NOTE IN A BOOK
A Haibane Renmei Sequel
With the end of the summer season came Nemu’s Day of Flight. Like Kuu, Nemu was secretive about her departure. Sure, we all thought she’d be next. But that doesn’t mean we were ready when it happened.
We rose as usual that day to breakfast, cooked by Hikari, and when Nemu didn’t appear the natural assumption was that she’d overslept. Kaminari went to fetch her but returned with a puzzled expression.
“She’s not there. Rakka, did she go to the Library early today?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” I said slowly. Usually, if Nemu had to depart before the rest of us were up (a rarity!), she left a note that she would not be needing breakfast or tea. Still, we Haibane don’t speculate lightly about Days of Flight, so it wasn’t uppermost in our minds.
Our first real reason for concern came when Kana went to leave for town and noticed Nemu’s tag had not been turned. It certainly wasn’t like Nemu to overlook a detail like that. Hikari and I exchanged puzzled glances, but Kaminari was thinking along different lines.
“You don’t suppose she’s trapped someplace? Maybe some masonry fell on her, or she was going through a room and got locked in….”
I doubted it. Nemu wouldn’t normally search Old Home on a whim. Anyways, she and I had just been through Old Home trying to find a different room for Suna. Shortly after hatching, Suna had gravitated to Reki’s former sleeping room. I didn’t like the idea, and Nemu was kind enough to help me look for an alternative. Despite our efforts, Suna stubbornly stayed in Reki’s room; that was Suna, as I was learning.
Nevertheless, we sent Kana to check the Library and inform our respective work places we’d be late, then set out in search of Nemu. Even with the four of us simply walking up and down hallways and looking for obvious signs of distress, it was mid-morning before I met up with Hikari in the courtyard.
“Rakka,” she said, “I don’t know. I’m getting that kind of uneasy feeling like I had when Kuu had her Day.”
I was about to say something when Kana came flying in on Reki’s scooter. She jumped off almost before it had stopped, allowing it to fall over with a small crash, and ran breathlessly up to us. Her face seemed a little pale.
“I just talked to two boys from Abandoned Factory. They said they saw a light coming from the Western Woods before dawn this morning.”
Summer days had not completely passed us by, so we knew we would have enough daylight to get to the ruins and, presumably, the chapel. We set out immediately, taking water but nothing to eat. None of us were particularly hungry.
I take that back. Suna got a bit cranky about halfway to the ruins and broke the silence. “Why didn’t we pack some sandwiches? I know I’m going to be starving by the time we get back. How long until we get there?”
We said nothing, but Kana glowered at her. I think she lost her appetite, because that was the last I heard from her during the trip.
I had forgotten the twins hadn’t experienced a Day of Flight before. Or, maybe I should say they hadn’t experienced what it was to lose somebody to a Day of Flight. I wasn’t as unprepared as I was for Kuu’s, and Reki’s Day had been such a joy and relief that I’d hardly associated it with bad feelings. Nemu…. Nemu’s was different.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing a darkened metal disk amongst the ruins. I held my breath, hoping it wasn’t there, all the while knowing that it was. Sure enough, lying among a few charcoal feathers was Nemu’s cold halo.
Suna and Kaminari were silent. Hikari tried to be brave, but I could see her fighting back tears. Kana’s look was as hard as the stone of the altar.
Hikari slowly picked up the halo, then gently held it with both arms as one might cradle a favorite doll. She turned wordlessly and started back towards the chapel. We followed our leader.
We got back to Old Home at sunset, having spent some time in prayer. Hikari was unable to hold it all in, and cried a little bit. It brought back something Nemu had said to me after Kuu’s Day of Flight, but I decided not to open my mouth. I guess I was a little surprised, but I assumed she had just been more deeply affected by this than the rest of us.
Only later did I learn how wrong I was.
I explained as best as I could to Suna and Kaminari about the Day of Flight. They had heard about it before - after Reki’s Day of Flight the subject was not as taboo as it had been – but we maintained a certain silence about it out of respect, and we never speculated openly when somebody might be approaching theirs. Still, I wanted them to have faith that their senpai saw this as a part of the natural order of things. They nodded politely, a little uncomfortable, and we all went our separate ways.
The next morning, as we prepared to leave for our jobs, we saw that Nemu’s tag had been removed.
It fell to me to go to the Library and tell the staff there about Nemu’s departure. Kana and Hikari typically started work before the Library staff arrived, and my work was strictly in the afternoons. Sending Suna or Kaminari was out of the question.
I left that morning, walking slowly toward town. I had no desire to hurry. My stomach churned. I hadn’t done this before. I felt awkward. Was this what it was to live as a Haibane? Nemu had been such a fixture at Old Home. She’d helped me, in her own way, through a lot of the Haibane rites of passage, and had even been there for the hatching of the twins…
We had watched together over the Spring and Summer months as the cocoons grew in size. It was hard to keep it a secret, mostly because I hadn’t been thinking about the reaction of the Young Feathers when I burst into the courtyard with the news. Fortunately I had the presence of mind not to reveal the exact location, and the Older Feathers took care to steer the younger ones away from the vulnerable new feathers.
At first, because they were twins, I thought we might have two more Young Feathers on our hands. As time went on, though, the cocoons became larger and seemingly started fighting for the room’s limited space. Nemu and Kana assured me I had no reason to be worried, but I was. Soon the cocoons began to turn charcoal gray, and the time of hatching was upon us.
“Larger than Kuu’s, smaller than yours, both of them,” Kana said. “Probably not Young Feather material”. We had all gathered to note the progress before starting the watch.
“Where will we put them?” I said. “The guest room only has one bed.”
“Already taken care of,” Hikari said happily. “Nemu and I did a bit of re-arranging, and we took apart Reki’s old bunk bed and brought it down to the guest room. We’ll have to shop for another one soon, though. But with both of them in the same room, taking care of them should be no problem at all.”
Nemu had a somewhat doubtful look on her face at this statement, but said nothing.
We drew straws, and I came up with the first watch. I did my duty well, listening for every “blub” and straightening up every dust bunny that dared show itself. By the end of the second day of this, though, I was thinking about hammers….
The first cocoon hatched on Hikari’s watch in the middle of the night, and we helped the frail, wingless Haibane out of the room. I was shocked at how pale and weak she was. I remember almost nothing about my hatching, and now I know why: all of your senses are overloaded at the transition, the fluid escaping from the nose and mouth, the sharp drawing of air into lungs that don’t have to fight against liquid, the sudden pull of gravity on your body. How could you notice anything else?
Hikari and I dressed our newborn in the gown that she would wear until her wings emerged. Hikari’s guesstimates at the new Haibane’s size were almost perfect, and the gown she had made fit nicely. I swear, one of these days, I’m going to learn how to sew.
We had hardly finished putting our new feather in the guest room bed when Kana ran in to tell us the other cocoon was hatching. Hikari and I looked at each other with just a trace of exhaustion – really, it’s more trying emotionally than physically – and rushed into the hatching room just in time to get another bath of the salty cocoon liquid.
The next morning I got a good look at them both, side by side. They were tall – taller than Kuu was – yet both of them seemed just a bit younger than me. Their faces were china doll pale, with brown eyes and jet black hair. One had a dimple on her cheek, thank heavens, because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. Later, we would learn they could not recall each other from their previous lives. We would also learn that they could fight with each other like cats and dogs.
Some things you take for granted. It hadn’t occurred to me, or maybe to anyone else, that the ritual naming ceremony was no longer Reki’s to conduct. For reasons that were clear only to me, I thought maybe I would be called upon. But Nemu took the role upon herself. When we all gathered together that day after their hatching, Nemu went right to the point: “My name is Nemu. I guess you’re a little confused. We’ll do our best to help you through this. But first, tell me about your dreams.”
The twins looked at each other as if some secret was being stolen from them. The dimpled one spoke first. “I was walking along a beach, and I turned away from the ocean. I kept walking along, but the beach never went away. It was like a big desert. There was sand blowing, and it was hard for me to see.”
Nemu pondered this briefly. “Your name is Suna. Sand,” she said.
The other twin spoke. “There was darkness all around me that was lit up with a distant light from time to time. I kept hearing thunder. The thunder got closer and closer until it seemed to go through me. I couldn’t see much because it was foggy. Or was it cloudy? I’m not sure. But the thunder kept on going.”
“Hmm...” Nemu pondered. “I think your name will be Kaminari,”
A chill ran down my spine. I’d known before Nemu ever spoken them what their names would be. I’d read them on the plaques inside the Wall.
A passing motor scooter startled me out of my reverie. I was in town. Walking through the central plaza, I turned at the Clock Tower and headed toward the Library.
I arrived to find Sumika in the back room looking over some books recently acquired from the Toga. While Sumika no longer worked at the Library full-time, she would volunteer her services one or two days a week, sometimes bringing her child along to watch. Today she was alone.
“Sumika-san….” I started.
She turned and smiled widely. “Rakka! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. I heard Nemu was out sick yesterday; will she be in today?”
“No….” I remembered something Reki had told me. “Yesterday she had her Day of Flight.”
Sumika looked startled. She tried to smile. “Oh,” was all she could get out. She groped half-blindly for a chair.
“I’m sorry!” I said quickly. “I should have asked you to sit down first.”
“No, no,” Sumika murmured absently. “I’m fine.” The way she practically fell into the chair said otherwise.
A storm of emotions played across Sumika’s face. Sadness, yet pride; happiness for Nemu, sorrow for herself. I remembered the book Nemu and I had made for her. No… that Nemu had made for her.
A tear rolled down her cheek. I’d never seen a human cry before. At least, not that I can remember. The silence was deafening as Sumika stared into the distance.
After a minute, Sumika spoke. “Thank you, Rakka. I think I need to be alone for a while.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, relieved to be excused from the discomfort that filled the room.
“Rakka?” Sumika said as I went to close the door.
“It was good to know you. Sayonara.”
I quietly closed the door. I didn’t think I would ever see Sumika again.
I spent the afternoon collecting light leaves and cleaning off plaques in the Wall. It was good mindless work, which is what I needed just then. I felt like I had lost not one friend, but two.
I came to the part of the Wall where I knew Reki’s plaque to be. I stood there, listening, hoping for maybe some sound that would help guide me out of my somber mood.
As I started working on Reki’s plaque, a conversation that I had with Nemu about a week before her Day came back to me.
It was a Sunday. Hikari and Kana had taken Suna and Kaminari and some of the Young Feathers on a long stroll. This left me to clean around Old Home a bit, and Nemu joined me in the Guest Room. We didn’t normally get a chance to be alone like this.
Nemu was pensive. She sipped her tea. I was about to get up and wash some dishes when she suddenly began to speak.
“When Reki was born, I was horrified. To be all alone, weak and helpless, with no one to comfort you as your wings came out… it was the scariest thing I could imagine.
“That didn’t last long. Reki’s wings were black; it frightened me, but it seemed to make Kuramori fawn over her all the more. I’d had Kuramori to myself for almost two years, and now this other girl shows up and steals her from me. At least, that’s how I felt. I know that isn’t true now. I know Reki needed Kuramori. And Kuramori and Reki had a special relationship that I couldn’t understand.
“Reki and I made our peace, although it was a fragile one at best. We argued a lot. Kind of like sisters.” At that, she smiled. “Then Kuramori had her Day of Flight. We weren’t sure what to make of it. The thought crossed my mind that Kuramori had gone to the woods again for more dye ingredients, and this time hadn’t made it out. But I wasn’t about to say that to Reki.
“So Sumika helped me with the research, and we learned about the Day of Flight. That didn’t sit well with Reki – she was angry at everything, including me, and was upset that I still had Sumika while she had lost Kuramori.”
“That must have been a tough time,” I offered, not knowing exactly what to say, nor why Nemu was telling me this.
“It was a very bad period for both of us. I didn’t hear from Reki for a while. Then I heard the Community Watch had detained her for violating the Wall. That was the worst. Reki finally came back, but the Renmei had placed some pretty severe restrictions on her. I was expected to keep an eye on her as well. I felt like things were falling apart…”
Nemu was quiet for a minute. Then a very distant look came over her face.
She said, almost absently, “Sometimes, the people you think are the most self-reliant are on the verge of drowning.” I thought she might be referring to herself. She wasn’t.
A few weeks passed. Winter came upon us suddenly, as always, and the twins caught cold. I felt bad about being their senpai and forgetting to warn them, as Kuu had done for me. I thought maybe I could get some canned peaches….
I was taking hot soup to Suna when she broached the subject. “I like this room and all, but there’s a closet I don’t have the key to.” She pointed to Reki’s old studio. The cocoon room. The nightmare room.
“Oh, that’s just an old storeroom,” I said. “I guess the key is around here somewhere.” Actually, the key was well-hidden in my room, and I wasn’t about to let her have it. It was almost too much that Suna had moved in here in the first place. But, as I was learning, that was Suna.
“Hmm. Well, if you find it,” she said through a stuffy nose, “please unlock it, I’m wondering if the girl who used to live here left anything I could use in there.”
Nothing that would be of any use to you at the moment, I thought, but I bit my tongue. “Here’s some soup. I hope your cold clears up soon.”
Just after the first snowfall, it was time for Shorta to take his extended trip to Abandoned Factory. Since Reki’s Day of Flight, relations between our two nests had slowly improved. Still, it was rare to see any of their Feathers visiting Old Home, and the twins had never gone to the Factory at all. So, when Shorta asked Hikari to escort him, she invited the twins along.
“Sure,” said Suna, and scurried off to get her coat and wing covers.
Kaminari smiled and told Hikari, “No, thanks, I think I’ll stay here. It’s still a little cold.” She then turned and, as she walked by me, said softly, “I’m not taking any more long trips with her.” Meaning Suna, of course.
I tried to suppress a devilish grin.
That evening Hikari returned alone. “I’m back!” she said as she shook the last bits of snow out of her shawl.
I was a little surprised. “Where’s Suna?”
Hikari sat down and cleared her fogged glasses with a napkin. “No sooner did we get to the Factory than some older boy started picking on us. I just ignored him and talked to Midori, but he wouldn’t let Suna alone. He kept saying things like ‘Do they still make them this small?’ and ‘So, I see you brought two Young Feathers today!’”.
Hikari put on her glasses. “Then he tugged on her halo. That was the last straw. She decked him. One punch right to the stomach and down he went. Midori was so impressed that she asked if Suna could stay on a day or two.”
Kaminari got up to start dinner, saying only, “Good. At least I’ll have a couple days of quiet around here.” But I could see the look of admiration in her eyes.
almost two months after Nemu’s flight when I ran into
Sumika. I had
been walking back to Old Home from the
“Sumika-san!” I stuttered.
She stopped and smiled. “Rakka! How are you?”
“I’m fine….” I said, crossing the stone bridge to the other side of the river. No use mincing words. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
Sumika paused. “I’m sorry. When I last saw you, I was upset. I knew I was guilty…”
I looked at her quizzically.
Sumika noticed my confusion. “We townspeople aren’t supposed to get too involved in the lives of the Haibane. I knew that, and yet Nemu worked her way into my heart through all these years. So, I guess I overreacted a little.”
“No! We all miss Nemu…” I started.
Sumika shook her head. “What I mean is, I felt like I didn’t want to get close to the Haibane, and so I sent you away. But I realize now that this is part of the way the Haibane are, and I’m trying to accept it.”
I felt funny having this conversation out in the middle of a chilly winter road. I think Sumika read my mind. “Anyways,” she said with a wry smile, “Nemu was working on this project when she… left. I’ve gathered up everything I could find. There are a couple books which I’ve checked out to Old Home, and some notes Nemu made.”
“Oh, I see,” I said. “What kind of project?”
“I’m not quite sure, although it has something to do with illnesses. But I think Nemu didn’t want me to know much about it, because she’d already put a lot of stuff into an envelope and sealed it.” She pulled out the envelope. “I was on my way to Old Home to deliver it, but would you mind terribly taking it the rest of the way for me?”
“Not at all! I’m glad I could help!”
“Good!” Sumika winked. She handed me the bulky package and the envelope. Nemu’s handwriting said simply, “Kana”.
“Kana? Oh, I’m sorry Sumika, I guess you didn’t know Kana works at the Clock Tower,” I said apologetically.
Sumika seemed suddenly uncomfortable. “I knew that,” she said quietly. “But… when I went by there today to give this to her, they said she wasn’t available. When I talked to them some more…. they told me she hadn’t been to work there in a couple of weeks.”
I don’t actually remember parting with Sumika and making my way back to Old Home. I think I was just too stunned. I’d seen Kana a few times in the past two weeks and she hadn’t said a thing about missing work.
I stumbled into the Guest Room. Hikari was setting the table. “I’m glad you’re here, Rakka, I need some help getting…” Her eyes met mine. She trailed off. “What’s wrong?”
I sat on the bed. “Hikari… has Kana mentioned anything about work to you?”
Hikari thought for a moment, but I could tell Kana had said nothing.
“Hikari… I don’t think Kana’s been at work for about two weeks.”
Hikari was wide-eyed. “What?... What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know. I think she might be ill.”
“What makes you think that? I just saw her today, and… well, she hasn’t been quite as loud as she usually is, but she looked healthy.” Hikari had clearly forgotten about dinner at this point. I hoped nothing was on the stove.
I told Hikari about my encounter with Sumika, and what I learned from her.
Hikari looked confused. “There’s something not right here. Not only hasn’t Kana said anything, she’s acted like she was going to work each day.” She stood there for a few moments, then wordlessly returned to the kitchen.
I went to help Hikari with dinner. We didn’t say much to each other. I think we were dreading what was bound to come next.
Kana came in with Kaminari as we were putting out the food. Kaminari’s place of work was on a small farm, and during the winter months she returned earlier in the evening. Suna had found a job at an old apothecary shop that did not close until late.
“What’s for dinner? I’m starved!” Kana said, flopping down on the bed.
Hikari was straightforward. “Kana, we need to talk.”
“Huh?” Kana sat upright quickly. The four of us shot looks at each other.
Kaminari was a quick study. “I need to go wash my hands,” she said, and excused herself.
“Is there a problem?” Kana was immediately on the defensive.
Hikari looked at me. I guess I was supposed to be the prosecutor. “Uh… here, Sumika-san came by to give you these. They’re from… Nemu was working on them for you.” I handed Kana the envelope and the package.
Kana took the materials and shifted uneasily. She wasn’t going to admit to anything, it appeared. “Is that all?”
Hikari apparently didn’t like the pace of my inquisition. She took over. “Kana, when was the last time you were at work?”
The question took Kana aback. I could see her struggle. “It’s been… a few days.”
“A few days?! Kana, it’s been two weeks!” Hikari may not be the sternest of Haibane, but she didn’t like to be trifled with. “What’s going on?!”
“Okay, two weeks, you’re right.” Kana looked a little sheepish. “I’ve been taking care of other things. I’ll tell you, but you can’t say anything to the Renmei.”
“Kana…” Hikari chided. She clearly didn’t want a part of anything illegal. “Don’t make me promise that.”
Kana didn’t seem to have a choice. She hung her head. Quietly, she said, “Oyakata’s sick. Really sick. I’ve been trying to get help for him.”
Hikari immediately softened. “Kana! Why didn’t you say something? We can help you look for...”
Kana, still looking down, shook her head. “You don’t understand. I’ve been trying to get some help for him from outside. Outside Guri. Outside the Wall.”
We started out having a quiet dinner. Hikari, Kana, and I exchanged uncomfortable glances. Kaminari spoke first. “I know I’m still new here, but there’s something going on, and if there’s anything I should know, maybe I should know it now.”
I was torn, and looked to Hikari for advice. Hikari stopped eating and looked to be thinking about Kaminari’s request. “I’m not sure you should get involved,” she said gently.
At this point, if Suna had been here, she would have probably tossed down her napkin and stormed out of the room. But Kaminari didn’t flinch. She paused, then said, “This is a strange world I’ve been born into. When we first hatched from the cocoon, you all welcomed Suna and me as new Haibane. You said to be a true Haibane we needed to find work and set an example for the Young Feathers. I think I’ve done both.” She stopped, looking at each of us in turn, making sure we understood that it was not Suna we were talking to. “There are moments when it seems my fate is tied to Suna’s. But I think, as a full-fledged Haibane, I should be included in discussions that have to do with the well-being of us all.”
Hikari and I looked at each other, then at Kana. Kana shrugged, as if to say she had no objections. Hikari recanted. “OK, Kaminari. You’re one of us.” She turned back to Kana.
“I can explain this better,” Kana said, “if we go to the workshop.”
We finished dinner, and put some food for Suna on the table, covering it with a cloth and a note written by Hikari: “Suna, don’t wait up for us.” Then we followed Kana to Old Home’s Clock Tower.
As we were walking through the courtyard, Kana began explaining. “It started almost a year ago. Oyakata was getting winded just climbing the stairs. We joked about it a bit. As time went on, though, I could tell something was wrong. He wasn’t being as gruff with me. He looked pale. On some days, he missed work, or came in late.”
I thought back to my first meeting with Oyakata. This didn’t sound right at all.
Kana continued as we started up the stairs. “Just before Nemu’s Day of Flight, I asked her to go to the library and do some research. Oyakata had put on some weight, and his ankles were swollen terribly. Nemu came back and gave me some notes, and a couple books to look over.”
Kana went up to the trapdoor. Hikari was shining the flashlight all around. I don’t think she’d been up here before, and I knew Kaminari hadn’t. Kana gave the trapdoor a shove. “Hang on a second,” she said, disappearing. Then the light came on, and I went up the ladder, followed by Kaminari and Hikari.
The last time I’d been up in this clock tower, the mechanical room had been spartan, save for a few books and some tools. Now, the room was full of stuff. To Kana’s credit, it was well-organized. There were lots of different parts, some metal, some glass tubes, and wires. There were also candles, and a few empty wine bottles.
Kaminari was wide-eyed. “Nice place she’s got here,” she said under her breath.
“So I figured,” Kana said, sitting down on the desk, “I’d read the books, and try to understand what might be happening to Oyakata.”
“Kana, you aren’t a doctor….” Hikari said.
“No, but I wanted to be able to talk to one. Competently. And that’s what I did. I studied a lot, and went and spoke to two of the doctors in Guri. And both of them told me they knew what was going on with him. It’s his heart, they said. They couldn’t fix it. They couldn’t help him.”
“Kana… I’m sorry,” I said. “I know you and Oyakata are close…”
“That’s not the end of the story,” Kana interrupted. “One of the books Nemu got for me had a little surprise in it.” Kana got off the table and went over to a pile of books. She took a piece of paper out of one of them and handed it to Hikari.
Hikari looked at it. Kaminari and I looked over her shoulder. It was a piece of yellowed paper, just a scrap really, but it had writing and a picture on it. The picture showed a line of brick and stone buildings sitting on a river. I didn’t understand all of the words…
Then it hit me. These were buildings that weren’t in Guri. The writing spoke of people who had lost parts of their bodies – like arms or legs – and went to this place to get new, mechanical ones.
This was a piece of paper from the outside world. My heart began to pound excitedly. The Toga must have missed this when they went through these books. Hikari’s hand shook, making the paper more difficult to read.
Kaminari picked up on a different significance immediately. “Mechanical arms and legs… why not a mechanical heart?”
Kana’s eyes sparkled; she was really focused now. “Exactly! I went back to the doctors. They said, “Yes, a mechanical heart might work, but we don’t know how that could be done. And even if it could, we couldn’t do it here.’”
“Did you show them this paper?” asked Hikari.
Kana’s expression changed. “Are you crazy? They’d be off to Washi in a minute,” she said with some contempt.
“So… are you thinking Oyakata should go here? You know that if he leaves Guri, he’ll never be allowed back in again,” I said.
“Oyakata doesn’t want to leave. This town is his life. That’s what makes this all so difficult. If he stays, he’ll die soon. If he goes, he might live longer, but in a strange place. That’s not fair, especially if I can do something about it.”
Hikari and I looked at each other.
Kana walked over to the collection of wires and tubes. “At first, I thought I could use this radio. See, the radio gets a signal from somewhere and turns it into sound. I thought I could reverse the process, and maybe send a signal, and talk to someone outside of Guri. But I really didn’t know how to make all these tubes work in reverse. And there’s nothing in the Library about it.”
“I guess the Toga don’t want us talking,” I murmured.
“Guess not. So, instead, I went with a slightly more primitive method.” With this, Kana held up a wine bottle, smiling.
“You got drunk?” Hikari said, with a hint of scolding.
Kana scowled. “No! These bottles are from the workmen in the town Clock Tower. I wash them out, and put a note…,” here she handed me a note, “and then seal the stem with wax. I put them in the pond near the Western Woods.”
“The pond!?” I said, a little too loudly, remembering Reki’s warnings about the strength of the Walls there.
Kana smiled. “There’s something more to it than just a pond. The amount of water that flows in there is far more than could evaporate, but the size of the pond never grows. So, I tossed a few things in the water; sure enough, there’s a current or whirlpool that takes everything real close to the wall. When it gets there, it disappears.”
Kaminari saw the implications before I did. “So, you think there’s something on the other side of the Wall…”
“There’s got to be,” Kana nodded. “A river, an outlet, a lake… and once on the other side, these bottles float. Someone is bound to find one of them.”
I looked at the note. It said:
“Please help me. I am trying to get a message to a place outside of the walled city called Guri. Please reply to this message by writing back and placing this bottle in the river that flows into Guri from the West. Tell me how I can get in contact with you. My name is Kana, and I live at a place called Old Home in Guri. Thank you.”
I was stunned. “Kana, you aren’t supposed to….”
“I haven’t touched the Wall,” Kana shot back at me. “I haven’t even gone near it. I haven’t talked to the Toga.” She looked straight at me, and I thought I heard a hint of mockery in her voice. “I’m just trying to get someone to tell me how I can get some help for Oyakata.”
We stood quietly, looking at each other, while the tower clock gently noted the passage of time. Hikari broke the silence: “Have you… gotten anything?”
Kana deflated. “No. I stretched a net across the river near the Graveyard to catch anything that might come in. I’ve been up there every day for the past two weeks, and I haven’t seen anything.”
“Near the Graveyard…?” Hikari’s voice trailed off.
wryly. “Yeah, not even the Renmei go up there much.
But I have to skirt the Western Woods in order to get there without
going by the
“You seem intent on making sure Washi doesn’t find out,” I said.
Kana looked down, ignoring my comment. “Between the Graveyard and the Pond, there’s a lot of traveling to do, and I try to avoid others as much as possible. That’s why I haven’t been to work in two weeks. I’ve sent off a number of bottles, and I’ll send off even more.”
Hikari, Kaminari, and I were silent. Then I spoke up.
“Kana, I know you feel strongly for Oyakata. And believe me, I want to know about the outside world as much as you do. Chances are, though, the Renmei are going to find out about this. I don’t know what will happen if they do.”
Kana took back the piece of paper from Hikari’s hand and placed it back in the book. “I don’t know either. But please, don’t you go telling them.”
I went back to the Guest Room to check if Suna had returned yet.
My legs were shaking and unsteady. There was an outside world. It looked a lot like ours. Did they have Haibane there too?
What are the Haibane?
I walked into the Guest Room. Suna had finished eating and was now digging in the coat closet.
“What are you looking for, Suna?”
Suna didn’t turn around, but continued going through drawers. “I thought maybe that key to the storage place in my room might be here. If not, I was going to try to find some tools to pick the lock.”
She was determined. I really was in no mood to fight. But that was Reki’s “cocoon” room.
“Huh?” Still digging.
“Stop. Let’s talk.”
Suna hesitated, then closed one of the drawers. She stood up straight, turned, and looked at me. “OK, you’ve got my attention. What do you want?”
How could twins be so different? “Suna, the room that you want to get into is a very special room. It was a very special room to Reki, and to me. I had hoped that no one would go in there again.”
Suna stood, arms crossed on her chest. “Reki is gone. It’s my room now. Do you know where the key is?”
“Can I have it?”
Suna looked at me, somewhat defiantly. “I don’t understand.”
I thought for a bit. “You can’t understand. You wouldn’t understand even if I explained it to you. Maybe, someday, when you know more about how Guri works and what it is to be a Haibane, I’ll try to tell you the whole story. But please trust me on this. If it’s more space you want…” I paused, contemplating my offer, “…you can have my room. I’ll trade.” I’ll trade away my cocoon room for Reki’s nightmare room. “But I don’t want you going in that room. Not now.”
Suna stood quietly. Then she said, “OK, senpai. I don’t understand. But I’ll take your word.”
“Do you want my room?”
Suna half-smiled. “No, I don’t know what I’d do with all the extra space anyways. Good night, Rakka.”
Suna left me alone in the Guest Room. I was exhausted. I was shaking. It had been a long day. I buried my face in the bed covers and wept.
The next day I arrived at the
“Haibane Rakka,” he said from behind his mask, “is there something you wish to tell me?”
Wish to tell you? I rang a “no” from my wing bell. At least I was answering honestly.
Washi stood motionless.
I shifted nervously.
“Hmm. Very well. Go now.”
I hurried out, Washi watching me all the way.
The following evening there was a
summons from the Renmei for Kana posted on the board
at Old Home. It simply said, “Haibane Kana will come to the
We’d never seen anything like that before, and it was obvious what it was about. I’m sure Kana thought one of us had gone to Washi. Had Kaminari talked? I hadn’t thought she would. I know both Hikari and I were prepared to deny saying anything, but Kana never asked us.
Kana left early for the
I returned at sunset to Old Home. Everyone was in the Guest Room – except Kana. We didn’t eat much.
It became very late with no sign from Kana. I stepped out on to the verandah to look at the night sky. It was cold, and the stars were crisp and clear. As my eyes became adjusted to the darkness, I saw a faint flickering from the window of the Old Home clock tower.
I went back to the Guest Room, and took Hikari aside. “I think Kana’s in the Clock Tower.”
Hikari nodded. “Maybe you should go see her. I’ll take care of things here.”
I thanked her, put on my jacket, and headed across the courtyard.
It’s kind of hard to knock on a trapdoor. So I just pushed it open a little, and said, “Kana?”
Kana was seated at the far corner of the room, hunched upright in a little ball. A single candle was burning nearby. Papers were strewn about – it looked like she might have thrown the books around. She was silent.
I opened the trap door and climbed into the room. The electric motor of the clock hummed in the background. I went over to Kana.
“Kana, I’m sorry, as far as I know, none of us…”
“I know,” said Kana, looking up. Her eyes were swollen from crying. Dried tears covered her face. The mist from her breath hung in the cold stone tower.
I sat. We were quiet.
Finally Kana spoke. “They knew.
Apparently the Toga found one of the first bottles. They’ve been collecting them. They had the bottles there when I went to the
I was puzzled. “Why didn’t they call you earlier?”
“I only started signing my name to the papers once I started getting desperate. I figured maybe somebody would find a way to contact me other than using the bottles.”
“So what did they say?”
Kana looked away from me. “Washi said the walls are there for our protection. He made me promise not to try to communicate across the walls again. And he forbade me to have any further contact with Oyakata.”
“What?!” Sumika’s face popped into my mind. I tried not to think about it.
Kana gave an ironic smile. “Humans and Haibane aren’t supposed to get close. They aren’t supposed to meddle in each others’ affairs. Imagine that. Washi says humans are destined to die, and we Haibane to take our Day of Flight. Those are our lots in life, I guess.”
“But, where will you work?”
“Oh, I can go back to the Clock Tower. Oyakata probably won’t be around. He’s really sick, and the Renmei are making sure the Town does everything they can to make him comfortable.”
Kana was trying to turn the defeat into some kind of victory. She didn’t believe it, though, and neither did I.
We sat in the cold room, watching the candle burn down to its end, saying nothing.
I got up as usual the next morning, tired though I was from the night before. I went to the guest room for breakfast, where Kana and Kaminari were already there and drinking their tea. I sat down on the opposite side of the table, my back to the kitchen, and took a biscuit. “Good morning,” I said to them both.
Kaminari smiled, and Kana even managed a subdued “Morning, Rakka”.
Suna came into the room and went right to the kitchen, where Hikari was packing lunches. I overheard Suna say,“You wanted to see me?”
“Yes,” Hikari said. “I talked to the house mother last week about the key you were searching for. She said she’d take a look. Yesterday she dropped this key off and said it might work. It could even be a master key, so don’t lose it.”
I almost choked on my biscuit. There was another key?
The conversation faded a little, and I was straining to hear what was going on behind me. Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder. I gave a little yelp and jumped in my seat.
“Sorry, Rakka. I didn’t mean to scare you.” It was Suna. She looked me in the eye for a moment and without emotion set the key down on the table, turned, and left the guest room.
I stared at the key for a few seconds, then looked across the table. Kana and Kaminari wore puzzled expressions, as if to say, What was that all about?
I didn’t offer an explanation. Instead, I got up and ran out after Suna.
“Suna!” I said. She was already headed up the stairs. She paused on the landing and looked down at me. “Suna, that was really nice of you to…”
“I don’t want to hear it, Rakka,” she said, turning to walk up the next flight.
“Wha…. Suna?” I was confused.
Suna stopped halfway up the stairs, peering over the banister. Only her face, white like a china doll’s, was visible, brown eyes intense. “I really don’t care what you or Kaminari, or the other Haibane for that matter, think of me. I’m not being nice. I’ll keep my promise, but I’m waiting for that explanation.” She turned, took another step, then looked back at me. “Oh, and don’t lose that key, it might be a master key. I may still need it someday.” With that, she continued up the stairs and headed back to her room.
And that was Suna.
arrived at the
“Haibane Rakka, when I asked you if you had anything to say to me, you said you did not. Why did you say that? Speak, I permit it.”
“Sir, you asked if I wanted to say anything to you. I did not.”
“I see. I will choose my words more carefully next time.”
I felt ashamed and uncomfortable. Washi went on.
“Haibane, do you understand why the Walls exist?”
I answered truthfully. “I do not know why. Perhaps to keep us from harm. Perhaps to keep us from knowing things we are not to know.”
“Then perhaps knowing the answer of why the walls exist would defeat the purpose of the walls, wouldn’t you say?”
“Kana was just trying to help the master. He’s very sick.”
“Kana wishes that the world was like a watch. That all of its working parts could be understood simply with enough observation and study. That is why she was so disturbed by Nemu’s Day of Flight.”
“Nemu?” I said. “I didn’t think she’d been affected by that as much as me, or Hikari.”
“She was more affected by it than either of you. It was sudden and unexpected. She did not anticipate it, and could not read the signs. And she cannot understand what the Day of Flight is, or what lies beyond the walls.”
“We saw a paper that said what was beyond the walls.”
“You indeed saw a piece of paper. Are you certain that it describes a place that existed, or that exists now? Was it real? Or was it a story in a book?”
Up to that moment I hadn’t considered the paper to be anything but authentic. But thinking back to many of the books of the Library, perhaps it could have been a story book page…
I became a little bolder. “Are you trying to confuse my thinking about all these things?”
Washi gave a grim laugh. “On the contrary, I am trying to clarify your thinking by asking you to be more critical. For all of her abilities as an apprentice clock maker, Kana still cannot accept that which remains unseen, even though it may function just as reliably as a clock.”
“Her penalty seems harsh.”
Washi turned away a bit. “Much of our existence is about barriers. Too often, we want to overcome them, when in fact they are there for our protection. The rules of human interaction with Haibane are to protect both the Haibane and humans.”
I thought about Sumika, although I wasn’t going to say anything.
“Ponder these things. Winter is a time for trials for the Haibane. Kana is going through her ordeal now. She will have much to overcome, and the other Haibane can be of help to her. Go now.”
As I walked back toward Old Home that evening, I saw Kana coming across the bridge.
“Kana!” I shouted. She looked my way, gave a weak wave, and waited for me to catch up.
“Rakka.” She sounded tired.
“How was work?” I said, trying not to press too much.
“Work was fine. It’s been a long day. I had to get up early to get back that net I’d stretched across the stream at the Graveyard.”
We went back to Old Home. I started heading for the guest room, but Kana grabbed my arm. “Come with me,” she said. She guided me to the Clock Tower. We climbed the long staircase, and up the ladder.
The room had been cleaned out. Just a few books and some notes remained. And there was the net she’d talked about, in a large ball on the machine room floor.
Kana started unraveling the net. Every so often, she would look up at me and grin.
I was perplexed. “Kana, what’s going on?”
Kana just smiled, and finished unwrapping the net.
At the heart of the net was a single bottle. There was a wax seal, but not the wax Kana used.
And inside the bottle, visible through the glass, was a handwritten note.
I stood, transfixed. Stunned.
Kana. “It worked.”
The room seemed to close in on me. It was hard to breathe. I backed away a little.
Kana’s smile faded. “Rakka, what’s wrong?”
I stammered. “The Wall. You promised… you told Washi you wouldn’t try… this is from…”
Kana turned away and looked at the machinery. Then her posture changed, and she turned toward me cautiously. “I promised I wouldn’t try to communicate past the Wall. But you didn’t make that promise.”
That was it. I couldn’t handle it any longer. I ran to the ladder, climbed down, ran down the stairs, and out into the courtyard.
I hoped no one had seen me run back to my room. No doubt they’d be asking questions. I didn’t feel like giving answers.
I sat on my bed. This was like a nightmare. I wished that Reki was here. I could probably talk with her about this. But who could I turn to now? Maybe Hikari…
Hikari would probably go to Washi. Maybe not. Maybe she’d have some crazy idea about sending out messages hidden in bacon rolls.
The words of Washi came back to me. When I was in trouble, I should go to the Renmei. But it wasn’t me in trouble. Or was it?
The truth was I wanted to know what was in that bottle. Oyakata or no Oyakata, I wanted to read the note. I wanted to talk beyond the wall. Kana knew me better than I thought.
And what was Kana doing right now? Reading the letter? Planning another attempt at getting a message over the wall?
My head spun. I was alone. Again.
Regardless of how upset I was, sooner or later I would have to come out of my room. I didn’t want to see the other Haibane at the moment. I certainly didn’t want to see Washi.
There was a knock at my door.
“Who is it?” I asked weakly.
I crossed the room and opened the door. Kaminari was standing there in her coat and wing covers. “I came home early today,” she said. “I was in the Guest Room and saw you running across the courtyard.”
Uh-oh, here come the questions, I thought.
But Kaminari didn’t ask about it. “I’m going to go to town. I’d like you to go along.”
“Thank you, Kaminari, but I think I’d like to be alone…”
Kaminari looked at me intensely. “Rakka, please come with me. It’s very important.”
I hesitated, but Kaminari’s gaze changed my mind. I donned my coat and wing covers, and we left Old Home.
Kaminari and I started walking on the road to town. It was getting dark. I didn’t really like being out this late, but Kaminari was used to it, having to get up early on certain days to work at the farm. I felt a little better being with her.
Rather than going to the town, though, Kaminari took a turn along a dirt road that started heading off into the farms. “Don’t worry,” she said, seeing my face in the dusky light, “this is the way I go to work. It’s safe.”
I said nothing. We walked on for a little while, then came upon a small cottage. There was a warm light burning in the one window visible from the front of the house. We stepped up on the porch, and Kaminari knocked. An older woman, a human, answered the door, smiling. “Kaminari! And you must be Rakka. Come in, we’ve been expecting you.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Kaminari said, and entered the cottage. I followed right behind.
It was basically a one-room house, with a warm and cozy fire burning in the hearth, a couple wooden chairs, and some clocks on the walls. The sound was soothing. Then I turned, and I saw, on a small bed, a figure.
It was Oyakata.
He was propped up with some pillows, and he looked my way. He was certainly more frail than I remembered him from a year ago. Most of his body was covered with a quilt, but it was easy to see he was much heavier than he’d been.
The old woman spoke. “We try our best to keep him comfortable. He probably should be flat on his back with his feet up, but he has such trouble breathing.” She went over and straightened some of his pillows.
I looked at Kaminari. Why did you bring me here? I thought.
Kaminari didn’t need me to speak. “Oyakata and my
boss have some common acquaintances, including some of the Haibane
who work at the Abandoned House at the
I turned to Oyakata. He smiled as best he could. He was speaking, but it was hard to hear him. I walked closer. The sickbed smelled like rubbing alcohol and liniment. I tried not to wrinkle my nose.
Now I could hear him. “Tell Kana….”
“Yes, sir? Tell Kana….”
He gathered his strength. Slowly, between labored breaths, he said, “Tell Kana ‘thank you’, and ‘please, let it be this way’.”
He smiled again, and leaned back against his pillows. He had said everything he was going to say, it appeared.
“Yes, sir,” I said. Kaminari and I bowed politely, and we departed.
Kana held the note in her hand. “Read it,” she said.
“I don’t want to,” I told her, backing away slightly.
“It’s for you!” she said, and handed it to me.
I took the note. The letters seemed foreign, out of focus. At times, they looked like the letters on the stone tablets. They jumped and danced on the page as my hand trembled.
But there was one symbol I knew immediately. It was the symbol for ‘small stone’.
The last line of the note said, “I miss you. Love, Reki.”
I was swept up in a wave of emotion. I was happy. I missed Reki. I wanted to go across the Wall that moment and find Reki, and Kuu, and meet Kuramori, and…
I awoke to find tears streaming down my face, my pillow wet. I shook off the remnants of my dream, thought for a little bit, then cried some more.
I went to the Old Home clock tower that morning. Kana had been virtually living there. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, and I was scared.
Kana was sitting at her desk. She turned as I came through the trapdoor, greeting me with an emotionless face.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning, Rakka,” she said quietly. “What brings you here?”
Straight to the point. “I saw Oyakata last night.”
It took a moment for that to sink in. Kana dispelled whatever disbelief she might have harbored. “You did!? How is he?”
“He is still sick. But he wanted me to tell you two things.”
Kana said nothing, but her eyes sparkled.
“’Thank you’, and ‘let it be this way.’ ”
Kana sat back in her chair a little, thinking. “That’s all?”
Kana bit her lower lip, then got up from her chair. She walked over to the corner, and retrieved a wrapped package. She handed it to me.
I could tell by the contour it was the bottle. She’d wrapped it so I couldn’t see inside of it.
“I haven’t opened it. I’m not ready for what is inside, and now I’m not so sure I ever want to know,” Kana said.
I looked at the ground. “So, now it’s my decision what to do with it?”
Kana smiled. “I think you know exactly what to do.”
I arrived at the temple that afternoon to start my job. Washi was there. I approached him.
“Haibane Rakka, is there something you wish to tell me?”
I signaled “yes” with my wing bells.
Washi stood motionless.
I handed him the wrapped bottle. I had not opened it, either.
Washi took the bottle. “Is there anything else?”
I signaled “no”, but I also looked up at him and gave a small smile.
I could not see if his expression changed. “Very well. Go now.” He rapped his cane on the temple floor.
I headed off to do my job in the Wall, working diligently, like a good Haibane.