Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Long War, Part XVIII - Awakening


Japan

It started as an indistinct glimmer on the furthest edges of her vision. A mote in her mind's eye, she didn't really notice it until it had become a distinct flickering in the firmament of her consciousness. She could choose to ignore it, and she did - after all she was only thirteen years old, and had more pressing things to attend to. As the days went on it grew in brightness and size, and it became harder and harder to pretend that it wasn't there. She wanted to ask her mother, but she knew that she would get no answers from her. She had become accustomed to seeing and hearing and feeling things that no one else did, and she didn't want to get another of those wary, scared looks from her mother whenever she articulated them.

"Mi-chan," Chiharu would say. "Daijobu?"

Nanami never begrudged her mother these occasional moments. To Nanami her mother's love for her was inscribed in everything she did - it shone through her hands when she made her breakfast and dinner, reverberated through the timbre of her voice in her angriest moments, and radiated off her body while she slept, exhausted and worn after another long shift at work. Nanami knew that men thought her mother beautiful - they tried to hide it, but they might as well have thundered their thoughts from the rooftops. Nanami had always been uncannily perceptive - many men had flitted in and out of her mother's life, and she had always gauged their measure at first impression. She had not thought much of most of them, and she used to be brutally honest with her mother about her opinions. When her mother became upset for the third time she realized then that most people wanted the freedom to make their own mistakes, and so she ceased from offering unsolicited advice. All she could do was watch the inevitable fall, as inexorable as gravity, as another relationship hurtled back to earth and burned up on the way down. To Nanami her duty had always been clear - to pick up the shattered pieces of her mother's psyche and bind them together after every landfall. Exhausted and unhappy her mother had fallen asleep after coming home from work, and woke up to a meal prepared by her then ten year old daughter. The meal was simple and clumsily prepared, but that singular act of thoughtfulness broke down a barrier between them. Her mother burst into tears and hugged her daughter for an eternity, and from then on out they were no longer simply mother and daughter, but also partners, united together against the world. They shared the chores, talked frankly about their lives at work and at elementary school, and shared their hopes and fears with each other.


All except the dreams. When she was younger and her father was still in her life Nanami had been always been beset by the dreams. She could never remember the exact details, but many times during her life she had woken up, afraid, disorientated and screaming. Dismissed as night terrors, she'd appeared to have outgrown them, much to her mother's relief and to her father's exasperated disgust. For a brief moment of her young life Nanami was plagued with the guilt that she was responsible for driving her father away. That guilt disappeared when in a strange moment of clarity she had glimpsed into the contents of his mind, and saw a weak, self-centered man driven by petty desires and vainglorious ambitions. There was no room in that place for her mother and her, and when he finally left, she had not wasted her grief. During that time, however, Nanami had learnt to keep silent about the dreams and visions. As far as she knew, she was the only one that saw them, and sharing them only engendered fear, doubt and skepticism. She wondered if she was crazy, and she made great efforts in suppressing the dreams, or pretending not to see what she saw to herself. Perhaps it worked, because they eventually stopped.

Now thirteen and in the final year of elementary school, life had slipped into a comfortable routine for the two of them. They were not well-to-do, but they were no longer poor, either. Their situation was a far cry from what it was several years ago. Nanami recalled her mother's deep shame at being unable to provide her with a new dress for her nyugakushiki. While all the newly inducted children stood proudly in their new shoes and bright dresses, Nanami wore a plain green one piece with her old gym shoes. Later, as they walked home she had felt the shame radiating from her mother, and at first thought she had done something wrong. Once again her uncanny senses slipped past surface appearances, and she realized that the shame and anger pouring from her mother was directed inwards.

"Mama, daijobu," she said abruptly, grabbing her mother's hand. "I don't need a new dress." 

Chiharu looked at her daughter with shock. "How do you do that, Mi-chan?" Her face fell. "I'm so sorry about today." Her face twisted in self-loathing. "How did I become so useless?"

Nanami burrowed her face into her mother's side. "You're not useless, Mama." 

"I promise you, Mi-chan," her mother said fiercely, returning the hug. "I'll do better."

Her mother was as good as her word. The procession of men ended, and while hopeful suitors still lurked in the wings, Chiharu's energies were directed at her daughter and herself. Chiharu finally obtained her nursing qualifications, and held down a steady job with solid pay and benefits. She'd swallowed her pride, and reconnected with her estranged parents. Chiharu's mother was overjoyed to have her daughter back, and the pair were immediately reconciled with no recriminations on either side. If anything, Chiharu's mother took the brunt of the blame on herself, castigating herself as a terrible mother for letting her daughter venture into the world alone. Chiharu knew only too well how it felt to feel inadequate as a parent, and both women, generations apart, bonded instantly over their shared guilt. Chiharu's father, cut from a particularly unyielding cloth of Japanese masculinity, took longer to thaw. Once again though, Nanami's strange ability to winnow past the facades of ego came to the rescue. Beyond the rigid mazes of tatemae Nanami perceived an old man anxious and concerned about the well-being of his daughter and granddaughter but lacking the wherewithal to express it. Nanami hugged her grandfather, addressed him as ojiisan, and the walls of formality were breached, the garrison routed, and the stronghold overrun. While Chiharu and her father would never ever be as close again, the intention was there on both sides, and Nanami served as the glue that kept them civil to one other.

By the end of elementary school Chiharu and Nanami could count themselves happy and comfortable, and the gold-tinged days slipped by swiftly and effortlessly. In the waning days of school, however, the dreams began again in earnest. This time, though, Nanami did not suffer alone. When she woke up terrified in a pool of sweat, she found her mother instantly by her side. Her concerned grandparents took her to counselling and eventually to a child psychologist, and Nanami did her best to recall her dreams in quiet conversations with her mother during their bedtime rituals.  She also told her mother about the strange glimmering she could see growing in strength on the horizon, as clear as a lighthouse to her eyes, but seemingly invisible to everyone else. Her recollections upon waking were improving, but this was cold comfort to Chiharu, who found herself looking at stark, sinister cartoon doodles of little grey men and tall figures in black.

"They're coming, Mama," she would say. "They're looking for people like me."

"Who's coming, Mi-chan?" her anguished mother would ask, stroking her daughter's hair softly.

Her daughter would not elaborate, and Chiharu could only reflect on Nanami's latest sketch, which depicted a many limbed hooded figure surrounded by a menagerie of fantastic creatures. This was filed away in a folder along with the rest, and shuffled along to counselors, teachers, and psychiatrists, each of whom posited their own theories and prescribed different courses of action. Solely concerned with her daughter, Chiharu only half-heartedly listened to the news of strange blinking lights in the sky that began to fill print and media in the same year. She ignored the bombast surrounding the creation of some kind of multi-national task force based in Japan, and the Prime Minister's attempts to justify the nation's new interventionist stance. Politicians and their promises were so far removed from the minutiae of her life that they faded to the background, mere ambient noise behind the more strident notes of day to day living. It was only while waiting in traffic along the Chugoku Highway with Nanami that the correlation struck home with the force of a thunderbolt. They, along with many Japanese commuters on their way to Osaka, had watched with stunned disbelief as a sleek silver saucer streaked parallel to the highway, slowed its velocity, and land somewhere ahead of them. Traffic ground to a halt, and amazed commuters left their cars, craned their necks and peered ahead, trying to get a glimpse of the grounded craft. Chiharu was among them, until she felt Nanami's hand tugging on her own.

"Mama, we have to go," her daughter had said, urgency flashing in her eyes. "They're here."

Next: The Long War, Part XIX - Mirage

4 comments:

  1. Is she going to be your own version of Annette then?

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    1. Yeah, man, pretty much. :)

      Annette will still be in the story but she'll already be an adult. The convention I'm going with is that the younger the psykers start out the stronger they are, which means the more valuable they are to the invaders. I'm also heavily influenced by a book written in the 1950s by Arthur C. Clarke called Childhood's End (which was turned into a mini-series by SciFy I believe). I haven't seen the mini-series yet, but I found the ending of Childhood's End to be very profound, wistful and thought-provoking. Worth a read!

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  2. As always, keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks dude - will do.

      I don't know how well this will go, but I'm trying to do four separate story threads - France, Japan, Syria and maybe one rotating location. Maybe it will be too much, but I'll give it a go, and if the story just bloats or bogs down I'll go back to the historical narrative style.

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