xi. because you are you
Yeast and moss, fungus and bracken, sea and water. Silence.
In my mind.
The light of the second hall is dim and false, and in the centre of the space is a pool of clear water. The pool is rigidly bordered, one inch of water deep and sized to fit a stadium. The water is still and cold.
He is contaminating my mind.
Flecks of silver shine in the Prince's contracted iris, capturing incidental light to transform his velvet eyes to ice blue. His pupils betray an intoxication that is profoundly chemical, and he sweats slightly. Digging his blunt fingernails into the heel of his hand, the boy called Ken struggles to capture a little control.
He cannot breathe.
Carved into the walls are hundreds of figures of sorrowing angels, each appearing more accusing then the last. Their stone gazes converge on an empty spot underneath the hall's purest light, a blank place in the dark and motionless pool. They all appear to be waiting.
A slight movement of air from an ancient (and unplumbed) vent brings the dry and very clean smell of the surface glacier down into this seemingly unreal place. Nowhere is there any sign of snow, however… this hall is as many yards below the ground level of Antarctica as the ground is below the ice. Small amounts of radiated heat keep the pool liquid, and soften the air.
The Prince is trapped.
This is not happening.
A flat reflection on the dull surface of the pool is the only signifier of Ken's attachment to reality. He appears to be underwater, his hair drifting softly, his eyes open and calm. Focused.
A flare of light shimmers in the quiet room, a cannon-like flare no bigger then a firefly. It dances for a moment, then disappears.
This IS happening.
When the Prince closes his eyes, he looks like a beautiful corpse. Capturing his breath in a pulsed fashion, there is no struggle and for a moment he looks absolutely pure and innocent. When his eyes open again a second later, it is as if an epoch has passed, and the narcotic look has intensified as he floats further away from reality.
The water is one inch deep.
Nothing about the scene makes sense. The image of Ken's body in the water is not him. If he were to lift even one finger to touch the surface of the water it would not break the tension of the interface, because he is not there and there is nothing to disturb.
I must accept it.
"…this is your mind?"
"This is my mind."
Ken listens to the silence for a while, and wonders what the trapped child is feeling, or if he understands the peril that they both are in. "Human?"
"Yes?" answers Daisuke.
"It is possible that you might die here."
"You will take me with you. You will make me mortal again." Ken experiences a rush of rage, quickly suppressed. "That is your 'so.'"
"Do you hear me?"
"Human, do you understand what I am saying?"
"Human… do you want me to die?"
Ken is surprised to hear determination in Daisuke's voice. He'd expected something more sullen.
"What do I have to do?" Daisuke asks.
Ken needs only open his eyes to see the angels of the second hall, and he does this for a moment. The perspective is distorted but it does not waver, and Ken searches within his thoughts to find a puzzle to match the question he has, feeling out the negative shape of this other person touching his soul-- if he himself has one. It is a lie to presume that one can look into one's own mind or heart, and Ken wonders what the human boy sees. It is also odd; the child's feelings are telegraphing strongly and Ken tastes the despair combined with a hedged resolve.
"What do you hear?"
A pause. "Nothing. There is nothing here."
This answer surprises Ken. He tries another line in inquiry. "What do you see, then?"
The pressure builds deeply in Ken's chest as he waits, not breathing. For a moment he wishes to stab a knife into his throat merely to allow the waste air to escape, but he closes his eyes. The feeling passes.
"Nothing." The boy sounds regretful, ashamed.
Ken opens his eyes, and he doesn't notice that his view seems dim. "What do you feel?"
Another stall from the boy, who doesn't respond. Ken makes a warning noise which sounds like a growl but is not, because his throat is blocked by tension. He thinks he knows the answer.
"Is it 'nothing' again? Do not try to support my feelings. You don't even know what is happening, so just answer me."
"I feel cold," Daisuke whispers in his own voice. "Very, very cold."
A spark of something glows outside, a flash. Maybe it is a work of fire, maybe it is something else. Ken doesn't know, because he is suddenly struck unconscious.
The spring flowers of Cape Horn are tender and their leaves are nearly transparent, golden sometimes when the sun shines down. A field of uncounted white trillium overlooks an unnamed hill, which slopes towards a small and unimportant river.
The sun is not shining this day. The trillium hide their lustre and appear severe. Low in the stratosphere, shadow-laden clouds whip by, melding one to the other as a sheet.
It is very, very cold.
"Why doesn't he speak?"
"I don't know, but it is very unnatural."
A small boy stands with his parents as they talk with a subdued group or people. All are dressed formally, wearing dark blues, or browns, or black. The boy is the exception, because his violet pigmented hair is covered over with a crude red knit hat, and he wears a matching red scarf which is longer then he is tall, and which envelops his neck like a shroud.
There was a funeral, but it is over now.
The person who answers the question about the boy is the child's mother, a pretty young woman who exhibits a muted grief as she allows herself to be drawn into a conversation about her surviving child. She continues: "Ken has always been like that, and we don't know why. For a while we all thought that he was slow, but he seems to listen and he seems to understand. My brother thinks that we should take him up to the city to see a doctor, but Santiago is so far away, and we really cannot afford it."
"It's been such a long time since I've seen you and Akio," the stranger says with concern. "Too long. I'm so sorry."
"You too live far. We are very glad you could make it today, truly."
"Osamu's death was certainly a shock. I cannot even imagine how terrible it was."
The child looks up when the name "Osamu" is mentioned. He does this every time, and his eyes look eager for a brief moment, but quickly become incurious and dull. His aunts are all hovering around him but they leave him a space, because on this day he has squirmed out of every attempted hug: desperately, almost violently. He refuses to be comforted even as he shows no outward signs of grief.
"Yes," Ken's mother is saying, after she flickers a glance towards her pathologically withdrawn child. "Yes it was."
"I heard that Ken was the one who found him."
"We don't know how, but yes." Ken's mother is coughing gently for a moment.
"Maybe he knew about the well from before?"
The two women shiver, each thinking her own horrible thoughts.
No gravestone has been erected yet, and the small wooden coffin still sits by the edge of the deeply cut grave, where it will wait until all the mourners have left. The dirt is full of iron. As the clouds races, the air fills with a sweet wind that is fresh and lively, a soft breeze that is easy to breathe and delicious. The rich smell of life is carried from the grave to the mourners, and touches even the bending flowers.
The child trembles, but only for a moment.
"Do you think… is it possible that he saw?"
Ken's mother shakes her head, but it does not look like convincing denial. "He has too many problems already. No. He mustn't have."
The friend from the north nods slowly, but it is clear that she has already pictured together a scenario altogether too grim to bear, one which allows the silent and unreadable boy status as a witness, a witness to the sort of tragic death that no one can explain. "I wonder how he knew about that well," she begins, then sighs. She does not wish to agitate the mother. "Mmm. It's all very strange."
But the mother is already agitated. She is saying: "We searched and searched for days."
"We looked everywhere. No one knew of that well, I'm sure of it. It was hidden in the middle of a field. It was old. It was dry. No one knew…"
The mother begins to cry. She has wept much over the past week or so, and continues to feel the grief very keenly. Her husband rushed over to comfort her, and soon many of the other family members do the same.
For a moment, the child is ignored.
He steps right up to the edge of the grave, six by six. He doesn't look in, or down… just forward towards some liminal horizon that perhaps only he can perceive. The air becomes still. An earthworm writhes at his feet.
Eventually someone notices him, and a concerned command is issued: "Ken! Step away from there!"
The boy does as he is told, and takes one step back. He is caught up by a grandmother who hugs him tightly and who refuses to let him escape, which seems to be something he knows because he allows himself to be held still for the first time that day. The child's action might have seemed natural on a similar occasion, but nerves are raw because everyone remembers what the search parties saw when they came upon the site where the oldest Ichijouji boy died.
The mother's crying becomes more hysterical, and everyone is suddenly tense.
"Why is he like that?" demands a cousin who is nearly Ken's age, without patience and seemingly annoyed. She is very young, but her rudeness is punished with a spanking and she is thus subdued.
No one answers her question.
The mother reaches out for her baby, the child she has never understood. She wants to hold him now that he seems to be allowing it. As soon as she has him, however, he slips out of her grasp as effortlessly as a fish, and her arms becomes limp. "I want you, I love you," she says in a whisper, bending down to kiss the top of her son's head. "I do, I do so much."
He doesn't answer, and the mother abandons at last her unspoken hope that the shock of this tragedy could have at least forced her son to speak. At least it should have done that. But it didn't.
This complex flash of feeling is painfully obvious in her expression. Many turn away, ashamed to witness such bare loss if hope.
The child looks around, and deliberately walks away from the people who are trying not to crowd him, who are gifting him with love and concern that is as sincere as it is unearned. Recusing himself into isolation is one of his many distressing habits, but one which is allowed freely because everyone who loves him thinks that perhaps he feels less broken that way, when he is by himself. It is hard to know what he feels, however. All is conjecture.
The child takes himself to the edge of the graveyard where there is a fence. The aunts resume their distant hovering, and everyone else goes back to mourning.
He opens his mittened hand. He has been holding something there, clenched. It is hard to see what it is, and no one knows, precisely, because he has shown it to nobody. He looks at it for a time, and then tightens his fist once again.
Perhaps it is the body of a dragonfly, dead. Perhaps not.
Whatever it is, he probably killed it by holding it so tightly.
Is that you?
It must be. I am in your mind, it looks like you.
It isn't. Shut up.
I think your memories are maybe the exit.
They are. But, not these. I don't know how you are being given these…visions… but they will not help you to find a way to escape.
I want to know what happened.
These are not the memories which will help you to escape from my mind. We must try another…
I want to know what happened!
It is mine to choose, not yours.
I… I… won't.
Tell me who you are. If we are going to die together, at least tell me that.
I am not THAT.
I cannot be the one who causes you to die, Your Highness… Your Grace. You know that.
I will find another memory for you. Something different. More… more real.
If that is what will work…
… I still want to know, though.
Ah… all right. Give me what you can.
Time is running out.
Just tell me who you are.
…so, so fast. The younger Ichijouji boy never talks, but when he is playing with his brother he smiles sometimes, and this is especially true when he runs. So Osamu has devised many chasing games in the hopes that a happy mood might unfreeze Ken's unworldly silence. Sometimes they play Tag, or Kick the Can, or Hide and Seek, or Last One To The… (fill in the blank). Many games, all of them active and none requiring speech.
But today, Osamu sees a beautiful and rare dragonfly of the order Odonata.
Together they try to catch it.
"Look, Ken! You gotta go wide! Over there… yes, yes! We'll surround him from both sides, then sneak up quietly. Can you do that?"
Ken gives an earnest nod, and for a moment almost seems normal.
The field is large and desolate, several miles distant from the village where the boys live. They had spent the better part of the morning intermittently sprinting towards the big mountain range off to the east, hoping that this might be the day that they actually find the foothills. Like usual, Ken tired long before they were at all close.
"I wish we had a net. Ken, Ken! Look at that, do you see how green his back is? What an amazing insect. Get closer… and stay quiet!"
Osamu laughs at the joke. Ken doesn't.
Darting gorgeously from one blade of grass to another, the dragonfly leads a merry chase over wide swaths of ground. Osamu tries to explain stealth to Ken, but Ken only seems to want to run and stop, and his aggressive maneuvers eventually take the two children deep into the field. Osamu races ahead as he tries to anticipate the small insect's next move.
Ken takes off on his own vector, one which does not even pretend to anticipate, only follow. The dragonfly is beautiful, and its flight causes Ken to fall into a trance-like state of extremely narrowed focus. He runs on and on without looking up, down, to the side, or anywhere except for toward the small gem-colored insect which skims across the sky.
Thus, it is fortunate for him that he trips over an old rotten side of wood before he can drop sightlessly into the old abandoned well which is somehow left open.
Ken sits up, and wipes his face. The dragonfly is now hovering over the well.
Standing up, Ken watches as his brother runs towards him.
The tense surface of the pool breaks.