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