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- Return to Fiction by Valesta
Reimu Hakurei… A 19-year-old miko residing in Gensokyo, a position she excels at, but hardly ever takes seriously, and certainly doesn’t act the part. With the help of her friends, she had managed to save the land from a number of threats. She often has a string of bad luck, usually gets the short end of the stick, is quite lazy, and is easily annoyed, but is also among the most powerful beings in Gensokyo, with exceptional prowess in combat, but above all, a heart which easily forgives, embraces the good in everyone, and has great love for her friends.
However, that is only one part of the entity that is ‘Reimu.’ Hakurei is a part of her that exists in her dreams, while her true self, living among us, in the waking world is known as Reimu Kiribayashi, a 17-year-old high school student residing in Japan. Before she conceived the land of Gensokyo in her mind, she was living an ordinary life of hanging out with her friends, attending school, and just taking one day after another, rarely remembering the events that occurred a week ago, as they are of little relevance and are easy to guess. Yes, a life that can be classified as ‘ordinary’ is also a life that can be classified as ‘redundant.’
She, and her classmates, sit through the last class of the day, as the teacher performs a boring lecture, surrounded by white walls and a white ceiling, the school’s dress code adding on to the monotonous overtone, the same thing they had gone through the day before, and the day before the day before, a situation that has repeated itself indefinitely. Reimu glances outside at the sunset. Lucky for her and a few other students, at least, she gets the privilege to look at scenery besides the mono-colored room. The fading light spreads over the cityscape, coloring it in gold. Even though it is still the same old scene, it gives off a soothing serenity, so it’s not all bad.
She then looks at her classmates, who are either listening attentively, as model students should, or are just sitting through it, like she is. She wonders what the point of school is. Yes, of course it’s to prepare them for their jobs of the future; to prepare them to perform their upcoming function in society. Looking at it that way, she feels that she, and her fellow students, are incomplete tools on the assembly line; tools of society, and she starts to wonder what the big point of life is. Everyone is born, raised, schooled and worked for 30 to 50 years, retired, and finally, dead. From such a standpoint, they paths their lives take feel to be primarily in the service of other people and not for themselves. Only the second to last aspect presents any real appeal, but what’s the point? Their better years had ended a long time ago and are no longer able to do the fun things they were once capable of. As for death… well, it could be interesting… if the mystery surrounding it wasn’t such an unsettling thought.
“Tch…” Reimu snaps back to reality and shakes the thoughts out of her head. Of course, she could TRY to do something to break the monotony, but therein lays another problem: the fear of change. She knows she dislikes the redundancy of her life, but, at the same time, she safeguards it: one of life’s greatest paradoxes. The funny thing about her situation is that almost two hours ago, she wasn’t thinking such thoughts. Earlier in the day was her mythology class, the only class where she gives her undivided attention. In that class, she reads and hears stories of concepts that spread far beyond reality’s offerings, things that can only be imagined, stories of interesting lives that seem to have any real purpose, the kind of world she would rather live in. Even though some of the things described in it are rather absurd in theory, mostly creatures with multiple body parts, such as two-tailed cats, eight-headed serpents, and nine-tailed foxes, actually meeting one would still be intriguing… but what are the odds of that?
Finally class ends. It could have been worse, at least it’s Saturday, the short day. The next day is Sunday, which there is no school, the one day Reimu can actually, all-too-briefly break out from her days of monotony. As she rises from her desk, she is approached by a girl from her class with short black hair, her friend and classmate, Ayuki, “Hey, Reimu-chan! Did you get through class okay?”
Reimu answers, “About as well as I usually do…”
“I see. Anyways, I was wondering if you wanted to go out tomorrow.”
Reimu usually spends her Sundays watching movies or catching up with a manga series that she had been following, or doing anything else that breaks her from her boring reality, but she sees no problem in hanging out outside of school with her friend for a little while, “Sure. Don’t see why not. So… where are we going?”
Ayuki pauses for a few seconds, “Just… around… doing this and that…”
It figures. Reimu just hopes that it doesn’t involve keeping up with the latest trends, trying to appeal to boys, or doing anything else she has little interest in.
She goes home, eats dinner, takes a shower, lazes around the house for an hour or two, then goes to sleep, another redundant grind. The next day, she meets up with Ayuki in front of their school, the place where they usually see each other for whatever reason. Reimu is dressed in a casual, somewhat boyish, outfit, consisting of a red t-shirt and blue shorts, a style that used to be trendy, but is now far behind, while Ayuki wears a green hat with a visor, a pink top, and a red miniskirt, much up to date with the present trends, highlighting the difference of how interested they are in the subject. Reimu wonders how she became friends with someone she has virtually nothing in common with.
Reimu asks Ayuki, “So, where are we going?”
Ayuki answers, “Just around. You know, shopping and stuff…”
They take a bus to an adjacent town, filled mostly with shops. Naturally, Ayuki buys so much clothes, Reimu wonders how she can afford all of it, almost as much as she wonders why she agreed to come along with Ayuki in the first place. After a morning of shopping involving a one-sided interest, noon comes along and they pass a large red archway, believed to separate the world of humans from the world of spirits, beyond which, there is a long series of stone stairs leading up to a wooden shrine. Ayuki looks up the stairs, “Hm… I haven’t visited this shrine before. I wonder what this one is for…”
Shinto: Japan’s indigenous belief. A polytheistic religion with as many spirits, or kami, as there are aspects of life. Shinto is practiced all over Japan and people, both native of the nation and not, not necessarily because everyone believes in a higher power, but because of its ties to the culture. It’s not unusual for students to pray to a kami of tests to possibly get lucky on an upcoming exam. Reimu wonders which kami this particular shrine was built for. Probably nothing that has any relevance to her personal life.
Reimu and Ayuki ascend the long set of stone steps. Looking at it, it didn’t seem so long, but actually going up it makes it feel almost endless. After a minute or two of climbing, they reach the top and stand on a stone path, leading to the shrine, which has a donation box in front of its entrance. Between them and the shrine, there is a dark-haired girl, not much older than them, dressed with a white shirt with large sleeves and a long red skirt, sweeping dust off the path with a bamboo broom: a miko, whose duties include taking care of the shrine and performing rituals.
Reimu calls out to the miko, “Um… hello? I was wondering if you could tell us which spirit this shrine is for…”
The miko calmly answers, “This shrine exists for the kami of change; for those who wish for a better life… for an alteration of life’s progress. Do you desire such a thing?”
Her words take Reimu aback. The way she said it, it was like the miko understood Reimu’s dissatisfaction with life. It’s nothing she spoke to anyone about it and it’s not like anyone knows what Reimu is feeling, but at that moment, the miko, who Reimu had just met, seemed to get her, leaving an impression lasting more than a few seconds. Reimu answers, “Um… Well, I’ll give it a shot…”
Reimu walks over to the shrine’s donation box, pulls 200 yen, which she had picked up earlier that day, out of her pocket, and prays in her mind, Alright, spirit of change. To be honest, I’m skeptical as to whether you really exist, and I just might be talking to myself right now, but if someone really is listening, know that my life is boring… but of course you know that, right? I mean, why else am I bothering with this… Anyways, I just want something out of the ordinary to happen. Not randomly finding a hundred-million yen somewhere, not something that will completely warp life as I know it, but something… exciting, if only temporary. That’s all I ask, so please do that small favor for this lowly mortal, alright? With that, Reimu tosses the money into the donation box and walks away from the shrine.
“Thank you,” says the miko with a bow.
Ayuki looks at Reimu with a sly look, “So… what did you pray for, Reimu-chan? Did you ask for a life-changing encounter with some handsome guy?”
Reimu scoffs, “That’s something YOU would pray for, not me.”
“Yeah…” They walk down the stone steps. Ayuki says, changing the subject, “Well, just a few more months until we become seniors. After we get through that, we may go to college… or go straight to work. Either way, things will change soon…”
“’Change?’” asks Reimu, “Only for a little while maybe, but then, everything goes back into a repetitive grind. Everything in life today is done through a long sequence of the same things.”
Ayuki shrugs, “Whatever, Reimu-chan. I’m just saying that things won’t be the same as they are now.”
“…” It figures. Whenever Reimu tries to open up to her friends, they never seem interested. Of course, why should they? It’s not a problem that concerns them, and it makes her all the more depressed about it. Reimu has no interest in Ayuki’s interests, so Ayuki shouldn’t have an interest in Reimu’s problems. Is what they have really considered ‘friendship’ or is it just doing things together?
The day of shopping continues into the twilight hours. They grab some ramen for dinner and eat close to the restaurant’s window. As they are about to finish their meal, something catches Ayuki’s eye: a shop across the street with a sale on clothes within the latest trends, “Oh… I have to check that out! I’m sorry, Reimu, but can you pay for the food? That shop could close any minute!” Ayuki throws a handful of money onto the table to pay for her food, and then runs out of the restaurant.
Reimu shakes her head in disapproval. Deep down, she wants to reach out and have someone understand her, but when she doesn’t even understand what drives her friend’s interests, how can she hope for the same?
Reimu pays for her food, and Ayuki’s, then walks out of the restaurant and over to the curb and looks both ways for traffic. The area is at the top of a steep hill, so it’s hard to see anything coming from the left, but the right is clear, so she decides to cross the road.
As she is halfway across the street, she hears two men yelling, “Slow down! Someone could be at the top of this hill!”
“I can’t! I can’t slow this thing down! The breaks aren’t responding at all! Maybe they just broke?”
Reimu looks in the direction the screams are coming from. At that moment, she sees a large truck reach the top of the slope at a high enough speed that it lifts off the ground. Reimu looks in bewilderment; a flying truck! An out of the ordinary sight! Had her prayer been answered? The sight causes her to lose touch with reality.
One of the men suddenly notices Reimu standing in front of their out-of-control truck, and yells, “You! Quick! Get outta the way!”
Ayuki walks out of the shop on the other side of the street and yells, “Ah! Reimu-chan! REIMU-CHAN!”
“Huh?” Reimu snaps back to reality, but it is too late for anyone to save her, nor for her to save herself. SMASH! The airborne truck crashes into her, sends her sailing through the air, “ARGHHHH!” The pain is excruciating as her body gets damaged in hideous ways. On the outside, she screams and cries, expressing her agony, but deep down, she is still bewildered at what just happened. She knows a terrible thing just occurred, but at the same time, in a sick way, it’s the kind of rush that breaks the everyday monotony. Before hitting the ground, she sees the truck land, lose control, and tip on its side, everyone nearby shocked by the current incident. She hits the ground, her head slamming against the pavement. She begins to black out, the only thing in her sight is the setting sun, bathing her with its serene rays, Am I… going to die? I should be scared… but I feel so at peace… I feel…. as if something good is going to happen… Spirit of change, you have a twisted sense of humor. I’ll give you that… Reality drifts away, the last thing she hears are the sound of distant sirens and Ayuki, among other people, screaming in panic…
Reimu finds herself, alone and unclothed, surrounded by a void of black. There is a sudden flash of light and when the light clears, there is another girl, with long wavy blonde hair and golden eyes, in front of her. The mysterious girl reaches out toward Reimu. Reimu, not knowing what else to do, reaches out as well. As they feel each other’s warmth, and deep female voice booms around them, “Finally! It’s about to begin! Sleep well, my two dreamers!”
“Wh-what?” As Reimu tries to grasp the situation, everything around her begins to change. She finds herself in a blue sky, plunging toward a mysterious land of green, blue, and pink below. Everything she knew prior to her circumstances flows out of her head and she begins to fade. After that… a new life begins within… a life of danger… a life of intrigue… a life of excitement!
- Return to Fiction by Valesta