, some parallel universe where dead people existed in calm isolation. The thought burned her. After all this time, she had really been looking forward to the momentous experience of true, complete death, and now it had passed her by unnoticed. What a shame.

Kioko slowed to a steady walk and gazed up at the clear sky above her, wondering what it must feel like to live.


With the edge of her bare foot, Rin began to trace the roman letters of her name into the sand. She worked slowly, determined to take on this meaningless task, and made the letters as large as she reasonably could. First the R took shape, in a clunky block font; then the simple form of the I. Time passed meaninglessly. After she completed the I, she sat down at its base to rest.

Watching the waves as they shyly retreated farther and farther into the peak of low tide, Rin wondered why the gods had chosen her, of all people, to die. From birth she had been sick. The doctors had told her parents that she was not going to live to adulthood – she had not even been supposed to reach her teenage years. Her parents had done their best to love her, to raise her, but to raise a child with a terminal illness is not that easy. Now, she lived out her days in a quarantine that felt like prison, and she couldn’t help but wonder why. Why she had been marked for death – and why the nurses still hoped, still tried, to make her live.

Once her fatigue abated, Rin climbed to her feet and set about tracing the N. For some reason, this letter gave her the most difficulty, even though one would think that the greater challenge would have been the R. She did her best to make the lines straight and keep the overall size in proportion with the rest of her short name.

The sun climbed slowly and steadily and at last the name was completed. Rin underlined it twice, stepped back, and smiled. She imagined a military plane soaring high above, ready to set out on some reconnaissance mission, and its pilot or scout puzzling over these three letters that were to everyone else completely irrelevant. The thought of it made her laugh.

As she enjoyed this surprising, unusual moment of mirth, Rin looked over her shoulder at her silent town. There was no one to be seen, not even the usual soldiers on patrol. She imagined that the entire town had suddenly been evacuated without her noticing – an impending airstrike, perhaps, or enemy warships on the horizon – and the nurses had left her behind. For some reason this idea just made her laugh harder. Overtaken with strange amusement, Rin collapsed into the sand next to the name she had spent so long tracing, and she closed her eyes as she drank in the warm, life-giving rays of the sun and the warm, life-giving burst of laughter that came from within.

This is okay, she decided.

I’m going to be alright.

An hour later, she met Kioko, and the two of them returned to town side-by-side.


This short story is paired with the A-side serial Synchronicity: Read Here

Best of ~2019~

Hi everyone, Kohaku again! As promised, today’s post is a top-ten best-of compilation of my published work from 2019. It was really difficult to narrow it down to ten. I tried to gather from across my various styles and genres as well as from throughout the whole year, and I also wanted to not have any repeats (so any work within an already-featured compilation was automatically out of the running for anything else). Without any more of my blabbering, here are my top-ten picks from my work this past year. In no particular order:

  1. Songs Without End [Short Story]
  2. lost in time [Poetry, Poem-Song]
  3. 「VANGUARD: Flagbearer of Nocturnal Skies」 [Poetry Compilation]
  4. Another Year Has Gone… [Poetry, General]
  5. 永遠の歌 [Poetry, Tanka]
  6. Photography in Canada [Photography]
  7. Life = Suffering + Love [Zuihitsu Collection]
  8. Entry #4 – Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and Art as a Tool for Activism [Journal Entry]
  9. Prologue, To Walk in the Footsteps of Angels [Serial Writing]
  10. Mental Health and the Failure of Our Education System [Uncategorized Writing]

What about you all? What were your favorites from my work this year? I’d like to know, because I really do reflect on my writing and artwork a lot.

Everyone take care. See you tomorrow for my year-end message.

KT.

Formless Daydreams: A Short Story

Standing inside the lone convenience store near my school, I shift my weight from my right foot to my left, then back to my right. I juggle the items in my hands – a carton of milk, a bag of vegetable chips, and a chocolate bar – and check my watch for the twentieth time. The line in front of me isn’t becoming any less long, and I’m starting to feel nervous. If I miss my train… well, it wouldn’t be good, I’ll just put it that way. My mother would have a fit.

I fidget for a while and look aimlessly out the store window. Two school-age girls, an elderly man, and a small boy get in the line behind me. We inch forward like a caterpillar. After a few minutes, one of the girls puts the things she wanted to buy back onto the shelves and leaves the store in a hurry. I wonder if she’s trying to catch the train, just like me.

To my relief, a second employee soon comes out of the back room and takes up a position at another cash register. Now the line starts moving, and before long I’m pushing my way out the door, stuffing my groceries into my backpack. I make a panicked run for the station. And when I get there, it turns out that the train hasn’t even arrived yet! Just my luck. I mean, I’m certainly lucky, but I’m also not, if you know what I mean. All the time I spent worrying, all the energy I spent running… This kind of thing annoys me. If I’m late, let me be late, you know?

Just as I thought, the girl from the convenience store is at the station too. She’s standing near an empty bench but not sitting on it. I sit at a different bench, a little farther away, and glance at her curiously. Her hair, dyed a light blonde, comes down to an inch or two below her shoulders, and she’s wearing a nice dark blue button-up shirt and shorts. She looks calm and collected, professional, I guess – like she’s got a handle on herself that most people our age don’t have. She’s lowered her backpack to her feet, and she just stands there, gazing at the train tracks, waiting patiently. She’s pretty attractive to me, so I can’t help but look over at her once in a while. I wonder if she goes to my school.

The minutes tick by. I start to imagine what must have happened to the train: it derailed, it hit someone on the tracks, a passenger died, the driver had a heart attack… the list goes on. It’s incredibly rare for the train to be late, and I mean rare as in “never happened once in my life.” But none of my fantasies seem to match up with reality. The train smoothly pulls up to the station ten minutes behind schedule, and all the people waiting get on board, myself and the girl included.

This route is heading out of the city, in a somewhat unusual direction, so the train isn’t crowded. I crash in a window seat, and the girl sits in my same row but on the other side. I take out my milk, open the carton, and take a few careful sips as we pull out of the station. I know some people get disgusted at drinking milk straight from the carton, but I could never understand why. It’s not dirty, and besides, not using a cup saves water. I satisfy my thirst and put the milk back into my backpack.

The ride will take forty minutes. I realize I should text my mother to tell her that the train was late, so I pull out my phone and craft a heavily apologetic message. Just as I’m about to send it, my battery dies. I curse in my head, put my phone away, and imagine the beating I’m going to get once I arrive home.

Well, just imagining won’t do anything, right? Looking for something to distract myself, I take out a book from my backpack that I’d just borrowed at the school library the day before, and I settle in and start to read. Outside my window, the city edge zips by in incoherent flashes. The train hums along, steady and soothing. I lose myself in the book quite happily.

Some twenty minutes later, as I’m busily turning pages, I hear the girl across from me take a phone call. In the back of my mind I make a sharp retort – people who take calls on the train irritate me – but I can’t really get mad at her. I finish a chapter of my book and start another one, and all the while the girl speaks softly in the background.

And then, it happens. I’m still lost in my book, but in the corner of my eye I see the girl swiftly opening her backpack. She takes out a notepad and a pen, and starts scribbling something on it very urgently – she’s left-handed, I notice – while simultaneously maintaining her phone conversation. Then she stands, crosses the aisle, and waves the notepad at me.

I lower my book and look at her, startled. I hadn’t been listening to her at all, but now I hear her saying into her phone over and over again, “It’s okay, you’re alright, just keep talking to me, talk to me, let’s talk.” She waves the notepad at me again, her eyes wide, fierce, and frightened all at once. I look at what she’d written on it.

call the police my friend is going to kill herself

I drop my book immediately and stand up, feeling anxiety and fear starting to rise in my stomach. What? My phone is dead, I can’t, and besides what would I say… The girl waves the note in my face again, bold and insistent and terrified. I nod at her and look around. There’s one other person in our car, a middle-aged woman listening to music through her headphones. Motioning the girl out of the aisle, I take her notepad, go over to the woman, and tap her on the shoulder.

The woman looks at me, annoyed, and pulls out her headphones. “What?” she asks. Her voice is really deep, and it rattles my anxiety even more. I shake out of it.

“Please, I need your phone, it’s an emergency,” I say, showing her the notepad. I gesture at the girl behind me, still talking to her friend in desperate but calm-coated tones. “I’ll give it right back, I promise, I just need to make this call, my phone is dead…”

The woman doesn’t say another word. She hands me her phone immediately, and I thank her. I head back towards the girl while dialing the police.

A female dispatcher answers after two rings. “Hello, what’s your emergency?”

“This girl on my train is on a call with her friend who she says is about to commit suicide,” I blurt out.

“What is this friend’s name?” the dispatcher asks.

“What’s her name?” I hiss across the aisle.

The girl scribbles it on the notepad, and I read it aloud.

“Okay, and where is she?”

“Where is she?” I whisper.

The girl starts to write down an address, slowly, struggling to remember. The whole time she’s still saying into her phone, “Yes. Uh-huh. Tell me more, love. Keep talking with me.”

She finishes writing, looks over it a little skeptically, adds a question mark, and extends a hand to show it to me. I start reading it to the dispatcher: “Seven, two, four …”

In that instant our train driver slams on the brakes with a screeching wail. Before I know it we’re flying through the air, frail human bodies rising on clouds of sparks and flame, sprays of shattered glass and cell phones, and the last thing I see is the girl’s notepad, held by no one, written on for nothing, and I close my eyes.

To Not Forget Each Other…

I stood at the entrance of the cemetery, reluctant to go in. Something in my mind was pulling me back, something… I couldn’t put a finger in it. I just lingered at the gate for a few minutes, staring inside at the neat rows of gravestones lined by shade-giving trees, and all the while wondering what I was doing there in the first place.

After some time a dark blue car pulled up to the curb behind me, startling me. I glanced over as a woman slightly older than me got out of the passenger’s seat. She wore a plain light gray shirt and black shorts that looked strangely exactly like the ones I’d wear while working out. Her straight black hair came down to her shoulders, and she didn’t have on accessories of any kind. She closed the door behind her and gave a little wave to the driver, and then the car sped off.

The woman turned toward the cemetery gate and saw me standing there looking at her. I blushed, embarrassed, and quickly looked away. After a moment’s hesitation she walked up to me and I turned to face her again as she spoke.

“Hello,” she said politely.

“Good afternoon,” I replied. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare…”

She shook her head. “That’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’m Aiko, and you are…?”

“Haku.”

“Nice to meet you, Haku.”

I nodded uncertainly. “You too.”

“If I may ask, why are you just standing here? Is there something wrong with the gate? Is the cemetery closed today?”

“No, there’s nothing wrong with the gate, and it’s open, so you can go in. I’m just standing here because… well… I don’t really want to go in, you see.”

I blushed again as I tried to explain myself. I thought she would laugh at me, but she just nodded with understanding.

“That’s fair,” she said, giving me a little smile. “People generally don’t want to go into cemeteries.”

“Why are you here?” I asked, hoping the question wasn’t too rude.

“Because I can see spirits,” she answered simply. “I can see them and talk to them. So, every weekend, I’ll come here and talk to spirits whose friends and families haven’t visited them in a long time. Death can be quite lonely, you know. I think it’s sad. So I’ll just come here and chat with some of them and try to help them feel better.”

I thought about that for a moment. “Death is lonely,” I declared in agreement. “I’m glad you can see and talk to lonely spirits and help them out.”

She nodded. “It’s bad when people forget about the dead, don’t you think? I’ve been able to see spirits since I was really young, so I try not to forget all the spirits I’ve met since then… it’s hard sometimes, but for the spirits themselves it must be worse!”

“I imagine so,” I said. “You’re right.”

The woman smiled at me. “Take my hand, Haku. Let’s go in together, and we’ll do our best not to forget about each other afterwards. How’s that?”

For the first time all day I allowed myself to smile back at her. “Sounds good.”

I took her hand, and we entered the cemetery side-by-side.

Spirit Dreams at Midnight: A Short Story

It was a humid summer night. A young woman sat at the edge of a small wooden dock, dangling her long legs into the lake. The deep blue water around her shimmered beautifully in the light of the waning moon, but several large, spontaneous ripples on its surface gave it more of a threatening image, as if dangerous beasts were lurking below. Gazing into the watery depths, the young woman was calm and still.

There were two minutes to midnight.

Her name was Chinami, and she was an orphan. From the beginning of her life, she had been completely and utterly alone. Nobody cared about her, nobody wanted her, nobody loved her. Yet, somehow, she loved herself. She was one of those people who were perfectly content in their solitude, and despite the tragedy of her background, she was happy.

She was happy – but she didn’t know why she was here.

Existential questions had plagued her all her life. Sitting in the darkness, isolated in her own little world, she had spent years wondering why she was even alive, and what for. But tonight her question was not philosophical or conceptual at all – it was a very real, very solid sense of tangible unawareness. She had no idea what she was doing, sitting here at the edge of a wooden dock, staring into a dark blue lake. She didn’t know how she had gotten here, or what she had been doing before. In fact, she had no memory of the past six hours. But Chinami didn’t let this bother her. She simply sat there, gazing at the surface of the lake, waiting in silence for midnight to arrive, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

It was the time of night when everything takes on a slightly hazy appearance. The area around the lake was lit only by the moon and stars above, and this gave the forested shore opposite Chinami a haunted, foreboding look. The trees reached their branches out of the darkness, stabbing towards the suspicious ripples on the lake surface. Chinami, unperturbed, studied the water and thought of nothing.

The heavy gray calmness of the scene around her suddenly made her yawn. She hadn’t seemed tired before, but now she looked as if she’d fall asleep right there if given the chance. Hovering on the edge of consciousness, Chinami blinked slowly and sighed.

Midnight came and went, and soon another young woman joined her. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, the newcomer looked around for a moment and then walked slowly down the dock towards Chinami. She was limping slightly, as if her right leg was giving her pain, but she didn’t seem to be conscious of it. She walked right to the edge of the dock, stood to Chinami’s left, and peered into the water below.

“Hello,” Chinami said sleepily.

“Hello,” said the newcomer. “Excuse me, but could you tell me where I am? I think I’m lost…”

Chinami shook her head. “You aren’t lost,” she said with tired certainty. It was an unexplainable feeling, but she knew somehow that this young woman was exactly where she was supposed to be.

The newcomer blinked. “Okay…”

Chinami yawned again and then invited the woman to sit down. “What’s your name?”

“Akira.”

“That’s a nice name,” Chinami said politely.

“Thanks.”

Mimicking her neighbor, Akira sat at the edge of the dock, took off her socks and shoes, and swung her legs over and into the water. The lake water was sharp and cold, and she flinched slightly at first contact, but soon acclimated.

“So what is this place?” Akira asked after a minute.

“I don’t know,” Chinami replied. “It’s a lake.”

“A lake, huh… in the middle of nowhere?”

Akira furrowed her brow slightly. She seemed to be trying to remember something, but whatever it is lurked just beyond her grasp. She groaned in frustration.

“It’s not in the middle of nowhere,” Chinami objected. Her voice was the slow, syrupy voice of a person struggling to stay awake. “That’s impossible… Everything has to be in the middle of somewhere. Nothing exists in a vacuum.”

Despite her apparent amnesia, Akira’s mind was still sharp. She followed her companion’s logic with ease and countered it with her own. “Right, but you don’t know where that somewhere is, and neither do I, so it might as well be nowhere to us.”

Chinami nodded sleepily. “I guess.”

“I don’t remember how I got here,” Akira admitted. “Do you?”

“No,” Chinami said. “What’s the last thing that you remember?”

Akira stared out at the surface of the lake. “Some fool ran a red light and crashed into my car.”

She looked at Chinami and laughed. “The world is full of idiots. Humans are remarkably stupid. I can’t get over it.”

Chinami was alarmed. “Somebody crashed into your car?”

“Yeah. What a jerk! He was speeding, too, and then he goes and runs a red light and crashes into another person’s car. You can’t do that! People die from crashes like that, it’s terrible. What if there’s a baby in the other car, or a dog, or even if it’s just a completely ordinary person, you can’t just go around speeding and ignoring traffic laws and crashing into people…”

Akira went on and on, railing at the stupidity of the driver who crashed into her car. Chinami drowned her out, staring towards the trees on the opposite shore, struggling to think. Something wasn’t right.

A minute later it came to her: Akira was dead.

Chinami sleepily worked this around in her mind. How interesting, she thought. I’m talking to a spirit!

“… that’s not okay,” Akira was saying adamantly. “You can’t go risking other people’s lives like that. I mean, if you’ve got a death wish, fine, go toy with your own already fragile existence. But you can’t drag other people down with you. That’s not right.”

Chinami suppressed another yawn. “That’s not right,” she agreed. “So what happened after she crashed into you?”

“I don’t really remember, but I know one thing for sure: tomorrow, I’m going to hunt her down and give her a stern talking-to. If she’s still alive, that is. I’m not sure if she is, but hey, at least it’s definitely not my fault. Her relatives can’t sue me or anything, right? But man, I have to get a new car, and that’s going to be expensive.”

“Yeah, expensive…”

So she doesn’t know that she’s dead?

Chinami let this thought linger in her mind. She wondered if it was her place to tell Akira that she was dead, or if she should just let Akira go on believing she was still alive. It was very strange. She had never talked with a spirit before, much less a spirit who wasn’t self-aware.

Akira was staring at the strange, spontaneous ripples that kept appearing on the lake surface. “Hey, do you think there’s demons in the water?”

“Demons?” Chinami shook her head. “Lake spirits, maybe. Water dragons.”

“Water dragons? I thought such spirits can’t be seen in the world of the living…”

She was trying hard to think. A minute later and her mind would connect the dots. Suddenly inspired by an urge to protect Akira’s innocence, Chinami lied, “Some can.”

Akira seemed to relax. “Really? That’s neat.”

“Yeah.”

“The moon is pretty…”

Chinami smiled a little, looking up at the night sky. “So it is. It’s waning.”

“How do you know?”

“It looks like a letter C. When it’s like that, you can tell that it’s waning.”

Akira squinted at the waning moon. “Oh… that’s cool, I didn’t know that.”

“People don’t pay enough attention,” Chinami murmured sleepily. “We see the moon wax and wane every month, but we don’t really look at it closely enough to notice patterns like this.”

For a moment Akira was quiet. Then she announced, “I have a question.”

Chinami fought to keep from nodding off. “Okay. What’s your question?”

“It’s not related to the waning moon,” Akira said.

“Okay.”

“Do you think dead people dream?”

Chinami looked at her with surprise. “What makes you ask that?”

“Nothing, the question just popped into my head for some reason…” Akira sighed. She looked very confused.

Chinami thought about it for a minute. “Hmm, I don’t know. I guess spirits can have dreams. Why not?”

“Why not,” Akira agreed. “When I’m dead, I want to be able to still have dreams. Otherwise it would be so boring… what’s life without a good dream now and then?”

“Well, when you’re dead, you don’t have life anymore…”

“Fine, but death would be boring without dreams too, don’t you think?” Akira seemed very adamant about this, determined to make her point.

Chinami scratched her head. “Sorry, I think I’m too sleepy to follow…”

Akira laughed. “Well, it’s past midnight. It’s about time to go to bed.”

“There aren’t any beds,” Chinami said. “I might just fall asleep right here.”

“Be my guest,” replied Akira. “Maybe I’ll join you.”

“Join me in my dream?”

Akira laughed again. “Why not?”

Chinami lay back on the dock and spent a minute trying to get into a comfortable position. After a while Akira lay down next to her. The two women gazed up at the moon, enchanted by its yellow-white light.

Akira murmured, “It’s so pretty here…”

Together, they slowly drifted off to sleep, and the night wore on without them.

Tree Spirit at Midnight

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

It’s late at night, and the station is mostly empty. Quietly I busy myself sweeping up the trash commuters have left on the platform. It always irritates me how much stuff people leave behind – seriously, haven’t they learned how to clean up after themselves? It’s not like they’re children… but a lot of them sure act like it. Slightly annoyed as always, I put my headphones in, turn up some classical music, and quickly sweep my way through the train station.

By the time I’ve finished, most of the commuters have left. Actually, all but one. There’s a young woman standing by the wall. She’s carrying a backpack, and she has braided extensions in her hair, just like me. She looks a little lost, so I head towards her wondering if she needs help.

“Hello,” I call out politely as I turn my music off. “Are you okay?”

The woman looks at me. She doesn’t smile, but she seems a little relieved. “Hello,” she says. “I’m looking for something…”

“Did you lose something on the train?” I ask.

“No, nothing like that. I’m looking for a tree…”

I’m taken aback. “Sorry, you’re looking for a tree? Um… you’ll have to exit the station to do that, miss.”

She shakes her head. “No, no, I’m looking for this tree specifically.”

She extends her right hand to me, and I see that she’s carrying a small photograph. I take it, trying hard to keep a straight face. Out of all the interactions I’ve had with commuters, this one is definitely the strangest.

I look down at the picture, banking on the 1% chance that I might actually recognize this one specific tree, but of course I don’t. The photo is rather faded anyway, and I can’t tell anything from the background. I hand it back to the woman.

“Sorry,” I say. “I don’t recognize it.”

She seems disappointed. “This is the sixth station on the green line, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Somebody in the city said they thought it might be near the sixth station on the green line…”

For a second I wonder if she’s drunk or on drugs or something, but she seems perfectly in control of herself.

I scratch my head. “Um… okay… well, maybe it’s in a park near here and I just don’t remember seeing it.”

This cheers her up a little. “There’s a park near here? Do you have a map?”

“Sure. Give me one sec.”

I go over to the help desk on the other end of the platform. My colleague there is snoring away in his chair. Trying not to laugh, I bang my fist on the glass.

“MASA! Wake up.”

He jolts awake and looks at me, confused. “What?”

“Get this, there’s this woman who came here in the dead of night looking for a tree. And not just any tree, it’s this one specific tree that for some reason she has a picture of! Funny, right? Anyway, I don’t recognize it obviously, but I told her there’s a park nearby and she wants me to show it to her on a map, so gimme.”

He’s still too sleepy to really find anything amusing about this. He hands me a map, says in a small voice, “Don’t scare me like that, Haku,” and closes his eyes again.

I go back to the young woman, who’s waiting for me expectantly. “Here,” I say, opening the map for her. “This is the train station… and these are some parks, all these green patches.”

She takes the map from me. “Thank you for your help,” she says.

“No problem…”

The woman shoulders her backpack and starts to head for the exit, map and picture in hand. Suddenly curious, I call out after her.

“Hey, miss? Can I ask you something?”

She looks back at me. “Yeah?”

“What’s so special about that tree?”

She glances down at the faded photo. “My mother planted it. She’s dead now, but I heard the tree is still alive, so…”

I clamp my mouth shut. Oh…

“Thanks for your help,” she says again.

Then she leaves – quickly, before I can ask any more questions. I’m left alone in the otherwise empty station. I close my eyes for a moment, drinking in the silence, before I slowly make my way back to the help desk.

“Hey Masa, wake up, I have something to tell you…”

How’s Your Summer Going? – Artist Check-In

Hi! This is different from my usual posts. I felt like it was time for a bit of personal reflection, so here it is!

Question: How’s your summer going?

Overall, this summer is shaping up to be a very creative one for me. I think it’s great! Here’s a quick look at what that means in terms of my writing.


1 – I’m pushing myself to write something almost every day.

For me, this is highly unusual! In the past, I would just write “whenever I felt like it,” and while I do believe that the writing process should flow naturally, I think taking this season to push myself more will help me grow and expand my abilities for whatever comes next.

2 – I’ve introduced myself to poetry, which is an art form I’ve never tried before.

Because I’m new at it, it’s very difficult, and in comparison with my prose pieces (which I’ve had 8+ years of experience with) I think I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m not happy with my poems, and hopefully I never will be. However, I am finding that poetry is a good way to express my feelings toward certain current events: for instance, Rally for Democracy expressed my thoughts toward the extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, and At the Edge of the Earth reflected my feelings about the tragic KyoAni arson attack a few days ago. It’s not a perfect form for me yet, so I’ll keep working on it!

On a related note, art as a tool for activism has been heavy on my mind this summer… but I’ll have to write a separate post for that one.

3 – I’ve experimented with zuihitsu more.

I’ve loved this genre ever since I read Kamo-no-Chomei’s Hojoki in the summer after 11th grade. Eleventh grade for me was all about social justice, exploring all of the failures of America, all of the false promises, all of the human rights violations, all of the (largely successful) attempts to cover them up. The bitter hypocrisy of the American Dream was weighing heavily on my mind, and I was starting to feel depressed again. For me in this vulnerable state, Hojoki was like a lifesaver. It freely explored many of the unanswerable questions I’d been dealing with for ages, and it painted a picture of zuihitsu as a genre through which I could explore them, too. I figured I’d give it a try, and this project evolved into Life = Suffering + Love, a 25-entry zuihitsu collection I wrote for my friend’s birthday.

My modern, personal interpretation of zuihitsu is definitely different from what the genre was originally, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I believe it’s important that genres evolve with the times, and it’s also important that artists don’t feel limited by the genre/s in which they write (or speak or sing or play or…).

At any rate, while working with zuihitsu initially came very easily to me, I’ve recently discovered that it’s not something I can just write whenever I want to write it. It might sound strange, but zuihitsu is easiest or most natural to me when I’m depressed. If I’m not depressed, it’s harder to convey my thoughts in that genre… so even though I love it and want to keep working with it, I can’t promise zuihitsu as a regular feature or anything like that. There might be long gaps in between zuihitsu entries sometimes, but really, for me, that’s not so bad.

4 – I’ve begun working with short stories.

Believe it or not, short stories are pretty new to me, too! Prior to this year, everything I wrote would be novel-length or at least in a long novel-like style. I wrote my first short story, Life Beyond the Setting Sun, sometime this past spring. It was inspired by a comment my friend made about shadows, as well as “The Chrysanthemum Pledge,” a story out of Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I spent only two or three hours on it, with very minimal editing, and immediately handed it to my friend the next time I saw her. (She didn’t like it very much, ahhaha…)

Actually, I didn’t like it very much either, at the time. I thought it was great for a first try at a short story, but I think I was trying to do too many things with it, and as a result I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the finished product. However, I did send it to one of my long-distance friends, and he recently got back to me saying he’d read it and loved it. Unlike most readers, who just say “I thought it was great!” or “Meh, not really my thing,” he spent ages carefully detailing all the reasons why he liked it. Because of his words, I dug the story up from my files and reread it for the first time since, and I’ve come to conclude that it’s a pretty passable, enjoyable story, a good first effort, and something I’d be willing to put up on my blog.

My friend’s encouraging words also led me to write a second short story: Songs Without End. Now this one I really like! Actually I was a little rushed to finish it, so there are definitely some parts I’m not happy with. But in the end, I’m pretty proud of it, and now I’m looking into writing more short stories. Even though I’ve only published two, I think short stories suit my style pretty well. What do you think?


That’s where I’m at with my writing so far. This summer, I’ve also reconnected with music on many different levels. Here’s what I mean by that.


1 – I’m exploring and expanding my musical interests.

I’m listening to music everyday, thoroughly immersing myself in new artists, watching videos of their concerts and listening to their songs. Before this year, while I was kind of into music having grown up in a musical household and played two instruments, I’d never really had any famous musicians or genres I really liked, besides a vague “I like songs from the romantic era” and “RADWIMPS is a powerful band.” But at the beginning of the year (or maybe the end of last, I don’t remember, haha), I almost simultaneously discovered X JAPAN and GACKT. I was immediately hooked! And, you know, one thing leads to the next, right? Before I knew it, my playlist also included songs by sukekiyo and LUNA SEA as well as the individual works of artists like HYDE, Sugizo, ToshI, MIYAVI, Kyo, hide, and Chachamaru. And I have a long, long list of bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to!

2 – I’m playing piano more often.

Honestly, I used to hate playing piano… but it wasn’t the instrument itself or the music that I hated. I hated having to practice and perform songs that I didn’t actually want to play. I also hated being made to compete – competitions and competitive pursuits were never my thing. My shoulder also made playing and practicing difficult sometimes, so for most of last year I stayed away from the instrument as much as I could. However, this summer, I’m actually playing a lot! This is in part because of my new musical interests, and also because I’ve taken it upon myself to find my own music. I search up sheet music for songs that I like and artists I know, and then I’ll sight read them for fun. If I really like the piece, I’ll go on to learn it. Of course, I’m not a professional pianist, and I have a lot of room for growth – but being able to play the things I want to play makes me really happy.

3 – I’m exploring music as a way to deal with depression.

Music as therapy has been on my mind recently. Songs, and the human voice in general, are really powerful, don’t you think? Even though the lyrics are sad or the background of the artist is tragic or the melody is melancholy, I always feel some kind of peace in my heart and mind after listening to such songs. I wonder why?

4 – I’m exploring music as a way to connect with other people and the past.

As Ryū says, music is communal. I love making music with other people – I think it takes on a very special meaning. The interaction between musician and listener is also meaningful – in the past I’ve made efforts to learn songs my friends like for their birthdays, and I want to continue doing so. Music is the universal language, that’s what I think. It transcends all barriers and reaches deep into your soul and makes you feel. Even if there are no lyrics, or the lyrics are in a different language that you don’t understand… there’s still something there that is so incredible I don’t know how to describe it. I want to think about this more!


So, this is basically how my summer is going. Writing and music are my life.

As for mental health… I’m doing pretty good right now. I haven’t felt seriously depressed or suicidal in several months. I’m pretty comfortable where I am, and I can recognize when my thoughts are starting to head towards chaos. (Of course, sometimes I can’t do anything about it, but so far this summer, music, writing, and comedy have been working pretty well for me!) Hopefully, this good trend will continue.

Maybe this is off-topic, but I wanted to mention something else. Today my mother made dinner for me and after taking a few bites I told her that it was really delicious. But even as those words were coming out of my mouth, I started to think, Do I really mean that? Of course it was true that the meal was very delicious. But I had a feeling that I wasn’t truly enjoying it to the best of my ability. I was kind of scarfing my food down, without taking the time to thoroughly chew it and taste the flavors. I want to pay more attention to my food from now on and savor it for all the work that has been put into creating it, from farm to table. Towards the end of the meal I also started to think, If this is my last meal, I want to enjoy it more…

Hm, maybe that’s a bit of a depressing way to end this post. But, I’m getting rather tired, so I think I’ll sign off here. This is how my summer is going – how about yours? I hope everyone is doing well.

Take care of yourself!

Kohaku