Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 4

Two weeks passed. It was nighttime, and Patty had left long before. For some reason, Takara found herself awake. Everything was dark, including Takara’s room. And as Takara felt her way to the door, she felt a sense of invisibility. She liked that. She carefully opened her door and found the hall to be deserted and almost as dark as her room. Fortunately, Takara knew these halls, so the barely existent light from the skylight would be enough for her to get to her father’s room. As she progressed, she felt free for the first time since she woke up in the hospital. She felt she could determine where to go in this wing and how long to stay there. Takara breathed. She could remember feeling this way when her father was alive. Suddenly, the emotional heaviness that had weighed on her was gone.

Then, as she dragged her hand along the wall at the correct height, her fingers stumbled upon the knob of her father’s door. It was exhilarating. She opened the door and slipped inside. Then, she made her way to the sofa and sat upon it. She leaned back and listened to the clock tick. Finally, she lay down. She figured she might as well rest in here awhile. After all, it wasn’t hurting anything.

Around midnight, the clock struck; this time the sound was enough to stir Takara. Then again, maybe it wasn’t just the clock. Takara sat up when she heard the sound of feet shuffling out in the hall. The sound appeared to be coming from the entrance to the wing. Takara sat stunned as the sound became louder and louder. Finally, it stopped by the door frame. There was a moment of silence in which she could hear the person breathing. Then, the light came on. Takara squinted. When her eyes finally adjusted, there was Mr. Tyler standing in the doorway glaring at her. After a moment of gawking at her, he suddenly reached for the doorknob and shut the door. The sound of footsteps then retreated back toward where they had come from, and the sound of a large door being shut vibrated in the distance.

 

***

 

About a week earlier, Takara had begun dropping hints that she wanted to go back to school. At first Patty smiled and seemed happy about the progress Takara was making. Then, one morning — the morning after Takara’s run-in with Mr. Tyler — Patty’s reaction to the conversation became decidedly different. She frowned and cast her eyes downward.

“Well, let’s get you something to eat, shall we?” she suggested coolly.

As soon as she got Takara’s order, Patty seemed to dash from the room. Takara was confused. She tried being very nice to the woman when she returned, but after Patty arrived with the food she stood feet away and avoided eye contact. Then, Patty came forward to remove the tray. Takara tried to get the woman to look at her but to no avail.

“Is something wrong?” Takara asked.

The woman looked down at the tray.

“No, it looks like you’ve eaten most of it. Good job.”

She glanced at Takara then departed from the room. Takara didn’t know what to think. She wished she had been more direct with Patty somehow. So, when Takara saw the door slowly reopen to her room she was relieved.

“Patty.”

Takara recoiled when she saw the frame of Mr. Tyler quickly slip through the doorway. He then carefully shut the door behind him.

“Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to.”

Takara ‘s eyes narrowed.

“What …?” she uttered.

“I heard you were planning on going back to school.”

“Yes.”

“So, I thought we should talk about that.”

“Talk about what?”

Mr. Tyler stepped away from the door. Takara did her best to hold her ground while she remained sitting on the bed.

“Well …” Mr. Tyler grabbed a chair and sat in it. He entwined his fingers and leaned forward. Takara questioned what he could possibly be up to.

“I’ve been thinking you’re a smart girl. I think you should be capable of studying from home. There’s an online school I think we might try. You can get your assignments and any help you may need over the school’s network.”

“But why?” Takara pondered.

“Well, what’s the rush in going back to your old school? I realize you’re bored. Really, Takara, this seems to be the best solution given your health. I would hate for you to get sick again. Also, it turns out that they have an advanced program for those as smart as yourself …” He paused. “All right.” The man stood. “I’m glad we had this talk.”

Mr. Tyler quickly left the room. Maybe Takara was being paranoid, but his words felt almost like a threat to her. Either way, it appeared as though Takara’s plan to get out of the Institute had failed.

Takara hadn’t wanted to speak to Patty at dinner, and apparently the feeling was mutual. They barely spoke, except for the necessary niceties such as Takara’s menu selection. This wasn’t going to work. Takara needed to contact her mother. And now she knew for sure there wasn’t anyone here whom she could ask to contact her mother for her. She had to find a way to do it herself. She needed her mother. Her mother was her only family and her only way to get out of this prison.

Needing to think, Takara headed to her father’s office later that night. Only when she got there, she found the door was locked. She pulled at the door in disbelief. Sure enough, the door was locked. Takara headed back to her room. She was grateful for two things: that she already had her mother’s address and that there was no lock on the outside of her bedroom door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 12

Being with his parents could sometimes be embarrassing for Kenji — but then that was probably true for most kids his age. The thing of it was his parents frequently teased him. And just like on this day, they also had a rather unconventional use of their free time. Assembling custom-made fishing lures wasn’t his father’s first strange hobby, nor was it the only one he tried to earn money from. But it certainly was the only one that Kenji had to actively participate in. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t look at his father’s next hobby in the same way.

What his parents wanted Kenji to do was playact at being an interested customer during his father’s selling time. His mother would do the same — only at different times. Since it wouldn’t work to have them linger around the booth the entire time, Kenji was allowed to wander around the market eating one of his mother’s cookies as he went. As it was, he began to relax in his parents’ presence. It was almost as though the incident in which he was followed never happened … almost.

Kenji became interested in a video game display. He looked down at his watch and sighed. He still had an hour left to go before his father would leave for the day. He bit his lip. Oh well, at least he had something to look at. Why not make the best of it?

Kenji shuddered suddenly. He wondered what that was about. Then, he looked to his left. Briefly, he made eye contact with a man, who was turned toward him, from a distance. The man then swiftly turned his face away from Kenji. Kenji’s brow furrowed. He looked forward again and bit his lip.

Kenji’s breathing started to quicken. Should he look to make sure this guy was in fact watching him? No, he decided against it; he didn’t want to confirm to the man that he had made him. Instead, Kenji chose to show an interest in the game display. He decided to pick up the most interesting game guide he could find and could afford with the money he had brought with him. He thanked the vendor and turned away. All of Kenji’s muscles were tense, and he could tell his face was flushed. Yet, he tried to look as casual as possible as he headed back to where his parents were. His mother had just finished her stint as an interested customer and happened to be heading in his direction.

“Kenji, what a great idea!” His mother pointed toward the magazine Kenji was holding in his hand. “That will make you look like a real shopper.”

“Is it working?” Kenji asked lowly.

“Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, I think there is interest. People do come around to see what I’m yelling about.”

“Yelling?”

“Well, exclaiming. I thought I’d add some more drama to it. Maybe next time I should buy a lure. I mean, I could always give one to my boss. He does like to fish. Hey, that’s not such a bad idea! All his friends might see it and want one.”

Kenji turned his head toward the back of the room while she was talking. He couldn’t help it. Now he was having that same feeling he had had before — only he didn’t see the man.

“Kenji, what’s wrong? You aren’t listening.”

“Sorry.” he said, turning back around. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“Well, we could go home if you’re not feeling well.”

His mother placed her hand on his shoulder.

“No, that’s okay.” he replied.

He was pleased that his mother gave him the option to decide for himself.

“Great! I was hoping you’d say that.” She beamed. “Here. Let me give you some more money, so you can buy a lure this time. Your dad can give it to his boss.”

“Couldn’t he anyway?”

She frowned.

“Yeah, but that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh — okay. I’ll do it.”

“Good.”

She handed him the money.

Kenji was surprised when he returned to find a crowd had gathered around his father’s booth. He was skeptical at first. He thought maybe his father had paid them to act interested, but it turned out they were students from the local high school heading out on a school wilderness trip. As he waited in line, Kenji cast a look around him. The only conspicuous-looking person that he saw was his mother peering out from the other side of a stack of books. She sort of waved at him then returned to reading the covers — presumably as a way to not draw attention to herself. Kenji sighed as he turned back toward his father. He was one part embarrassed and one part relieved. The relief was from seeing that his mother was all right while at the same time not seeing that strange man. It was pretty obvious where the embarrassment was coming from.

“I’m sorry, son, but we’re all out of my one-of-a-kind fishing lures.”

Kenji was deep in thought.

“Son, you’re going to have to come back next week …” his father stated. “Psst … Kenji.”

Kenji looked up. A phrase had caught his attention before the use of his name even had.

“Next week?” he stammered. “Are you serious?”

“We’re sold out. And why wouldn’t we be?” his father joined.

His father was missing his point badly. Then, his father whispered to Kenji, “The good news for you is we can leave early today.”

“Mom will be disappointed, I guess.” Kenji joked. “She wanted me to buy one for your boss.”

“Well, like I said. Next week.”

Kenji looked at his father quizzically. He was surprised to note that his father had taken him seriously.

“Let’s go get your mother and break the news to her. By the way, do you have any cookies left?”

Since his father had taken the bus to get to the flea market, it meant that the family could all ride back in the hover car together. Kenji sat in the back seat and stared out the window. He always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling, but these days he found he wished he had a dog — something to sit in the back seat with him; something that might understand him despite the language barrier; something that wouldn’t tease him just for fun.

Certainly having a pet might give him something to think on other than what his dad was talking about. His father unfortunately was giving a detailed account of his day at the flea market. Kenji guessed his father figured that since neither Kenji nor his mother had been there the entire day, there was much they had both missed out on. After all, there was bound to be some occurrence that one of them hadn’t seen.

As it turned out, it wasn’t all that difficult for Kenji’s mind to wander. And he thought about Takara, her letter, Erik taking it, and Kenji’s being possibly followed twice later. Still, as they pulled up to their apartment it all seemed rather surreal. Things like that just didn’t happen to him. That feeling of skepticism grew until the moment he and his parents reached their doorstep; then, it disappeared altogether. His mother let out a peculiar scream, and Kenji just kind of looked at her, unable to quite process what it was he was seeing.

“We’ve been robbed!” Kenji’s mother called out at the sight of the front door having been left cracked open.

“Robbed? Robbed of what?” Kenji’s dad countered.

“Well, how about Kenji’s computer?”

“Oh, yeah, right.”

“What do you mean?! We have lots of nice stuff.” Kenji’s mother retorted.

Kenji’s father scratched his head. “Well, should we go in?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we should call the local security force.” Kenji’s mom offered.

“Maybe …”

“If we had a dog, then it would know if someone was inside.” Kenji felt compelled to say.

They looked at him with accusatory expressions.

“Sorry.” he uttered self-consciously.

“Well, I guess I’ll take a look around.” Kenji’s father offered. “Maybe the apartment manager did an inspection and just forgot to shut the door.”

“Don’t try this at home …” Kenji muttered under his breath.

His father shot him a look before entering their abode. After a few surprisingly anxious moments, Kenji was glad to see his father returning.

“It’s all clear.”

“Thank goodness!” Kenji’s mom expressed.

Kenji and his mother took a step forward into the house.

“Yeah, the only room in the house that is messed up is yours, Kenji.” his father teased.

Kenji stopped short and looked at his father’s grin quizzically.

“What do you mean?” Kenji asked.

“It’s no big deal. I mean, when I was a boy it was much worse — if that could be imagined.”

Kenji headed into the house. Despite his father’s insistence, it did appear as though most of the drawers in the house had in fact been rifled through. The look on his mother’s face when he passed by her suggested that she realized the same thing.

But it was Kenji’s room that appeared as though someone had had a free-for-all. His backpack was particularly disassembled and the contents strewn about. Kenji’s mother appeared behind him. And when he looked up at her, he saw shock on her face. She had come to his door several times that day and knew his room didn’t look like this before.

“See, the computer’s still there.” his father consoled.

Kenji looked at him briefly. His father meant well, but he didn’t understand. They weren’t after the computer. That meant they were after something else of value to them — something that not everyone would even realize was valuable. All Kenji could think of was Takara’s letter, and he hoped they didn’t figure out that Erik had it — especially before it was mailed.

 

***

 

On Monday morning Kenji sat in front of his computer monitor pensively considering what course of action to take. Right before class, Kenji was stressed about Takara’s and Erik’s safety. But as much as he wanted to check on them, he decided to skip class that morning. He was afraid one or both of them would mention the letter. Someone might easily be monitoring the connection — particularly now. Kenji sighed and switched off his computer. He decided there was no point in waiting around feeling guilty about skipping class, so he ventured into the kitchen and sat down at the counter. His mother was busy baking muffins. When she saw him sitting there, she froze for a second.

“Oh, you scared me! Wait a minute, don’t you have a class?”

Kenji was staring into space.

“Kenji?”

“Yes.” He looked at her.

“Is something on your mind?”

Kenji considered for a moment.

“Just the break-in the other day.”

“But nothing was taken, was it?” she asked.

“No.”

“Kenji, I don’t mean to offend you, but you take everything so seriously.”

Kenji just looked off to the side and sighed.

“Well, since you’re being so ornery today I might as well put you to work. I have some baking to do. It’s my job to make the dessert for the brunch meeting today, and you’re going to help me.” his mother announced.

Kenji managed a smile. After all, he figured his mother was trying to be there for him. And at least this would be a way for him to keep his mind off his concern for Takara and Erik.

Kenji did try to log in right after class ended just to see whether Takara was there. She wasn’t. Afterward, he tried to convince himself it was for the best. He really couldn’t discuss anything with her online lest someone was watching, but he hated to think of her worrying about what had happened to her letter and maybe even to him. Still, how could it be avoided? He had to stay away from class until the next field trip. Kenji did breathe a sigh of relief when he saw the next field trip was scheduled for this week. Now he just had to hold out until Friday, avoiding the online class meetings until then. Fortunately, his regular school had already been dismissed for the summer.

Kenji made sure to check the assignment page. He thought the least he could do was make sure all of his online work was completed. That way, he hopefully wouldn’t be turned away from the field trip — for that at least. Still, how could he explain his absence if asked? Kenji was determined to find a verifiable excuse to miss the rest of this week’s online sessions; Kenji decided this part of the plan was something he could go to his parents with. They seemed to be really good at dealing with off-the-wall issues. So, while they were both sitting down, he asked, “I need to skip my online lectures this week, can you think of an excuse for me to do that?”

A strange look descended upon both of their faces. They appeared to be stunned silent. Kenji wasn’t really expecting this. Riotous laughter, yes — but this?

“Mom? Dad?”

“Kenji — are you serious?” his father asked him.

“Yes. It’s important.” He added the last part, hoping it would be enough information for them, so they wouldn’t feel the need to ask further questions.

“Oh, you know what?” his mother began. “I bet he just wants to skip class. Am I right? That is so rebellious of you! Of course, that you asked permission first kind of defeats the purpose!”

Kenji just looked at her blankly. Then, his parents looked at each other with confusion once again in their eyes.

“Umm … I suppose … well, my assistant is unexpectedly on vacation this week.” his father informed him. “I did try to find a temp but strangely none seemed to be available. I can have you fill in for her. It would actually be pretty helpful seeing as it’s a small business.”

“Great. I don’t even care whether I get docked points just as long as I can go to the field trip on Friday.”

His parents looked at each other again.

“Thanks, guys. You’re the best!” Kenji exclaimed before heading to his room.

At first, he just heard what seemed to be a muffled snicker. But then it quickly built until, once again, his parents had erupted into hysterical laughter. Kenji smiled to himself; it was worth it.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 3

Takara made a lot of effort to get better. She ate well and tried walking back and forth down the hall in front of her room. Takara and her father had resided in a wing on the second floor of the Institute. There had been a guest room in this suite. This was the room that Patty was given. Patty didn’t sleep there overnight, but she used it as a sort of office when Takara didn’t need her during the day. Takara’s room was between Patty’s room and the room her father used to occupy.

As Takara walked down the halls, she noted her father’s room. At first, Takara purposefully didn’t look at the room. But on subsequent days her eyes would drift to the side and towards the room.

Eventually, Takara stopped in front of her father’s door. Her hand hesitated on the knob. She breathed. Finally, she turned the knob. She stepped inside then shut the door behind her. Unlike her room that seemed to be different somehow, her father’s room seemed the same. Of course, she hadn’t spent much time in there actually. Her memories of that room basically consisted of peeking into the room nearly every evening. She would take her father a cup a green tea. It was one of the few moments that Hayato Takahashi would actually stop his work and take a break. Dr. Takahashi would spend hours straight consumed with his work. Yet, he would never seem to be annoyed when Takara stepped in briefly; in fact, it ended up becoming part of their nightly routine. Once he even said this was the best part of his day. Takara wasn’t completely sure whether she believed that, but it made her feel good all the same.

Takara felt protective of her father. Even though he never let on, she could tell it bothered him being away from Takara’s mother, Ran. They had all planned to move to Colony 29 as a family. Dr. Takahashi had finally gotten the financing to open the Institute, and he concluded that Colony 29 was the ideal place to establish it. It had many qualified scientists that could be hired. It was merely days before they were to board the shuttle to Colony 29 that Takara’s mother got a phone call. Her boss had recommended her to replace the CFO of one of his subsidiaries. It was a tense few days. Takara’s parents talked a lot in soft subdued voices; then, they just stopped talking altogether. When it was time to board the plane, Ran Takahashi gave her daughter a hug and a message capsule, so they could exchange messages. Takara knew what that meant. Her parents had decided that, though Dr. Takahashi would work as much as Mrs. Takahashi, since Dr. Takahashi would be residing where he worked the Institute would be a better place for Takara to live. This would allow Dr. Takahashi to work from home in a manner of speaking. It was settled; Takara would live with him. So, Takara and her mother said they loved each other, and Takara and her father left. Takara looked back towards her mother until she disappeared from view.

No one asked Takara what she wanted. The fact was she was almost grateful for that. She wouldn’t have wanted to choose; she didn’t think she could have. She learned later in a communication with her mother that she was going to seek a transfer to Colony 29 as soon as it was available. That was nine years ago. No one said that the situation was definitely going to change back to the way it had been; no one said much of anything.

Takara decided she would come back to her father’s office again soon. She thought it would make her feel better. She had thought of something else to do right then. Takara stepped out of the room and carefully shut the door behind her. She remembered she had gotten a message from her mother before the accident. Takara hadn’t replied then. It seemed as though this would be a good time to respond — even if she dreaded being the one to announce her father’s death. No one said anything about her mother knowing about his death. Maybe they didn’t even know her mother existed. Either way, it would take some time for her mother to come to get her once she received word — if that was even possible.

As Takara stepped outside the door to her father’s office, she could see Patty’s form enter her room. She could hear Patty call her name. Takara quickened her pace to meet her. She didn’t want anyone to wonder where she’d been. She wanted to keep her visits to her father’s room a secret.

Patty stepped back into the hall just as Takara arrived.

“Oh, there you are. Oh good, you’ve been walking.”

Takara just smiled.

“Well, I’m supposed to take your vital signs as part of your discharge orders. Also, I wanted to know what you wanted for lunch.”

“Wow!” Takara exclaimed. “I’m not used to having such treatment!”

“Really? As great as this place is, I would have thought this was the lifestyle you were accustomed to.”

Takara frowned.

“Not really.” she said. “I helped my father cook dinner. I had lunch at school most days.”

“So, you go to school?”

“Yes. Grove Academy. I am at Level 7 — at least I was. I imagine I have a lot of catching up to do. I wonder whether I’ll have to repeat the year now.”

“Well, we can see whether they’ll give you some of your work to catch up on. Really though, we should just be grateful you survived given how bad the accident was.”

Something flashed through Takara’s mind then, and it caused her head to spin.

“Come on.” Patty said. “You shouldn’t be overdoing it.”

Patty took Takara by the arm and led her to her bed.

“Thank you.” Takara offered.

“No problem.” Patty replied.

Patty suddenly started treating Takara like a young child.

“I’m going to go ahead and make you some of my homemade chicken noodle soup. It always made my kids feel better. I just wish there were someone to take over when I go home in the evenings.” she lamented.

Takara looked at Patty searchingly. Obviously, her dizzy spell had really frightened the woman. Then, a thought occurred to her.

“You don’t think I’ll have to go back to the hospital?” Takara questioned.

The woman looked at her in stunned silence. Obviously, that was what the woman had been thinking. Takara’s eyes began to water.

“No.” Patty was quick to offer. “But I do think it would be good for you to get in to see your doctor. I’m not a nurse. A professional needs to be keeping an eye on you.”

Takara nodded.

“Now let me get the soup.” She patted Takara on the arm. “It’ll be okay.” she reassured Takara.

Patty left, and Takara looked after her. Takara really wanted to confide in Patty about the message she was planning to send her mother — but she just couldn’t. Patty wasn’t wary of Mr. Tyler the way Takara was. Patty might, therefore, say something to him. Takara didn’t know whether Mr. Tyler would have a problem with Takara contacting her mother, but just in case he did she couldn’t chance him finding out. The relationship between Takara and her mother had been distant since the move. Takara couldn’t stand the possibility of being left wondering why if her mother never responded to the announcement of her father’s death. No, Takara would make contact with her mother once she was sure she was alone, so no one could stop her. In Takara’s mind that meant getting back to school and, therefore, out of the Institute as soon as possible.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 9

Takara was very eager to start Monday’s class, so she could find out when the next outing would be. Unfortunately, Miss Harrington logged on to the class site five minutes late. And when she did log on, she went straight to work. Takara’s heart was beating quickly. It was hard for her to calm down enough to focus on the lesson. She breathed, attempting to inhale and exhale as slowly as possible. After all, this information could turn out to be useful on the next field trip. Perhaps, she could even get her work done early during the field trip; that way she could sneak off and mail her letter.

Still, she couldn’t seem to stop herself from looking at the clock more than once as the session progressed. Time was ticking by, and the teacher’s lesson wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Takara sat back in her chair and clenched her teeth after the class time expired. A moment after that, she heard the teacher announce that class was over for the day. The teacher then made some comment about needing to be somewhere.

Takara leaned forward; she felt panic-stricken.

“What about the next field trip?” Takara wondered.

When Takara saw the images of the other students looking around, she realized that she had said that out loud. Takara froze. She was horrified when she noticed that Miss Harrington looked flustered.

“I’m sor—”

“We’ll deal with that later.” Miss Harrington said quickly before abruptly logging off. One by one the other students seemed to follow suit. Takara stared into space. She had messed up again. Why did everything have to be so complicated? She looked down and placed her hand on her forehead.

“Are you all right?” Takara heard a voice ask softly.

She looked up startled. She blinked a few times then realized that the voice was coming from one of her classmates online. It was that boy that seemed to know her.

“Yes. Thank—thank you.” Takara stammered.

She looked off to the side and tried to think of something else to say.

“No problem.” the boy noted.

Takara looked back at his picture and smiled slightly.

“Are you from Grove Academy?” Takara found herself asking.

“Oh, yeah. Right.”

“And your name is Kenji, right?”

“Yeah. And yours is Takara.”

Takara smiled again. She felt herself relax a little.

“Thank you for what you said before.” Takara told him. “It’s as though I don’t know what to say anymore.”

Takara bit her lip slightly. She worried she was admitting that she wasn’t normal like everyone else, and that he would reject her because of it.

“Yeah, I hear you. I feel that way all the time with my parents.”

Kenji grinned; then, so did Takara. Something about Kenji seemed to put her at ease.

“I didn’t mean to offend the teacher.” Takara lamented.

“Yeah, who knows what that was about. I bet everyone was thinking the same thing you were only no one but you had the nerve to ask. I mean, if all we end up doing is sitting around talking about our weekly reading assignments — that could get pretty boring.”

“Yes.” Takara admitted. “I suppose you’re right.”

She smiled again; then, she sighed. Suddenly, someone began to open her bedroom door. The person paused when the door was about an inch open. Takara heard the person’s voice and recognized it as Patty’s. Patty seemed to be talking to someone in the hall. Takara panicked as she remembered where she was and under what circumstances.

“Takara?” Kenji uttered, recalling her attention.

Takara bit her lip again as she turned from the hallway toward the computer screen.

“I have to go now.” Takara returned sullenly.

“Sure.”

“It’s not like …”

“Hey, I get it. Don’t worry.”

Kenji smiled. Takara managed to smile as well. Then, she swallowed as she reached forward and pressed the button to turn off the computer. Turning off the computer had been a hard thing to do. Kenji was so genuine; it felt as though he was a lifeline for her. She was sure he and her father would have gotten along. They had a similar sense of humor. Takara managed to smile slightly. Then, she prepared herself to handle the inevitable onslaught of negativity and disapproval.

“I thought you’d have been off by now.” Patty remarked in an accusatory tone.

Takara decided to just look at her without saying anything. After all, she couldn’t afford to tell her the truth, and yet she also didn’t want to lie. Eventually, Patty went about her business. Still, Takara could tell the precedent had been set. It was seemingly okay for the others here to be rude to her. And Takara couldn’t help but wonder how they would react if they found out about the question she had asked Miss Harrington. Chances were Takara could expect a poor response. Well, at least she had one possible friend now. She just had to find a way to maintain that connection.

 

***

 

It didn’t take all that long before the fear that Takara felt after her run-in with Mr. Tyler to begin to fade. And it was strange to think of it, but Takara found herself waiting for the sun to go down again. It was as though a tension would finally release. True, she couldn’t spend too much time walking the halls; Patty always came for her at around the same time in the early morning hours without fail. There would be too many questions if she slept in too late. Yet, these few hours free from the microscope of scrutiny were freeing. Part of her felt there could possibly be a camera installed in the halls, but Takara didn’t see one. And if there were one there, she’d just be seen wandering around. And, after all, she didn’t go toward anything with locks on it anymore. Still, there was always a chance they would tell her to stop or restrict her freedom further by possibly locking her in her room. But she couldn’t think of that. She needed these excursions to stay sane, so she took them. The consequences, should they come, were a problem for another day. But why should they come? She wasn’t harming anyone with her walks. And with every other step she took, she could feel her father’s key securely placed within her shoe.

Fortunately, no one said a thing about Takara’s question to Miss Harrington … day after day. Takara was glad. And certainly, soon enough, the class would have another field trip, and she would be able to contact her mother — only it didn’t happen.

For some reason, Miss Harrington never brought up the subject, and Takara was too afraid to ask again. She figured she’d been fortunate there had been no repercussions the last time she ventured to ask, and she didn’t want to risk a backlash now. Still, every day this sliver of panic began to grow inside of Takara. It was hard for her not to become despondent. Then, finally, someone else apparently could not stand the strain any longer and came out with the question Takara had uttered weeks earlier.

“Miss Harrington?”

“Yes, Erik?”

“When are we going to go back to the Virtual Reality Gaming Complex?”

Once again, there was silence. At least now Takara knew Miss Harrington’s negative reaction when Takara had asked about the arcade previously hadn’t been personal. And yet, Miss Harrington had seemed so excited about the virtual reality arcade in the beginning. Could it be that the large robot had scared her this much? Was she having trouble leaving her house? Actually, why would she think any one place would be safer than another? As far as Takara knew from the conversations she had heard the other students having before class, there was no new information about the cause or reason for the incident. Who knew how long it would be before there were answers?

“I guess we’ll have to do that again, won’t we?” Miss Harrington murmured.

Again there was silence. Takara got the feeling the rest of the students were in agreement with the teacher’s statement. While no one jumped in to say “yes,” no one seemed to disagree with her either. Then again, maybe Takara was the only one who felt pressure to make Miss Harrington feel better. Miss Harrington sighed.

“Okay. I have to check into something.” Miss Harrington looked down. “I’ll give you the date next time.”

When Miss Harrington logged off, Takara could hear some of the other students groan before logging off as well.

It had become part of her normal routine for Takara to linger on after the class ended for a few minutes. Kenji would as well. Takara ended up having to abruptly log off not long after when Patty would enter the room. The first time it happened, Takara worried what Kenji’s reaction would be. Would he think her odd or even mean? The next time she spoke with him, he didn’t even bring it up. And then, when it happened over and over again, he didn’t question it. If he wondered what was going on, it certainly didn’t bother him enough to ask. Takara appreciated how normal he was with her. Nothing seemed to particularly faze him. And it made Takara feel comfortable. Not to mention, it gave her something other than her nighttime walks to look forward to in her everyday routine.

“So, how are you today?” Kenji asked with a smile on his face.

At first, Takara began to smile; then, seconds later, her smile broke. She considered. She could hear him breathe into the microphone. She looked up at his image.

“Sounds as though we might get another chance to go to the arcade. Then again, it’s not as though we couldn’t go anytime we wanted to, right?” he asked.

Takara looked off to the side. Her brow furrowed slightly. Then, she thought of something. At that moment, she thought about things not as a captive at the Institute but as an ordinary school girl — anxious about not being prepared for an assignment. She let her guard down as a result.

“Do you think other people will have that advantage?” she asked him. “Do you think going in on our own time is expected as part of the course?”

Kenji considered for a moment. Something appeared to be troubling him.

“I mean, is that why we haven’t had a Friday field trip since?”

“No.” Kenji stated. “Just … can you wait a second … I have notes from the first class.”

“All right.” Takara then realized that she didn’t have much time to wait. She was concerned that she would have to log off quickly while Kenji was reviewing his notes.

“Kenji …”

“Hang on just a second, Takara.”

Takara turned an anxious glance toward the door. She could hear heels clapping in the hallway.

“And … no, there’s nothing like that!” Kenji declared.

“Thanks. I’ve got to go.”

“I know.” he acknowledged.

Takara’s screen went blank. Kenji just stared at his screen. He found his heart was beating faster. It was as though he and Takara had just pulled off some sort of life and death mission rather than simply exchanging information for a course. As Kenji’s heart rate returned to normal, a sense of foreboding overcame him. He had been concerned that something strange was happening around Takara; now, he was positive of it. There was something troubling going on with her living situation. For the first time in the string of times she’d had to log off suddenly, he was able to actually feel her fear. No, something was definitely wrong. The problem was Kenji had no clue what to do about it.

“Kenji, breakfast is ready!” his mother called out.

Kenji wished he could tell his parents his concerns, but what could they do? Somehow, he guessed it was more than they’d be capable of handling. And what was more, he felt as though they could be in danger if they tried. Kenji bit his lip. No, he’d have to give this one some thought on his own — at least until he was able to see Takara again.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 11

Kenji knew the letter was important; he could just tell. Therefore, it was essential for him to mail it without anyone suspecting what he was up to. He decided to involve Erik as his unwitting accomplice. It would seem less suspicious if two friends headed out on an adventure than if he wandered around the streets alone. He had to make sure this letter wasn’t retrieved right after it was deposited in the postal box; therefore, he couldn’t tip off anyone to what he was doing.

On the one hand, he thought he was being paranoid; on the other hand, he noted Miss Harrington’s bizarre reaction to Takara leaving the building. People were watching Takara and controlling her movements. He just had to make sure this letter got to where it needed to be.

“Something going on?” Erik asked him.

Kenji had been standing outside the virtual reality corridor waiting for Erik. The question was how much should he say. Maybe Erik could point him in the direction of a postal box that was less conspicuous. The closest one might not be the best choice as it turned out. In his current frame of mind, Kenji resisted looking up the information online again lest someone saw him take the letter from Takara.

“I have to mail this letter …” Kenji stated.

“Okay.” Erik sounded confused.

“It’s sort of complicated.”

“Does it have something to do with that girl?” Erik asked.

“Yes.” Kenji wondered where Erik was going with that question.

“Why don’t you just give it to her then?”

“I can’t.”

“Oh …” Erik considered. “Oh, she left. Hey, they’re all gone!”

“Yes, the bus left a little while ago. I told them we weren’t needing a ride since we came here on our own.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

Kenji considered.

“Like I said …”

“Listen, do you want me to mail it for you?”

“I … don’t know …”

“It’s not a big deal. There’s a box on the way to my house.”

Kenji found himself handing the letter over. His heart sank a little as he let it slip away from his grasp.

“You won’t forget?” Kenji asked.

“No.” Erik insisted. “I’ll do it. I know how hard it will be to work with you if I don’t.”

Erik placed the letter in his jacket pocket.

“Catch you later.” Erik said as he took off.

 

***

 

Kenji was concerned on his way home. He had decided to walk rather than call his parents for a ride, despite his home being pretty far away, in order to have some time to think through the things that were weighing on him. Had he betrayed Takara’s trust by giving the letter to Erik? It wasn’t as though he felt that Erik would purposefully let him down. But what if the letter fell out of Erik’s pocket? Kenji tried to tell himself that Takara could just write another one, but honestly her home life seemed really strange. Perhaps, it had something to do with her father’s death? Kenji had been afraid to ask about that. Not only did he not want to pry, but he felt it could also be potentially dangerous.

And to think he barely knew Takara before the course. He had liked her before; it wasn’t that. But she seemed so far away to him then. Now he was too worried about her to truly appreciate how great it was that they were actually spending time together.

Earlier that day, he had split his attention among looking for her to come into the arcade, exploring the computer programs, and talking to Erik. He had been worried what she might think when she found he wasn’t on the bus. His alarm clock hadn’t gone off in time for him to catch the bus, so his mother had offered to drive him. As his eyes drifted downward that last time, his eyes met hers. He was in awe of the brilliant smile Takara had given him; so much so that he was in a daze when he came down to the main floor.

Then, once again, it seemed as though her life had sneaked in on her. More than once before, she had alluded to being trapped at that place — that Institute. It was so bad apparently she didn’t even believe she’d be given the extra time to go to the arcade to complete her work.

Then, there was the way Miss Harrington had treated her. Kenji had never seen the teacher raise her voice before, but it was more than that. There was this venom to her words, as though she didn’t like Takara at all anymore. Kenji shook his head. What had Takara ever done to her? Nothing so far as Kenji could tell. Takara seemed to wilt like a blossom in the snow at that moment. Kenji sighed. He knew he wasn’t enough. She needed more support than he could give in the small amount of time they saw each other. And then, there was the letter. What would become of that?

Just then, Kenji noticed that the dull roar of a car engine, the awareness of which had entered into the back of his mind awhile ago, was still there. Kenji began to count the seconds of how long the sound remained. He began to wonder what its presence meant as time ticked by. As he stopped at the crosswalk, he could hear the hover car slowly approach. But instead of coming up to the line, it stopped just behind Kenji and idled there: he was being followed. Suddenly, Kenji’s concerns about Erik taking the letter from him were gone. As it turned out, Erik was the best chance that letter had of getting where it needed to go.

Kenji arrived home not long afterward. He had thought about going someplace else, so that those following him wouldn’t know where he lived. The only problem was he didn’t know where he could go nearby that would be safe. Not to mention, he was walking at such a clip by then that he was getting tired. He couldn’t seem to stop himself either. Ever since he realized he was being followed, he felt compelled to press forward and get home as quickly as possible.

Kenji ran up the stairs to his apartment, unlocked the door, and rushed inside. He’d made it! After removing his shoes and his bag, he yelled out, “I’m home!”

“Okay. No need to be so formal.” his mother returned.

Kenji sighed.

“I’m in the kitchen, by the way. I made some cookies if you’re interested.”

Kenji hesitated. It all depended on what type of cookies she was making. Some days they were great; other days his mother would try new recipes, new concoctions she created. Some of the combinations got to be bizarre.

Kenji entered the room then sat on a stool near the counter. He prepared himself for the worst.

“I made your favorite: peanut butter.”

“Is that all that’s in there?”

“Oh.” Her face fell. “Are you disappointed?”

“No, oh no! I can’t wait!”

“Good.” She smiled. “By the way, why were you out of breath? You usually say ‘I’m home’ with a lot more enthusiasm.”

Kenji looked at her skeptically.

“Some car seemed to be following me.” he admitted.

Kenji figured it was best someone else know just in case it was something. Still …

“But of course I can’t be sure.” he added.

“You know that wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Kenji was taken aback by her reaction.

“This city has gotten strange. I mean, they never did figure out where that robot went. Next time you’ll have to call me; I’ll drive you home.”

“All right.” He nodded.

“Still, it’s unfortunate a person can’t just wander the streets anymore. I’m not sure when that happened. This colony used to seem so peaceful.”

“I don’t know.” Kenji acknowledged.

His mother sighed. Then, she went to the oven to retrieve the cookies.

“Oh, by the way, your father has started a booth at the local flea market. He wants us to go help.”

“Today?”

“Yes.”

“What would I do?”

“We’re supposed to look interested in his collection of custom-made fishing lures just in case no one else is.”

Kenji was doubtful.

“What?”

“He doesn’t want to be embarrassed. And I’ve made plenty of cookies to keep you going.”

It only then became clear to Kenji that the cookies were a bribe to get him to help with his father’s latest money-making scheme. Oh, well. At least he’d have some cookies and something else to think about.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 2

The next day was busy with one medical test after another. For some reason, Takara wasn’t too scared about the tests. Before the accident, Takara could remember being afraid of needles. The tuberculosis test she had had as a child had left her in tears. Now she felt numb – or at least she thought she did.

After she got back to her room after the MRI, the X-Rays, the CT scan, and the blood tests, Takara thought she was done. When she found out that there was yet another blood test, she grew agitated. Fortunately, the nurse mentioned her diet had been upgraded to normal foods. When Takara was handed a real menu, her mood improved significantly.

“I’d recommend the turkey.” Mrs. Taylor called from the other side of the curtain.

Takara looked at the curtain a moment.

“Thank you.” Takara called back.

Takara reached for the phone. She felt a jolt of enthusiasm that she hadn’t felt since she awakened. Then, Takara spied her teddy bear wedged in the crack between the mattress and the bedrail. She suddenly felt a bit bad for her teddy bear — that she hadn’t been more affectionate towards him. She patted him on the head. Room service answered the call, and Takara gave them a pretty large order. Then, she thought better of it; she reduced it by half. After all, Takara may have felt hungry, but she doubted her stomach could accommodate all that food. She did opt to keep Mrs. Taylor’s suggested turkey, so that Mrs. Taylor wouldn’t be offended. Besides, Takara liked turkey.

It seemed like forever before the meal arrived. Takara wasn’t sure she could stand the wait much longer. Finally, as the sun started to fall beneath the horizon, she could hear the familiar sound of the food cart as it rolled down the hall. Finally, it was coming with actual food for her! The food attendant went to Mrs. Taylor’s bedside first, and for a second she thought she heard the cart turning away. She gripped the blanket in her hands. Fortunately, the woman turned back around and headed for Takara’s bed.

“All right, Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee?”

“Yes.” Takara responded.

It was close enough anyway. She would take the shaky pronunciation if it meant keeping the food. The woman placed the plate on a tray and positioned the food in front of her. Takara thanked the woman, who nodded then left.

Takara unwrapped the silverware and placed the napkin in her lap. As she swallowed her first bite of the turkey, Mrs. Taylor asked, “So, how is the turkey?”

“It’s delicious!” Takara admitted.

“Yes, it’s great, isn’t it? I’m actually going to miss it tomorrow.”

“Why? What happens tomorrow?”

Takara thought Mrs. Taylor meant she was going to have another procedure tomorrow or the next day. She had just had one that morning.

“Oh, I’m going home tomorrow.” Mrs. Taylor stated.

Takara sat back and away from her meal. For some reason, she was afraid to have Mrs. Taylor leave. Suddenly, Mrs. Taylor pulled back the curtain.

“You’re going to miss me, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yes.” Takara replied earnestly.

Mrs. Taylor seemed surprised by the response.

“I mean, I’m happy for you.” Takara added.

“Well, don’t worry. You’ll be let out soon.”

“Yes.” Takara said. “I hope so … I hope so.”

 

***

 

Just like every test she had been given while she had been unconscious, when the latest test results came back they showed nothing that would explain why she had been in a coma all this time. The doctors would have to be satisfied with the explanation that comas were hard to understand. Fortunately, the fact that the test results didn’t indicate a problem allowed Takara to be discharged the following day. On that day, she was given instructions to take along with her so that she could deal with a few issues: she was anemic and a bit malnourished. She also had muscle atrophy.

“That would explain the weakness I feel.” Takara told her doctor.

“Yes.”

“Will I get better?”

“There’s no reason to think that you won’t. The tests don’t show any permanent damage.”

Takara nodded. Dr. Thatcher noticed the girl seemed a bit down. That seemed odd given how much she had wanted to go home. So, Dr. Thatcher took the opportunity to ask, “Do you have any concerns you need to ask me about?”

“No,” Takara considered. “I don’t think so.”

“So, you feel ready to go home?”

“I think so. I mean, it won’t be the same without my father.”

“That must be it.” Dr. Thatcher concluded to himself. “Well, do you have a family doctor you can follow up with?” he asked her.

“Yes.”

“Are you comfortable making an appointment?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Well, I’ll give you my card. If you need anything or start to experience any odd symptoms, feel free to call my office. I specialize in neurology.”

Takara took the card from him.

“All right.”

“I wish I had more answers for you.” the doctor admitted.

“That’s okay.”

Dr. Thatcher smiled. He reminded himself that this was the outcome he had hoped for; this was a success story. He had done everything he could for her. Yet, something was troubling him. Dr. Thatcher decided to dismiss the concern. It was important to maintain some professional distance; he wouldn’t do any of his patients any good if he didn’t.

“Well, I’ll have the nurse call your contact information. And I’ll get that paperwork filled out for you.”

He offered her his hand, and she took it.

“It was nice meeting you, Takara.”

“Yes. Thank you for your help.”

Dr. Thatcher left. It wasn’t all that long afterward that a nurse came in to remove Takara’s IV. Next, Takara was wheeled out toward the nurse’s station where a young woman Takara vaguely remembered seeing at her father’s office was waiting for her.

“Hello, Takara.” The woman smiled with a large grin on her face.

“Hi.” Takara returned in a more reserved tone.

The woman seemed surprised. It was true that Takara had been more of an extrovert before the accident. Maybe it was the loss of her father or her current weakness, but she didn’t have the energy to be enthusiastic with people right now.

“Well.” she said, placing her hand on Takara’s shoulder. Takara looked down at the hand for a moment. “Let’s get you home, shall we?”

Takara managed a smile.

The woman, Angela Barts, looked at the orderly who was pushing the wheelchair for a moment.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the car.”

Angela Barts turned abruptly and headed toward the door. The orderly began pushing Takara in that direction right away. Takara suddenly wished she could slow the journey down, but then what good would that do? Takara couldn’t stay at the hospital; she’d have to go home eventually.

The “car” that was waiting for her was actually a limousine from the Institute. Takara gripped the arms of her wheelchair. The limo was just like the one she and her father were riding in on the day of the crash.

“Whatever happened to the driver?” Takara asked aloud.

Angela turned toward her; she looked at Takara with curiosity.

“I’m not sure.” she said. “I believe he’s fine, though, and has moved on to another company.”

“I can’t recall his name.” Takara admitted.

“Well, you don’t need to, Takara. As I’ve said, he’s fine. And he wasn’t at fault for the accident.”

Takara looked up at Angela Barts quizzically. Why did she assume Takara meant something like that?

“Well, let’s get you in the car, all right?”

Takara noted that there was an edge to Angela’s voice. The orderly helped Takara into the back seat. Takara thanked him. Angela sat across from her then pulled the door shut; next, she tapped on the glass behind her. The car pulled forward and headed off. Angela Barts then made a short phone call on her cell phone. During the conversation, she basically just confirmed what the other speaker was saying. After the call was over, Angela stared off into space toward the window on her side. Takara could tell that the woman was avoiding eye contact with her. Had what Takara asked really bothered her that much? Just as Takara was going to speak again, Angela received a call. This time she talked a lot more. By the sound of it, the conversation seemed more personal in nature, and it was almost as though Takara wasn’t even present anymore. Takara decided to look out her window lest the woman remember she was there and think she was purposely eavesdropping.

The city streets started becoming less crowded, and the trees began to increase in number as they headed toward the Institute. It wasn’t long before the massive building surrounded by a tall, wrought iron fence came into view. It was actually quite intimidating all of a sudden.

Takara had thought her fear would have left her when she returned home. Only it seemed to have followed her there. Takara realized when her father was alive the Institute felt like home; now it didn’t. Instead, Takara wondered whether she really had a place here anymore. What would stop them from kicking her out tomorrow? It seemed to her that they owed her next to nothing. Takara wasn’t even aware how her father provided for her in his will. All she knew was that Mr. Tyler was in control of her father’s estate … and her. Speaking of Mr. Tyler, Takara was surprised to find him standing at the entrance to the Institute waiting for them when the limousine pulled into the circular drive. Takara suspected that at least one of the calls Angela had made had more than likely been made to him.

Takara hesitated as Angela slid out of the back seat and opened the door. It occurred to Takara that Angela appeared to be very comfortable with the limousine. Angela flounced up to Mr. Tyler.

“We’ve brought Takara home safely.” Angela then turned back toward the limo and finally noticed that Takara hadn’t left the vehicle. She looked at Takara with a confused and annoyed look on her face.

“Come on.” She waived Takara out of the vehicle.

Takara slowly pulled herself out of the back seat. She pulled her bear along with her as she exited.

“She hasn’t been herself since …” Takara heard Angela say.

Takara stopped short and glared at Angela. Takara wouldn’t have presumed to say personal things about Angela; she hardly knew the woman. And to Takara’s knowledge the woman hardly knew her. Takara climbed the rest of the way out of the vehicle.

“Well, are you going to thank Mr. Tyler for all he’s done for you?” Angela asked in a condescending tone as though Takara was a mere child.

“That’s fine. That’s not necessary, Miss Barts. Takara has been through a lot. I’m just happy to see she’s all right.”

Takara just looked blankly at Mr. Tyler for a moment.

“Well, Patty should be here any minute. Ah, here she is.”

An older woman came upon them then.

“Takara, this will be your nanny.”

“Nanny?”

“Yes, she will take care of all your needs.”

“You can come shake her hand, Takara.” Angela directed her.

Takara hesitated. She decided she didn’t like Angela. Still, because she didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with her new caretaker, she decided to do as Angela instructed. That didn’t mean Takara trusted Patty. After all, she didn’t trust Mr. Tyler or Angela, and it seemed obvious that Patty would be reporting to one of them. Takara reached out to shake the woman’s hand. Patty looked at the hand for a moment.

“She’s not contagious.” Angela reassured her.

Patty looked as though she felt a bit ashamed but then reached out for Takara’s hand. Takara’s heart sank a bit.

“Well, let’s get you to your room.” Patty suggested.

“Is it the same one?” Takara asked.

Everyone looked at Takara funny. Patty seemed confused. Angela and Mr. Tyler appeared to be insulted.

“Don’t worry.” Patty assured the other two. “Let’s go, Takara.”

Takara was glad to follow the woman just to get away from the other two. When they were alone on their way to her room, Patty said, “I’m sorry for before. They didn’t tell me why you were in the hospital, and my daughter and her kids live with me.”

“That’s fine.” Takara smiled at her. Something about this woman seemed sincere. Patty smiled at her. Takara was relieved when they got to her room. It was the same one. Takara opened the door. For the first time, it occurred to her that her room had a lock on the door. Funny, it had never occurred to her to want one before.

“Well, if you need anything.” Patty handed Takara a portable intercom. “Just let me know.”

“Thank you.” Takara stated.

Patty smiled again then left. Takara shut her door. The room looked exactly the same, but it didn’t feel the same. Takara went and lay down on her bed with her bear. It felt good to be in her own bed again, and yet she couldn’t wait for the sun to go down. Somehow, it felt as though people could see her.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 13

Kenji was very anxious. Waiting for Friday had begun to take its toll. He had worked with his father that week, an experience which was surprisingly enjoyable. His father as a parent made for a sometimes awkward adolescence, but as a boss he was surprisingly fun. Then again, since Kenji didn’t take his temporary job as seriously as he did his own daily life that might explain the difference in his feelings. On the other hand, maybe he should care what his father did for a living. It helped his family to eat and have a place to stay. Also, his father was actually really good at running his business of “Party Favors and Doodads.” Yes, that was the name of the company.

Kenji never really appreciated his father’s unusual talent for creating and selling random stuff before that week. It was a rare talent actually — one at which his father excelled. Actually, as Kenji found out, it was the only thing that his father did at the company. The rest of the work went to the accountant, to the custodian, or to the assistant … yes, that assistant. Well, his father said it was a small business, and Kenji couldn’t have agreed more.

The assistant’s job? Well, it pretty much entailed whatever his father thought that it did at any given moment. No wonder his usual assistant needed a break! Of course, every time Kenji found himself with a new task to complete he felt relief. After all, it made his absence from class seem more excusable. True, he didn’t have permission to take the time off. He thought about getting permission in advance, but what if he was denied? No, he couldn’t risk that. And he needed to talk to Takara in person before speaking with her over the online connection. The Friday field trip seemed like the only opportunity he’d have to be able to do that. Yet, it had occurred to him that he might be kicked out of the course altogether because of his absence. Then where would he be? Perhaps, he could hang out at the arcade and get word to Takara through Erik if he couldn’t do it himself. Regardless, the most important thing was for Kenji to get through the week, and then he could talk to both Takara and Erik. That way he could make sure they wouldn’t discuss anything to do with Takara’s letter online or in front of anyone else.

“Well, good news, Kenji. Miss Adams is coming back next week, so it looks as though you can go back to school then.”

Kenji looked at his father quizzically. Apparently, his father had forgotten that this scheme had merely been a way of giving Kenji an excuse to get out of class. Or, maybe his father really did need him around. Then again, his father could just be letting Kenji know that he’d be going back to class next week just in case he had other plans. After all, taking the class in the first place had been his parents’ idea. No matter what the case might be, Kenji was determined to be as reliable a student as possible from that point forward. After all, he wouldn’t be able to guarantee seeing Takara again otherwise.

Kenji had trouble sleeping Thursday night. He kept waking up over and over again fearing that he had slept through his alarm. Eventually, it did go off on its own.

Kenji was sort of in a daze as he began his day. He still had the adrenaline in him that had kept him up for most of the night. He had kept playing out in his dreams how this upcoming day would unfold; in fact, he’d been thinking about it all week. All he wanted to do was set things right with Takara and Erik. He didn’t want Takara worried about him. He also didn’t want to be kicked out of that class.

“Kenji, are you going to eat that breakfast or just stare at it?” his mother asked him.

Kenji looked up with a blank expression on his face at his mother.

“Oh, sorry.”

He began to eat the breakfast cereal.

“Seems you’re up early today.”

“Yes.” he replied after he finished chewing.

“I wonder though. I got the impression you didn’t like this course. You know … if it’s really that bad it’s not too late to drop it.”

“Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I love it there. There were just …”

How could he explain it?

“Oh, well, you’re like your father when he gets an idea. He just stops making sense. Actually, that happens a lot.” she laughed. “Anyway, you’d better get going to that class you love so much! You don’t want to miss the bus!”

“Yeah!” Kenji jumped up from his chair, a look of concern on his face.

“Kenji, I was kidding. You have plenty of time.”

“And a lot to make up for.” he said. “No point in taking chances.”

Kenji grabbed his bag and headed for the door. Then, he turned around and looked at his mother.

“Oh, by the way, if I need a ride later …”

“I’ll be here.” She smiled.

“All right, good-bye!”

“Good-bye, Kenji.”

 

Kenji’s nerves were frayed when he got on the bus. The first person he ran into was his teacher.

“Kenji? I thought you dropped the course.” she noted in a rather cold tone.

“Umm … I have a note from my dad.” Kenji began to get something out of his bag.

“No, don’t bother now. Later.” she said, waving him off.

It was strange to Kenji how different Miss Harrington was now in comparison to his first impression of her.

The next person Kenji saw was Erik, who gave Kenji a skeptical smile. Kenji was surprised Erik wasn’t already at the arcade. Maybe he ran out of things to do on his own, Kenji concluded.

“Hey, long time no see.” Erik mentioned.

Kenji turned a cautionary look toward the front of the bus where the teacher was seated. Sure enough, she was looking straight at him. She then turned forward again.

Kenji took the seat across from Erik. He then gave Erik a concerned look. Erik looked at Kenji quizzically for a moment; then, Erik began to fill Kenji in on the class discussions. Kenji was grateful for that.

As the bus rolled on, Kenji became aware that they were coming close to Takara’s address. At first he didn’t see her, but then she seemed to step out from behind a shrub. Her face was downcast. She barely looked up when the bus came to a stop in front of her.

Takara slowly walked toward the bus. When she stepped up onto the bus, her eyes just happened to glance up. Almost instantly, her eyes locked on to Kenji’s. At first, a look of surprise crossed her face. Then, she looked off to the side, and her brow furrowed as though she was confused. She looked at him again briefly then down. Finally, she walked forward as the bus moved on. She sat a couple of seats in front of and across from Kenji. Occasionally, she would glance back at him. Kenji was upset that she seemed hurt. Kenji sat back in his seat and sighed. He kept reminding himself that what he did was necessary. He told himself that she would understand once he had the chance to explain. Kenji wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime.

Once they arrived at the arcade, Kenji suddenly stood up from his spot. Maybe he could whisper something to Takara as he passed by her. But before he could even turn toward Takara, the teacher called out to him.

“Kenji, come here a moment.” she called forth.

Kenji glanced at Takara then headed forward.

“You can sit over there.” She directed him to the seat across from her. He did wonder whether she was going to talk with him in front of the other students while she kept them all waiting.

“All right.” The woman stood. “The rest of you can go inside and get on your computers. I’ll be up in the computer room shortly to start you on your assignments for today.”

After she finished speaking, the other students filed out one by one. Erik raised an eyebrow as he passed by Kenji. Takara looked at Kenji but said nothing.

“Well, it’s been awhile.” the teacher posed after only the bus driver remained on the bus with them.

This was what Kenji had been fearing would happen — Miss Harrington might bar him from class … and from Takara.

“Let’s see that note of yours.”

Kenji had fetched the note out of his bag during the bus ride. He handed it over to her then. The woman looked the note over.

“So, why exactly didn’t you ask for permission?” she asked Kenji pointedly.

When she stared at Kenji, he momentarily froze under her gaze.

“I was afraid you’d say no.” he muttered.

It was the first thing that came to mind. It was actually true in a lot of ways. Though the significance of why it was true wasn’t something he wanted to discuss. And he had to face the facts; it wasn’t exactly the best excuse ever. The teacher just stared at him as though she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Oh-kay.” she stammered.

She looked at the letter again and considered. She logged on to her tablet and seemed to be comparing the letter to something on the screen.

“Well, I believe this is your father’s signature.” she said aloud. “He did sign the checks after all.”

Kenji thought it was odd she would have taken that step to verify the authenticity of the note. He must be in real danger of being expelled, he thought. He bit his lip.

“All right.” she sighed. “I don’t need to deal with this. But let’s just say you are out of absences now. And you have a lot of work to do.”

“I did the work already.” Kenji offered.

He thought that would make her feel better about things. It didn’t.

“Well, under the circumstances I don’t think I can accept any work that is late. It wouldn’t be fair to the other students.”

She seemed to be waiting for a reaction. Kenji looked down and attempted to look shamefaced.

“All right. Get back with the others.”

“All right.” Kenji said.

He started to head off the bus.

“But I’m not sure what group you’ll be in …” Miss Harrington said in a parting shot.

Kenji froze. Then, he turned and looked at her.

“I mean, they might not want to accept you back.”

“Okay.” Kenji tried to sound uninterested.

The teacher sighed again. “Okay.”

She nodded toward the bus driver then waved Kenji inside. When Kenji got off the bus, he was shaken a bit. He had told himself before his encounter with Miss Harrington that despite his fears it probably wouldn’t end up being a big deal. He was glad he didn’t know how difficult it was going to be ahead of time. It wasn’t something he could have prepared for; in fact, it wasn’t something he would have wanted to prepare for. After all, it was clear Miss Harrington was watching his reaction while they spoke.

Kenji breathed out. Now he had to face Takara and Erik. At least the teacher hadn’t forbidden him to work with them. Still, he had to wonder how he was going to be received. Erik didn’t seem to be angry with him, but Takara … Would she feel as though he were playing games with her? Given that most of the people in her life seemed to be playing games with her, what if she didn’t trust him anymore?

Then, it was the moment of truth. He saw Erik and Takara in the foyer waiting for him. Erik seemed okay, but Takara was staring above Kenji’s head. Then, she slowly approached him. Right when she got to him, she whispered, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

She smiled softly. Kenji was stunned. He stood there agape. She wasn’t mad; she was only relieved that he was okay!

“Well, the teacher’s coming in. You’d better start working already, Kenji. You have a lot to catch up on!” Erik teased.

“Yes.” Kenji said. “Yes, I do.”

When they got to their computer unit on the second floor, Kenji apologized.

“I’m sorry that you guys are behind because of me.”

Takara looked at him blankly, but Erik looked at Kenji skeptically.

“Why? We haven’t met up without you.” Erik pointed out. “Any work you missed was individual work. I mean, I guess you did risk reducing our group to two people. Oh! And it seems the teacher has taken a particular interest in you now as well.”

Takara just sort of froze upon hearing those words as she was used to strange things happening, but Kenji couldn’t seem to keep himself from looking to see where the teacher was. He turned and glanced back. At that moment, he just happened to make eye contact with his teacher. Kenji then turned back right away. She did seem to be lurking around them.

“I wonder what her issue is.” Erik pondered. “I guess we’ll have to work very hard.”

“Yeah.” Kenji uttered.

“Oh, and by the way, I handled that thing you wanted me to do.” Erik added confidentially.

“Thanks.” Kenji said in a daze. Then, he realized what Erik was saying. “Oh, yeah, thanks!”

“No problem.”

Takara had no idea what they were talking about. As it turned out, it worked to Kenji’s advantage that Erik was unsure as to whether Kenji wanted Takara to know about the letter. Still, Kenji figured it was better to err on the side of caution.

“Only …” Kenji started. “There’s no point in discussing it.”

Erik, who was sitting at the monitor, looked over at Kenji with understanding.

“Of course.” Erik agreed.

“Especially online.” Kenji directed this to both Takara and Erik. “We can’t bring up anything other than school online.”

Takara got the meaning behind this last part of what Kenji was saying, but now it was Erik’s turn to be confused. Erik turned completely toward Kenji with a perplexed expression on his face. He then looked away and considered.

“Should we get to work?” Erik suggested in a suddenly serious tone.

“Yes.” Takara agreed.

Kenji was tempted to look back and see whether the teacher was still looming. Yet, if she was it might seem odd to her that he would look again. No, Erik was right. Kenji had to work, to act as normally as possible.

Erik certainly knew what he was doing; in fact, the work at that moment was far beneath his abilities. Still, he didn’t want to rush the group work too much lest his partners not know something contained in the assignment. But, as it turned out, they were all relieved when they seemed to be done early. Erik then decided to let Kenji or Takara turn in the assignment. So, he excused himself and headed for the part of the arcade that he was most interested in: the virtual reality corridor. He knew he was giving Kenji a chance to be alone with Takara. If Erik had turned the assignment in right away, he had a feeling the teacher would break Kenji and Takara apart. Then again, why wouldn’t Erik help them out when he could? It was not a big deal to him, after all. And if it were Erik who had a girl he was interested in, he’d want Kenji to do the same thing for him.

“So, are you all right?” Takara asked Kenji once they were alone.

“Sure. Oh, you mean before. Yes, I mean I got my dad to let me help him with work.”

Takara looked unsure but asked him nothing.

“You see …” Kenji looked around him nervously. “Someone was following me.” he whispered quickly. “And they broke into my home — at least I think they did. Maybe it’s nothing, but I was worried … about the letter.”

Takara pulled back slightly.

“I’m so sorry.” she stammered.

“No, no it’s fine.”

In an attempt to reassure her, he placed his hand on hers. Kenji reddened almost immediately.

“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, removing his hand swiftly.

“No, it’s fine.” Takara insisted.

She looked down.

“So, I hate to ask this, but was the letter sent out?” she put forth.

“Yes, it was. I mean, Erik handled it. I sort of felt bad for just giving something that important over to someone else. But it seems to have worked out for the best.”

Takara nodded slowly.

“Are you angry?” Kenji wondered.

“About what?” Takara questioned. “Oh, no. I’m grateful for your help.”

Takara smiled.

“Oh, you’re welcome.” he responded.

“What is it then?” he asked her when he saw that she had grown sad again.

“It’s just that I hadn’t really thought it through until recently. I mean, I guess I didn’t allow myself to believe it would happen. I haven’t seen … her in a long time — my mother.” she whispered the last part. “I’m glad, but I’m scared. I’m probably going to lose everything I have here …”

Takara did think of Kenji at that moment, and on some level Kenji realized it, too. She had begun having mixed feelings about leaving a few days before when she realized just how much she had come to rely on and actually care about Kenji. Still, there didn’t seem to be an alternative. After all, the way things were at the Institute, she probably wouldn’t be able to see Kenji again after this course was over anyway. Not to mention, the situation seemed to be getting increasingly tense for Takara where she was staying. It just felt wrong, and it felt as though it was getting worse. Still …

And there was also someone else who mattered to her — someone whom she dearly loved despite the fact that he was gone from this world. Still, his body remained somewhere on the colony. She had never had the opportunity to say good-bye to her father before he died. The last time she remembered seeing him was the night of that New Year’s Eve party. And then she had had the realization that she might not even have the opportunity to see where he had been buried. After all, leaving the colony might still not be an easy feat even after her mother came for her. Yet, Takara had to admit it was merely the Institute she wanted to escape from, not the colony as a whole.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

Takara found herself explaining to Kenji in hushed tones all about her father and what had happened to him — and to her as well — at least what she could piece together. Then, she expressed her sorrow over not being able to see where he had been laid to rest. Takara started to cry despite herself.

“That’s one of the things that still troubles me …” she explained, her lip quivering. “I was never able to attend my father’s funeral or to even see his grave.”

“And do you — well, do you have any idea where his gravesite might be?”

Takara was taken aback.

“No.” Takara started. “I mean, not for sure. There is this one place my father took me sometimes. It is a local Christian church. Do you think he asked to be buried there?”

Kenji considered.

“It’s worth finding out.”

“But I don’t think calling about it would work out well for me.”

“No.” Kenji considered.

“I just don’t trust very many people.” she added.

“I understand.” he assured her.

Kenji thought for a moment.

“I’ll see what I can find out.” he offered. “Still, we can go and look around there. Maybe there’s a way we can go there after we’re done with our assignment the next time.”

Takara was surprised.

“You think so, Kenji, but how can we arrange it? Someone always seems to know where I am. And I’m only allowed to leave the Institute during these school sessions. Once the session ends, I’m taken back.”

Kenji was silent for a moment. His first reaction was that he liked how she said his name. But what really got to him was that she finally admitted to him that she was basically being held against her will. Kenji wanted to do something, say something to help her — something more than he had been able to do so far.

“Maybe there is one way. I mean, he came through before.”

“You mean Erik?”

“Yes. I think he would cover for us without needing much of an explanation. I know it seems like a risk — maybe too much of a risk considering we’re so close to getting you out of here.”

“Yes, out of here …”

“So … Takara …”

She looked up at him.

“The question is how do you feel about it? Is it something you would want to do?”

“Yes.” she said without hesitation. “Do you think you could go with me?”

“Sure.” he responded with a smile.

She smiled, too.

But then, suddenly, his eyes shot to a movement he saw down below him underneath the transparent sides of the computer cube he was in. He had been keeping an eye on one person in particular. Every once and a while, he would glance down. He’d been startled more than once when he found that the teacher had moved unexpectedly. But thankfully, he just happened to look down this time as she was making her way toward the elevator.

“I’ll think of something. Maybe Erik can help me with that.” he said as he watched the woman disappear from his field of vision.

He then quickly turned toward the computer and started to ready the assignment for submission. Occasionally, he would glance over at Takara.

“I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put you at risk when you’re so close to being with your mother again.” he mentioned.

“I understand.” Takara told him.

“Still, you give it some thought, and I’ll give it some thought. I don’t think it is safe for us to talk about it — or even allude to it anymore.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“Still, if you need help …” Kenji could then hear someone say the teacher’s name from the main part of the computer room. “… with your assignments you’ll have to ask the teacher. I’m a bit behind I think, though I tried to catch up. I’m not even sure that I did everything right on this past week’s assignments yet.”

Kenji could see the faintest shadow of the teacher’s profile hovering past the threshold of the cube. Thankfully, without needing to be prompted, Takara followed suit.

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m actually doing quite well in this course.”

“Oh. Well then, maybe you can help me if it turns out that I need it.” Kenji laughed.

Suddenly, the teacher stepped forward. Kenji was a bit surprised when she moved toward them, despite the fact that he had observed her presence. It probably turned out for the best that he reacted with surprise since it would make her less likely to suspect the topic of conversation had been changed for her benefit. And yet, Kenji could tell that Miss Harrington was wary of him at this point — perhaps just as wary of him as she seemed to be of Takara.

“Where’s Erik?” she demanded out of nowhere.

Takara sort of turned and looked at her then looked away.

“The virtual reality corridor.” Kenji answered.

“And where’s your assignment?”

“Already submitted!” Kenji declared.

Miss Harrington just stared at them for a moment; then, she spun around and left.

Kenji breathed out. Somehow, he found he was capable of keeping his composure better this past couple of weeks than he ever had before. And the more he was tested, the stronger he seemed to become. Still, how long would he be capable of keeping this up? During one of those times he lost track of Miss Harrington she could have sneaked up  on them and heard something she shouldn’t have. Still, it was a risk he felt he had to take. After all, he couldn’t talk to Takara anywhere else.

“Kenji? Are you all right?” Takara asked.

Apparently, Kenji’s staring off into space had distressed Takara.

“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” he stated, trying to sound reassuring.

Then again, maybe he didn’t need to reassure Takara after all. She didn’t appear too fazed by Miss Harrington’s latest behavior. In fact, Takara had become rather desensitized to people trying to shock her.

“Do you suppose we have to go to the bus?” Kenji then asked.

Takara took a look around her. Actually, her view of the other students was obstructed; still, she could hear someone typing away at the computer keys.

“I doubt it.” she responded. “We’d have probably heard an announcement telling us that we needed to go if we did need to go now.”

Takara looked back at Kenji. He seemed to be a bit anxious, as though he was unsure of what to do next.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” Takara asked him.

He looked at her directly.

“I don’t want to leave here really, but since it is inevitable I feel unsettled. I wish I could just stay, or at least choose when to go.” Kenji explained.

Takara nodded.

“Students it’s time to log off now.” the teacher announced from somewhere nearby.

“Well, I guess it’s time after all.” Kenji concluded.

Kenji had to get off the bus before Takara. He could see her look out the window of the bus at him. Kenji looked around him as the bus pulled away. No one seemed to be following him this time; that was good. The sky was overcast. The wind seemed to pick up; he braced himself against it. He imagined Takara standing in front of those dark metal gates then slowly walking up the driveway in this chilled air. How depressing it must be for her! And yet there was still hope, he reminded himself. Erik had mailed that letter. There was every reason to believe Takara’s mother would come for her.

But then there was still one more thing to do before that happened. He had offered to find a way to get Takara to her father’s grave, and he really wanted to pull that off. Yet, he was only thirteen. How would he be capable of making it happen? And if they were caught, it could ruin everything.

Well, one thing was for certain, he would have to get Erik’s help to pull off any plan. Kenji had decided against speaking to Erik after class. He figured skipping the bus ride home might draw undue attention to him, and Erik had lingered at the arcade. Still, unlike Takara, there would be an opportunity for Kenji to talk with Erik outside of class. Kenji knew Erik hung out at the arcade often. Kenji would just need to go on one of those days and find him.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 1

Many decades earlier, technology had advanced far enough to make space colonization a possibility. Of course, not everything could be anticipated. Most of these unexpected issues were able to be worked around without incident. There were, however, some major issues that weren’t able to be gotten around. Those “issues” were the nebula reapers: entities of strength, speed, and ferociousness. The nebula reapers attacked ships and their passengers and consumed them regularly. Fortunately, the creatures would hibernate periodically in clusters, and the first attempts at containing them in energy force fields seemed to work. There were many roving groups of these creatures, and one such group was spotted and contained close to the doomed planet of Colony 52.

Colony 52 hadn’t planned on using its force fields to contain the nebula reapers; it was just a fluke that seemed to work. At first, it was actually a source of pride for Colony 52 that they had stumbled upon a solution to the nebula-reaper problem that other colonies would later emulate. The colonists believed the containment field would be a solution – that the nebula reapers were merely a temporary inconvenience. After all, how long could they live in there? Only they didn’t die — at least not enough of them — and their presence started to scare off supply traffic to Colony 52. As the years passed, the resources of Colony 52 began to dwindle, and the fear of the nebula reaper’s looming threat increased. The colonists of 52 were no longer the vanquishers of the reapers. The reapers were winning — patiently waiting out their captors.

Then one day, disaster struck and an explosion from a then unknown source ripped through space. The cluster of nebula reapers on Colony 52 was freed. Tragically, it wasn’t long afterwards that most of the inhabitants of the tiny planet were gone — more than likely consumed by the nebula reapers.

What was more, this group of nebula reapers seemed to have learned from their captivity. This development made the nebula reapers particularly difficult to contain, and, therefore, a larger threat to the other colonies and their citizenry. Their increased level of aggressiveness, cunning, and even speed was unexpected and alarming. Each reaper also seemed to no longer have a problem attacking its own. Oftentimes, they no longer felt the need to travel as a group. However, when they did move as a unit, they found they had an ample supply of things to feed off of when contained.

Far away from the remains of Colony 52, there was a tiny planet known as Colony 29. It was a planet rich in resources. Because of this plentitude, the colony developed a large scientific community. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the news of the outcome of Colony 52 came to the attention of the Security Force that help from Colony 29 was sought. In particular, there was one man named Dr. Hayato Takahashi [Ha-ya-to Ta-ka-ha-shee], a leading researcher and the founder of the renowned Virtual Reality and Robotics Institute, who was approached for assistance.

Since the nebula reapers were no longer able to be consistently contained as a group, the Security Force was open to new ideas. And Dr. Hayato Takahashi had the most innovative concept of all the scientists on Colony 29 — arming the individual for ground combat. At least this way a person would stand a fighting chance against a rogue reaper. Dr. Takahashi had actually been working on the concept for years despite other people’s insistence that the nebula-reaper threat had been resolved. But Dr. Takahashi persisted. And, though he had yet to complete his work, there were rumors all over Colony 29 that a breakthrough was imminent — that was until Dr. Takahashi’s untimely demise.

Takara Takahashi [Ta-ka-ra Ta-ka-ha-shee] had been in a hospital bed for months. She had been in a coma that entire time. No one knew exactly why she was unconscious for so long. True, the concussion she had sustained was severe, but all of the tests showed that her brain activity was normal. It was particularly difficult to be a doctor on such a scientifically advanced colony and not be able to help a patient. Everything Dr. Thatcher had tried seemed to do nothing. Takara just continued to lie there day after day – so still … so very still. One of the nurses suggested Takara seemed as though she was waiting for something. But what? Another offered that Takara looked like Snow White with her long, straight black hair and wan complexion. The only part of that observation that had been helpful to Dr. Thatcher was the comment about Takara’s complexion. The severe paleness was a sign that Takara’s health was poor. Dr. Thatcher just couldn’t figure out the reason Takara’s health was no longer improving. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until the hospital ran out of room and had to move Mrs. Taylor, a rather talkative patient, in with Takara that a breakthrough occurred.

Mrs. Taylor was waiting to have surgery several days after her admittance. Given that Mrs. Taylor was something of a social butterfly, after visiting hours she would talk to Takara about a television program she was watching or about what the weather was like outside of their shared window. Then one day, as Mrs. Taylor was recovering from her surgery, Takara finally opened her eyes. Mrs. Taylor quickly pressed the nurse’s call button repeatedly.

“Hurry! It’s a miracle! She’s awake!”

The nurses arrived soon after; still, Mrs. Taylor felt as though it had been a long time. Mrs. Taylor had been afraid the girl’s eyes would drift shut again, and that the hospital staff would think Mrs. Taylor was just loopy from her pain medication. Fortunately, the girl’s eyes were still open when the nurses got to her. Oddly enough, as they looked upon Takara they noted that Takara’s eyes seemed to be fixated on the ceiling. Mrs. Taylor was rather insulted when one of the two nurses then pulled the curtain closed between Mrs. Taylor and Takara thereby blocking Mrs. Taylor’s view.

“There’s gratitude for you!” Mrs. Taylor exclaimed.

Not long after that, Dr. Thatcher arrived and went beyond the curtain. As he emerged moments later and seemed to be leaving the room again, Mrs. Taylor spoke, “See it’s all the talking I did. The girl just needed to hear a human voice.”

Dr. Thatcher wasn’t sure what to make of Takara’s stare. Her eyes were responsive to light, but she just stared unseeingly forward. Eventually, he snapped his fingers next to the side of her face; however, instead of her eyes moving to the side, they just started to water. Then, about a minute later, her eyes shifted over, and she looked squarely at the doctor. Next, her eyes slid from person to person until she had looked at every one of the medical staff who was staring down at her.

“Let’s remove the feeding tube.” the doctor mentioned.

Takara coughed violently as the tube was removed. Then suddenly, Takara sat straight up in bed.

“Father!” she screamed. “Father!!”

Takara then pulled her knees up to her chest and wept.

“Honey!” a nurse called out. The nurse placed her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.

Takara’s lip quivered as she looked back at the nurse.

“Where — where’s my father?” Takara finally got up the nerve to ask.

The medical professionals looked amongst one another.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Takara’s voice cracked. Her voice didn’t sound right to her; it sounded hollow. “Where is he?”

“Should I get her a sedative?” one nurse whispered.

“No. We can’t risk that.” The doctor leaned down beside Takara’s bed.

“I’m very sorry, Takara. There was an accident. Your father died.”

Takara’s brows furrowed in disbelief. Then, she buried her face in her hands and began quietly sobbing.

“She’ll be all right.” the doctor concluded. He looked at the nurses, who looked helplessly back at him. Dr. Thatcher hadn’t considered what would happen when Takara woke up. Dr. Thatcher had been so preoccupied by whether she would wake up at all that he hadn’t considered what would become of her if she did. When she came into the ER, Dr. Thatcher had seen her with her father — wheeled in on gurneys side by side. He had handled thirteen-year-old Takara’s case. Later, when he heard her father hadn’t made it, he somehow still viewed them as a unit. Now it occurred to him that the young girl was alone. There hadn’t been a single visitor. How could that be, and what would become of Takara now?

“Who’s been paying the bills?” the doctor whispered to one of the nurses.

He received an odd look from the nurse.

“I’m trying to figure out whom we should contact.”

“Oh.” the nurse looked at the girl. “I’ll go find out.”

The first nurse left the room.

“Would you like something to eat or drink?” the other nurse asked Takara. Then, she paused abruptly. She turned toward the doctor. “Is that okay? You haven’t updated her chart.”

“Yes. Only start her on a clear liquid diet.”

“Yes, Doctor.” the second nurse stated before she also left.

Doctor Thatcher waited anxiously for the first nurse to return. Eventually, Takara looked up at him through her tears. The doctor looked at her.

“I’m sorry you had to hear about it that way.” he awkwardly put forth.

Takara nodded.

Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back halfway. The first nurse had returned, and she was carrying in her arms a small brown bear with a purple ribbon tied around its neck.

“I wasn’t sure what you would like. I’ve always liked teddy bears, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

She offered the toy to Takara. Takara looked at it quizzically for a moment then reached out and took it.

The doctor looked at the nurse expectantly. She gestured with her head that they should talk off to the side.

“The bill’s been paid by her father’s institution. There is no other contact information. I’m afraid there might not be anyone who can take responsibility for her. After all, she’s had no visitors.” the nurse informed the doctor.

“Oh yes, she has.” Mrs. Taylor spoke up.

Mrs. Taylor was a bit surprised by the look on the medical professionals’ faces. But then she realized they must have thought she was asleep. She hadn’t really done anything to make them think otherwise. After all, they were used to her speaking nonstop when she was awake.

“At least I believe so.” Mrs. Taylor corrected. When the look on their faces suggested they were going to dismiss her account, she added that the man only came once — the first night Mrs. Taylor was in the room. “I never saw him after that. The strange thing was he left right away when he saw me. At the time I thought he had the wrong room, but then he had burst in here as though he knew for sure where he was going. Still, as I said, he never did come back.”

The doctor and the nurse looked at one another unsure of what to make of Mrs. Taylor’s story. If someone had come looking for Takara, then that could be a good thing. But then why would he come at night? And why would he leave and not return?

“Well, go ahead and call the phone number of the Institute. Maybe they can locate some sort of will or something. If we can’t find a suitable guardian for this girl … Well, let’s see what we’re dealing with before we go there.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

The nurse filed out. The doctor left as well. He figured there was no point in being around until things were settled. Still, Mrs. Taylor was surprised the staff would leave that young girl alone again.

Mrs. Taylor reached out to the curtain. It took some effort and some stretching to get a handle on the fabric; finally, she grasped the divider with two fingers. It took a couple of attempts before she was able to open the curtain wide enough to see the girl.

The girl was looking straight ahead. At first, Mrs. Taylor wasn’t sure the girl was aware that the curtain had been moved. But then suddenly, she looked over at the woman with curiosity.

“Hey, I’m going to be your roommate for a while. It must be very hard for you that you’ve lost so much time.”

Takara’s forehead crinkled.

“How long has it been?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It’s just that the doctors and nurses acted as though it’s been awhile.”

“Well, what day is it?” Takara asked.

“I’m not sure exactly.” Mrs. Taylor reached over and grabbed a newspaper from off her nightstand.

“March 29th.” Mrs. Taylor read.

“The last thing I remember was going to a New Year’s Eve party with my father …” Takara began blankly. “We went into a limousine afterward. I think there was ice on the road that night. Could that have been it … what caused this to happen to us?”

Takara touched her head with her hand suddenly. There was pain there. It started when she saw a flash of something in her mind she didn’t want to think about. Whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t something she wanted to remember.

Takara instead decided to focus on the memories she had from the time right before the accident. Then again, in a way it was more painful thinking of those last moments with her father. They had been attending a New Year’s Eve gala. They had been introduced to the large gathering below while standing at the top of a very large staircase. Takara had worn a long red velvet dress; her hair was pulled back in a braided updo. Takara usually wore her hair in a loose braid, but this was a special occasion. She had even accentuated her hair with red jeweled barrettes. Over her hands, Takara carried a white muff.

Takara’s father, a man of medium height, escorted Takara down the staircase. Her father was always a distinguished man with a kind smile and a pair of small spectacles on his face. This night he replaced his white lab coat for a dark gray suit. He usually worked so hard that Takara wasn’t able to have her father’s full attention very often. But this night her father had made time for her, and Takara couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Takara guessed that the dress she had worn that night must have been ruined in the crash. But that locket her father had given her for her birthday, was that also gone? She needed something to hold on to. Takara looked at the bear. She grasped it to her chest and lay back down on the bed. Takara felt exhausted. She had been unconscious for over three months; maybe she’d slip back under once more. Takara’s eyes watered and tears slipped down her face. Did she really want to stay awake? But then the question of what might happen to her if she did fall away again came to Takara’s mind. She wiped her eyes.

Takara realized that she didn’t have any real control over her future. Yet, if there was something she could do to improve her chances, she decided she would try. The first thing she wanted to do was to get out of this bed and eventually out of this hospital. Takara wanted to sleep in her own bed again.

“Teddy bear,” she whispered. “You’ll like my room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals there you can be friends with.”

Takara curled up in a ball on her side with Teddy wrapped in her arms.

“It will be nice to sleep …”

It was dark when Takara woke up again. Her first thought was one of wondering how long she’d been asleep. Her second thought was one of wondering what that form was that was looming by her side.

“Doctor?” Takara whispered.

Takara could see the man’s eyes glisten from the dim light streaming in from the outdoor street lamps. When there was no reply — only breathing — Takara began to freak out.

“Who are you?” she gasped as she lurched backward on her bed.

Takara turned away and began to scream as the man seemed to reach for her. Suddenly, the light by Mrs. Taylor’s bed came on.

“What’s going on? Are you all right, girl? I’m calling for a nurse!”

Takara could see the man retract from her bed. Takara squinted at him.

“Mr. Tyler?” Takara murmured.

Suddenly, the nurse entered the room and was redirected by Mrs. Taylor to Takara’s bedside. The doctor came in soon after, seemingly fearing the worst; instead, they found a strange, thin man of medium height with slightly disheveled, stringy, pale blond hair standing by Takara’s bedside. Despite the girl’s frantic look, the man appeared as though nothing was unusual. His striking business attire made him appear to be less than threatening. Still …

“Hello, you must be Takara’s doctor.” The man offered the hesitant doctor his hand. “I’m Mr. Tyler. I was a colleague of Dr. Takahashi at the Institute … I just received your phone call.”

“Oh, yes.” the doctor said, taking in the scene. “I just wasn’t informed by the nurse’s station that you had checked in.”

“Oh, I didn’t.”

The doctor had taken up Mr. Tyler’s hand; now, he released it.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the one who Mrs. Taylor saw in this room the other day – the one who came to see Takara.”

“Yes, that was me.” the man said, situating the vase on a nearby bedside table to his liking. “I lost my nerve I’m afraid to say. I didn’t know what to say to the child … assuming she could even hear me.” Mr. Tyler looked up. “So, is she ready to be released?”

“I’m afraid not.” the doctor said. “I’ve set up some tests tomorrow to make sure she is all right. I wouldn’t feel right about releasing her until I was sure she was ready.”

Mr. Tyler looked over at Takara.

“Yes, of course. Well, call the Institute again, and I’ll send someone to pick her up.”

“I’m sorry but do you have the authority to take her?”

“Oh, yes.” Takara was surprised when Mr. Tyler pulled something out of his breast pocket. “Here. I am the executor of the estate. I also went to the trouble of becoming Takara’s guardian.”

The doctor took the form and looked it over just to be sure. This whole situation left Dr. Thatcher with an uneasy feeling, but he couldn’t pinpoint a valid objection. He handed back the document. Takara watched the document as it was passed back and forth.

“Do I get to go home?” she asked.

“As soon as you’re released.” Mr. Tyler said without looking at her. He put the form back into his pocket. “As I’ve said, contact the Institute again, and we’ll pick her up.”

Mr. Tyler headed for the door.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Jennifer Alice Chandler

Thirteen-year-old Takara Takahashi had an unusual but rewarding life living with her father, a prominent researcher in virtual reality and automation, on a stable and prosperous space colony known as 29. But then disaster struck in the form of a car accident. Takara’s father was killed, and Takara fell into a coma. When Takara finally awakes months later it is to a life she can’t recognize. Suddenly, she is under the control of one of her father’s business partners — a strange man who takes on a hostile attitude toward Takara. But what could be the reason for his hostility? As Takara struggles to understand her new position in this strange new world, the question becomes will she be able to escape from the man’s twisted web of lies with her life?

Chapters 1-13 below. For chapters 14-21 press button. The book is now available on Amazon Kindle and print formats!

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 8

“I’m here!” Kenji announced upon his arrival. He took off his shoes near the door and placed his bag on a hook. He did these things without being asked to. The fact was that his parents were more likely to leave their things strewn about than he was. It was kind of an odd experience growing up after he realized his parents were … unique. Other parents had rules, but his didn’t seem to have any. Kenji could have taken advantage of that, but they were his parents and he loved them — even if they did embarrass him every chance they got.

“Kenji! We’re in here!” his mother announced.

Kenji walked into the living room and saw his parents watching the news coverage of that large robot.

“Wow!” his father noted.

The news coverage went off.

“Oh, no!” Kenji’s mom exclaimed. “We forgot to make Kenji a copy!”

“No worries.” his dad responded. “It will be on again in a half hour.”

Kenji’s mom sighed in relief.

“Wait a minute! You were in that neighborhood weren’t you, Kenji?” his mom asked suddenly.

Kenji was shocked by this sudden concern.

“Yes, I was.” he answered.

“Lucky!” his dad cried out. “Good thing we allowed you to miss your other school, so you could attend that trip, huh? Not every parent would have done that! Come, sit here and tell us about it. Was it as big as it was on the TV?”

Kenji sighed then did as his parents requested. Kenji ended up having to retell the tale a couple of times. Then, Kenji asked, “Did they find out where it came from?”

“No.” his father responded slowly. “It hid somewhere it seems.”

“More likely whoever owns it called it back.” Kenji pointed out.

“I wonder whether it was controlled remotely or was programmed to do that.” his mom mentioned.

“Well, whichever it is, I doubt the person responsible will come forward. Can you imagine the fines? Then again, you’d have to have deep pockets to build something like that.” his father added.

“Well, either way, it’s time to eat.” his mother concluded. “We waited for you, Kenji.”

“Thank you.” Kenji replied with a smile.

After dinner Kenji logged on to his computer and went to the course group page. There, they were still talking about their experience on the bus with the robot. The topic held some interest for him. Yet, it was something else that seemed to be attracting most of his thoughts these days. His eyes caught sight of Takara’s name almost instantly. She seemed to be logged on, and yet she didn’t say anything. The window which should have housed her picture was also blank. Kenji leaned his face on his hand. He wondered how long it would be until he saw her again.

 

***

 

Takara hadn’t wanted to ask the question. She sat there staring at the screen hoping somebody else would, but they never did. It was disappointing that there didn’t appear to be any new information on what had happened with the robot after it passed by the bus. Still, if Takara had learned anything from her recent past it was to bide her time and to not take unnecessary risks. The information simply wasn’t important enough for her to risk her interest in it getting back to Mr. Tyler. She logged off.

As Takara lay on her bed, she heard the last of the staff shuffle around the halls. Patty came by a lot less frequently now. She mainly came just to give Takara her medication and food. Takara had to admit on difficult days she wondered whether she should even take her medication. But it always looked like the same medication she had taken at the hospital, so she took it. As the lights dimmed out in the hall, Takara knew that the employees had left the wing. Takara breathed a sigh of relief. Usually, Takara tried to sleep at this time. That night, however, Takara was too alert to sleep. Takara slid to the edge of her bed and considered.

Takara hadn’t tried to enter her father’s office since she found the door locked. Maybe it was the fact that she’d been given the opportunity to leave the Institute, but she found herself more empowered than before. She slipped her feet onto the floor and went to the door.

A pervasive silence filled the passageways. Slowly, Takara tried the knob. Then, she slipped out into the hall. Only the dim security lights were on. Takara carefully shut her door. She held her breath and listened. She walked forward, careful of each footfall. Takara paused at her father’s office door. She reached out and touched the knob; then, she hesitated. It was probably still locked, she told herself. How Takara wished she had taken all of his papers from his room when she had had the chance! She felt almost certain that some of those papers contained information about the robot. She decided she might as well try the door since she was there. She really didn’t believe anything would come of it. She told herself that, though it would be a disappointment that she couldn’t get into the office, her decision to leave her room needn’t be in vain. She could always go down to the atrium and sit for a while. Perhaps, she could even get the TV to turn on and watch some coverage of the robot.

Takara was shocked when the door slid open. She froze; her brow furrowed. How could this be? Why would Mr. Tyler leave the room unlocked? Was there some way he could be monitoring the room? Takara turned on the light switch and peered inside the room trying to see whether she could see a camera pointed at her. There was nothing obvious she could see. Still, how could this not be a trap? Unless … could Mr. Tyler have come back to the room and forgotten to lock the door? Regardless, how could Takara miss this opportunity? She released the doorknob quickly and stepped inside. She then secured the door behind her.

Everything in the room seemed just as it had the last time she was there, and yet there was a feeling in the air as though the room had somehow been violated. Then again, maybe it was just Takara’s imagination. Takara stepped toward her father’s desk. She placed her hands on the leather of his chair and felt it with her hands. She smiled to herself when she remembered the time she had first been capable of reaching the top of the chair — with a little help from her father at least. Takara’s eyes began to water, and then the tears started to flow. Takara quickly wiped them from her eyes. As she looked down, she noticed something was amiss. There was a scratch around the lock on the desk drawer. Takara placed her finger on the metal of the lock, feeling the subtle grooves as her finger passed by them. It was almost as though Takara doubted her own senses. No one had ever accused her of being out of touch with reality, but still no one around here now exactly trusted her either. It was as though she had internalized their criticism to such an extent that she could almost hear what they would say. What was she doing in her father’s office? What was she up to? What trouble was she trying to cause?

Still, what was real about this whole situation was staring her right in the face. Yes, someone may be up to something, but it wasn’t her. Someone had broken into her father’s desk and possibly that was why the door to the room had been left open. Whatever had been deemed important in here was already gone … Takara froze at that thought. Moments later, she pulled at the drawer. Takara remembered how her father used to stuff things he was working on into this drawer. Once whatever it was had been completed, it would be filed in the official files of the company. Takara could remember clearly that right before the New Year’s Eve party the drawer had been nearly overflowing with papers. At that moment, as Takara stared down in disbelief, she found there was nothing left.

Takara felt weak. She took a few steps backward then sat in her father’s chair. At least the chair was still here, she thought. She looked toward the door, the door she saw Mr. Tyler enter the last time she was here. He never did say why he came in here that day. It wasn’t to find her; that’s for sure. The look of shock on his face when he saw her here was telling. No, he never did say why he came, but now it seemed obvious what the reason had been. Takara concluded that she wouldn’t have to wonder anymore.

Takara did find something in the room that had been overlooked. Her father had left a key to his main office in one boot he had. When questioned about his choice of location for the key, he would laugh and say, “It would be the last place anyone would look since who would want to root around in a crusty old boot?” Still, despite having to do just that, Takara felt relieved when she successfully pulled out the key. Far away at that moment, farther down the hall, Takara could hear something that sounded like a door slamming shut. Takara instantly went for the lights. She hesitated as she considered whether or not to remain in the room. Seconds later, she concluded that staying here was too much of a risk. After all, it was probably Mr. Tyler, and this was the place he headed for the last time.

Takara opened the door as quickly yet carefully as possible. Still, she didn’t feel she had the time to make it down the long hallway without being seen, so she dashed straight across the hall and into the bathroom. The bathroom was like the one she used to have at school. It was built that way before the Institute decided to convert this wing into Takara’s father’s living quarters. The bathroom had more than one stall and more than one sink. There was one shower off in the corner of the room; that had been added later. Takara and her father had made plans to redesign the bathroom, but they never got around to it.

Takara decided to head for one of those stalls now. There was no window in the room, and Takara feared turning on the light. So, the room remained dark, and she had to go by memory as well as feel to find her way to the stall.

She finally found a stall then hid behind its door. Takara believed she would just need to wait it out. She could hear the door across the hall open and then close soon after. Takara could then hear the footsteps recede. Only Takara thought something seemed odd about it somehow; Takara stepped outside of the confines of the stall and closer to the door. She strained to hear something outside. She didn’t sense anyone was on the other side of the door. Yet, when she suddenly heard her name being called she shivered. It dawned on her where he was. He had gone to her room to look for her. Perhaps, he had heard her walking or seen the office light shine from underneath the door while he was still down the hall. Either way, he was now calling out to her in a taunting way.

Takara froze. If she let him find her hiding, it would be worse. Then again, she thought of where she was. A plan formed in her mind; it could work if she had the courage to pull it off. She couldn’t let Mr. Tyler think she’d been hiding; she knew that much. Slowly, Takara reached out toward where she knew the light switch was. It was a risk to turn the light on as Mr. Tyler could have noticed the light was off before; still, it was necessary to turn on the light for the illusion to work. Takara then pulled the bathroom door open without hesitation. Instantly, she came face to face with Mr. Tyler.

Takara fought the urge to shrink away; instead, she just uttered, “Yes?”

She could see Mr. Tyler appear to relax. Apparently, he hadn’t noticed the light suddenly come on from underneath the bathroom door.

Mr. Tyler just looked at her for a moment; then, he looked between her and her father’s office door. It occurred to Takara that he had some knowledge that she had breached the doorway to the office. Yet, apparently, he seemed to have no proof she had actually been in there. It was almost as though he was trying to figure out whether Takara could have triggered the alarm — or whatever it was that had alerted him — by simply going to the bathroom across the hall. Takara just waited while he considered. She was afraid if she spoke he would react negatively. Just as she had hoped, he became less and less agitated as time passed.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he finally asked her.

Takara considered. What was the right way to answer that?

“Yes?” she stammered.

Mr. Tyler seemed pleased that she was taking her cue from him. Then again, seconds later he became annoyed.

“Well, get there!” he barked.

Takara was relieved and quickly headed toward her room. It seemed unlikely Mr. Tyler would suddenly find fault with her departure given he had ordered it. And then, when she got back to her room, she found she had never been more relieved than when she felt the door click and was able to lock the door behind her. As happy as she was to be temporarily out of that situation, the whole experience unnerved her. The level of animosity Mr. Tyler seemed to have towards her had become obvious. Takara’s eyes shifted.

Why did he hate her so much? She found she didn’t want to be at the Institute anymore. If she were given a decent alternative, she would take it. She didn’t want to be dependent on this person who clearly couldn’t stand her. She didn’t see how this situation could possibly be tenable for the next five years until she was able to legally leave it. She just had to get word to her mother … she just had to. Of course, she had to once again block any nagging thoughts as to why no one had mentioned contacting her mother for her. At first, she had waited for someone to bring the subject up; she had assumed someone around here eventually would. While it stood to reason that there would be custody and estate issues to work out, they would have had to have figured out she had a mother by now. However, things had changed since then. Takara no longer had any trust in anyone around the Institute and felt as though mentioning her mother now would just tip them off to the fact she was planning to make contact.

Of course, the letter to her mother wasn’t the only thing she’d have to hide now — now there was her father’s key. She found she had mixed feelings about having it. After all, this was another way she could get into trouble. Yet, if Takara found she needed her father’s key for some reason at least now she had it. Takara looked at the key in the moonlight and wondered whether it would turn out to be worth the risk. She could always destroy the letter and then rewrite it when the opportunity presented itself. That would carry its own risk, but even still it could be done. But this key … she couldn’t just rip it up. Takara decided to do what her father had done. She went to her bedside and felt for her shoes. Since her shoes were smaller than his boots, Takara decided to do more to hide the key. She pulled at the insole of one shoe and slipped the key under it. There was a chance she’d get some sort of blister from placing the key there, but Takara was determined not to let any discomfort show.

One thing was for sure; there was no going back to her father’s office again. In fact, Takara, at least for that night, was afraid to even go down to the bathroom.

When Takara awoke the next morning, she could hear construction noise in the hall. It woke her up fairly early in the morning. Takara sat up, feeling annoyed; still, she knew she wasn’t allowed to be annoyed. So, Takara carefully crept out into the hall. There, she was surprised to find maintenance workers adding locks to her father’s office door — on the weekend no less. One of the men then came forward and handed off a key to Mr. Tyler, who was standing off to the side. Mr. Tyler looked at Takara squarely from afar; he seemed to be watching for a reaction. Takara was determined not to give him one … or at least as little of one as possible. She tried to look uninterested as she returned to her room. Well, at least at this point they weren’t locking her in her room. Takara sat on her bed and waited anxiously. Maybe Mr. Tyler would, in fact, restrict her to her room. That would require her to have an escort on hand all day every day to let her out when needed. She couldn’t be forced to stay in her room forever, she told herself. Surely that would be more than Mr. Tyler was willing to do just to keep her contained. Fortunately, the sounds of the men stopped, and she heard no footsteps approaching her room either. Takara lay on her bed and sighed. Things could in fact get worse, she concluded. How far would Mr. Tyler take things?

As time passed, Takara got to wondering whether there were any announcements about the next field trip. She couldn’t wait until she got out again and had the chance to contact her mother. Unfortunately, when she reached her class page she found there were no announcements. She logged off. She had a feeling it was going to be a long day. Takara spent most of that day reading. It allowed her to look busy. She hoped anyone who came into her room would leave her alone. Fortunately, Patty was her only visitor, and she was as unfriendly as she had been. Right after Patty left the room, Takara stared at the ceiling and imagined being far away with her mother. She just had to reach her … she just had to.

It was strange, but Takara felt a certain relief when the night descended. All the noise was gone, and she could pretend the wing was hers again. She opened the door to her room and peered out. Ironically, the locked door had empowered her. It was almost a license to go anywhere other than her father’s office. That room was clearly off-limits, so anywhere that wasn’t locked was fair game; it felt like tacit permission. That night Takara decided to walk around the halls then visit the atrium again. She knew she had to get physically stronger, so when an opportunity to further her escape came she could seize upon it.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 5

When Patty came the next morning, Takara was still asleep. Usually, she was awake well before Patty’s arrival. This time she heard Patty knocking at her door. Takara pulled herself up.

“Takara!” the woman cried out.

Takara went and opened the door. She had set her doorknob lock to the locked position the night before, even though she didn’t think it would be very strong. Takara had had trouble going to sleep that previous night. All she could think about was how she was being denied access to her school and to her father’s room. It seemed she had no way to contact her mother now. Still, it was the fact that she saw Mr. Tyler walking the halls the day before that had driven her to decide to go ahead and make this public display of her mistrust.

“I see you’re sleeping in this morning” Patty observed.

“I guess.” Takara returned. “But really, why does it matter?”

Patty looked surprised and somewhat annoyed as she stepped into the room. Takara closed the door.

“Actually …” the woman started.

Patty and Takara both turned toward the door as it was suddenly reopened — only Patty didn’t appear to be surprised. Takara braced herself for another visit from Mr. Tyler. Instead, it was a different man, who was carrying a box.

“Where should I put it?”

“What?” Takara asked.

“You can set it up on the table. Go ahead and move those books.” Patty directed.

“What’s going on?” Takara questioned.

Patty sighed. She obviously had a very different and very negative opinion of Takara now.

“Mr. Tyler has bought you a computer for your classes.” Patty informed her.

Takara sat on her bed as Patty turned back to the computer technician.

“I’m going to be making the girl her usual breakfast. You don’t need me here, do you?”

“No, I should be fine.” the man returned.

Patty left without another word to Takara. Takara watched the man set to work on the computer. She noticed that he had a badge from a local computer store on his shirt. It occurred to Takara that she was now a prisoner in her own home. The only people she felt she could risk trusting at all were ones who didn’t directly know Mr. Tyler … like this man.

“I guess that one’s going to have parental controls?” Takara asked.

The man looked at her skeptically.

“Of course.” He turned back.

“I guess I’ll have to be careful what I write.”

“No, I don’t think so.” the man said. “You just won’t be visiting any sites but that school’s site — so I guess it’s pretty much the same thing.”

“That’s fine.” Takara laughed.

When the man looked back, Takara was smiling.

“I was bored for so long; even homework sounds pretty good to me now.” Takara declared. Sadly, it was partly true.

The man smiled but looked doubtful. Takara looked off to the side. She could only visit the website of the school … but at least there wasn’t a keystroke logger. Then again, she couldn’t be sure of even that. And certainly, the teachers would report to Mr. Tyler if Takara said anything too provocative; Mr. Tyler wouldn’t have allowed Takara to communicate with a school, even online, if that weren’t the case.

As Takara was thinking these thoughts, Patty returned.

“Here is your usual. I hope it will be okay.”

“It’s fine.” Takara replied.

Takara wished she could go back to the way things were with Patty a week ago, but then she reminded herself it really wasn’t Takara’s fault that there was tension now. How was she supposed to know there would be an issue with her going back to school? How was she to know her asking about it would be viewed as though she were trying to get away with something? Usually kids were questioned for wanting to stay home, not for wanting to go back. Why couldn’t she leave this house or talk to other people anyway? It made no sense. Takara shook her head.

“It’s not to your liking?” Patty asked with an edge to her voice.

Takara just looked at her. What could she say that wouldn’t rub this woman the wrong way?

“It’s fine.” Takara repeated blankly.

Apparently, now she couldn’t even think without being questioned.

“All right. All set.” the computer tech stated.

“Oh, good.” Patty returned.

The cheerfulness in Patty’s voice rang hollow to Takara given Patty’s current treatment of her. The man nodded then looked at Takara.

“I hope you feel better … and enjoy your classes.”

Takara smiled sincerely.

“Thank you.” she said.

“I’ll show you out.” Patty insisted.

As they left, Takara was glad the man hadn’t alluded to their conversation. Takara had been hoping he wouldn’t think much of it if she downplayed it. As long as Patty didn’t give him the third degree, Takara doubted it would come up in conversation. Speaking of Patty, what was with her anyway? The change in her attitude towards Takara was hard to fathom. What could Mr. Tyler have said to change Patty’s opinion of Takara so completely? Takara hardly knew Mr. Tyler — or Patty for that matter. The whole situation was odd. If Takara couldn’t find a way to be viewed as a normal person again, she knew that this harsh treatment of her was bound to take a toll.

Takara stood up and headed for the computer. As she sat down, she braced herself for the possibility of more of the same bad treatment. She couldn’t trust anything completely anymore. Everyone she met online might have the same rotten opinion of her that Patty now had. Takara had effectively been isolated from everyone who knew and liked her. Still, if she didn’t try to connect with those outside the walls of the Institute it wasn’t going to get any better. One thing was for sure: playing nice with Mr. Tyler wasn’t an option. She was just getting further and further trapped in his cage. No, it was best to not care what the people around here thought of her. Her parents had always loved her, and her mother was still alive somewhere … hopefully able to be reached. Takara was determined to reconnect with her. Yes, she would find a way out of this prison they held her in even if she had to lie low for a long time before an opportunity to escape presented itself. She clicked on the power switch to the computer.

Takara ended up being somewhat relieved as she logged on to the course site. There were no people there that were mean to her. However, that might have been because the only one she interacted with on the video relay was a website administrator. The administrator helped Takara through the course selection and registration. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the administrator was merely following a script. Takara feared that this level of emotional distance would be typical of her interaction with the school. If so, it would seem this online school wouldn’t be helpful in Takara’s efforts to contact her mother after all.

The school itself had both positive and negative aspects. The classes seemed interesting enough. Yet, Takara couldn’t help but feel agitated that she had been forced out of her old school for no apparent reason.

“All right, we’re all set here, Takara. You can access your texts online. I will send you a notice with the links.”

“All right.” Takara managed to smile.

“The next term starts on Monday. Some of the teachers have a reading list for you, so you can start working on that.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. If you have any questions, just message us.”

“Okay.”

The woman disappeared from the screen. It was nice, Takara concluded, to have someone not act negatively towards her, even though the interaction was superficial. And in addition, Takara felt a certain level of excitement. She finally had something to do with her time — something to occupy her until she found a way to contact her mother. Maybe this would give her a way to keep her morale up in case it took awhile for her to be freed.

Takara got to work reading the assigned text. Every time she started to feel bored, she would stop. Unfortunately, it was then that she realized it was even more boring to just sit in her room doing nothing. So, she would begin to read again. Unfortunately, after awhile her eyes started to blur.

“What now?” Takara thought.

There was a room down the hall, kind of big and airy. She and her father had spent time there during special occasions such as New Year’s Eve. When her father was very busy, she’d lie on the floor and read in front of the fireplace. When she first came back to the Institute from the hospital, she noticed a lot of people gathered in there. They were all dressed in business attire with drinks in their hands. It seemed the atrium, which was actually a part of her father’s wing, had been taken over by the Institute. Little by little, traces of her father were being erased. Now that her father’s door was locked, how long would it be before someone took over his office? Maybe that was why Mr. Tyler had been there: to stake out the room for himself. If the company was going to encroach this far into her living area, how long would it be before Takara completely lost her home? Or at least what was left of it.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 6

Takara was glad when the first day of school finally came. She even got dressed in her old school uniform for the occasion. Fortunately, it all still fit. She wanted to pretend things were normal as much as possible. She decided to make the best of her living situation for now. What choice did she have really?

In the meantime, she hoped she could feel normal again for a while even if her school was merely online …

 

***

 

Kenji Moto [Ken-jee Mo-to] wasn’t too pleased with the situation he found himself in. After all, he’d been looking forward to summer vacation. And yet, his parents were going to Colony 11. His mother had been assigned the task of upgrading the atmospheric regulator in that colony during the upcoming academic year. And despite protests from Kenji that he could stay behind for those few months, his parents weren’t having it. So, in order for him not to fall behind in his studies in the fall, they had him enter an online academy in the summer. His parents thought it would be a great opportunity for him since he was actually pretty smart … or so they said.

“So I get punished because I’m smart?” he retorted.

His parents just laughed. Kenji grimaced. They never did take him seriously. He sighed and sat next to the computer. He played with the mouse.

“Why? Why me?” he mumbled. He could hear his parents laughing down the hall. Kenji spun around in his chair, staring at the ceiling while he waited for the first class to begin.

“Boring.” he said aloud. Then, he caught himself lest he unwittingly cause another round of riotous laughter. He next faced the computer and, leaning his face against his hand, he waited. His eyes started to drift shut. Why did this have to be so early? Oh, that’s right. After this session, he had to go to his regular school and complete the day there. He’d have to keep up this schedule until the end of the semester. That was the moment he saw it: a name he thought he recognized on the class list.

“Takahashi, Takara … no, it couldn’t be.”

He clicked on her profile, but there was no information listed. Was she stuck as he was in this before-school program? Kenji didn’t know Takara well. She was the class president this past school year. She was actually in Class C, and he was in Class A of Level 7. He had seen her give a speech, and occasionally he saw her in the cafeteria. She seemed nice enough, though he never got the chance to say hello to her because one day she just disappeared. No one in Class A talked about it, and Kenji just assumed she moved.

Kenji considered. Maybe he should message her and ask her whether she was the same Takara he knew. But before he had a chance to click on the message link, the teacher’s face appeared on-screen. Kenji jumped back slightly and adjusted his glasses. Much to his dismay, he could hear his parents laughing again.

Kenji was pleasantly surprised by the topic of the class. It was entitled, “Advancements in Virtual Reality and Automation.” The topic was of interest to Kenji; in fact, he even thought of working for the Institute someday. Actually, he had once heard that Takara’s father worked there. Maybe it was the same girl after all; maybe she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps.

“All right. My name is Miss Harrington.” a voice came over the speaker of the computer. “I will be your teacher for this course. Well, let’s start this course by introducing ourselves … in a manner of speaking anyway. What I mean is please turn on the camera app on your computers.”

Kenji did as she requested. One by one small boxes with live images of the students appeared on-screen. The teacher’s picture was in the center. The eight other slots surrounding hers were reserved. Each slot had the name of the student underneath it.

“Oh, no.” Kenji thought suddenly.

He concluded there was no way to avoid attending these class lectures. He couldn’t just do the homework on his own time; the teacher could see if he wasn’t there. He groaned. Just having to look at his tousled black hair and his plain blue t-shirt as shown in his screenshot put him in a bad mood. He hadn’t thought his appearance would matter in an online course. Now he wished he had put a little more effort into the way he looked. Finally, the last picture came into view. It was actually she — the Takara from his school!

“I can’t believe it!” Kenji exclaimed.

“Who said that?” the teacher’s voice asked.

The other students shook their heads.

“It was I.” Kenji finally admitted. “It’s nothing.”

“Okay. Well, I’m sorry you haven’t been given your texts for this course yet. I understand the reading materials for the other courses — for those of you who are taking more than one course — have already been made available to you. The thing is I was just recently assigned to teach this course. However, I will make the reading supplements available to you by tonight. Oh, and I want to have field trips or at least some meetups so we can work on our studies firsthand. I figure in about a week we might meet at the Virtual Reality Gaming Complex.”

There were cheers all around.

“So, maybe next Friday. I will arrange to have a bus available to pick you up, if needed. Just print off the form and have a parent or guardian sign it. Oh, wait does anyone think there might be a problem? A scheduling conflict perhaps?”

Most of the students shook their heads “no” or said “no” except for one — that one student was Takara.

“Umm …” Takara started.

“Yes? Does someone have a problem?”

Kenji saw Takara look down for a moment.

“The thing of it is … I’m not sure I’m allowed to … go anywhere.” she admitted.

At the moment she admitted she was housebound, Takara wondered whether she should also admit she was trapped. But that could lead Mr. Tyler to make up stories about her just as he probably had with Patty. Still, it was very tempting. On the other hand, what she said was true. She wasn’t able to leave the house. Mr. Tyler would probably just tell the teacher that she was too sick to leave and that would be the end of that.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that.” Miss Harrington said. “I will have to give that one some thought.”

“All right.” Takara replied. “All right.”

The next day, Takara was summoned to see Mr. Tyler in the atrium. She grumbled, wondering what this could be about. She slid out of bed and began dressing herself.

“He better make this quick.” she thought. Her first class began in thirty minutes. Still, Takara felt conflicted. Should she walk there as quickly as possible to avoid being yelled at, or should she do what she suddenly felt like doing and drag her feet — proving she had some small amount of self-determination left? She sighed. She did still have things she could lose if she got decidedly on his bad side. Of course, walking quickly gave her less time to consider how she should act when she got there. Pretty much from the beginning Mr. Tyler hadn’t seemed to expect her to be friendly towards him —which was strange considering she barely knew him. Still, Takara guessed that he would be more suspicious of her if she put on a happier face now. It was true that she wanted to be treated better. Never before had people been so wary of her … so hostile. Takara couldn’t grasp what had happened. You’d think they’d have some sympathy for her; she had just been released from the hospital after months in a coma. Her father had died in the same accident that put her there. And yet, she was treated as though she were a manipulative brat. What had she done to these people? She had no history with them. She racked her brain trying to come up with a slight she had given them, but there was none that she could remember.

And yet, here she was — treated like some sort of criminal in her own home, summoned as though she needed to go to the principal’s office. Takara came upon the atrium, the room in which she had experienced some of her fondest memories. As she stood in the foyer, she found it wasn’t the same room. It was as though her cherished memories could never have happened here.

Mr. Tyler was in a meeting with another person. Takara wondered whether the meeting was about her. Maybe she had to meet with this man, too. Perhaps they were going to send her away. But then, Mr. Tyler excused himself from the gentleman’s company. He stood and walked towards Takara. When he got to her, he guided her back into the hall. Takara prepared herself for any emotional whim Mr. Tyler felt like displaying. She figured he could be nice to her one of these times just to throw her off. Most likely, however, he’d be just as skeptical and disapproving of her as he had been. Maybe she’d get a lecture about leaving her room and going into her father’s office. As it turned out, it was a lecture — only it wasn’t about her father’s office.

“Takara.” he said with familiarity. “I got a message from one of your teachers.”

Takara’s brow furrowed. She was perplexed. Certainly it was too early in the term for anyone to have any complaints about her. Was this some sort of game? Perhaps he was toying with her.

“She said you told her that you had a problem with one of the course requirements.”

He seemed to be waiting for her to say something. When she said nothing, he continued, “The field trip. You actually said you couldn’t go.”

“So?” Takara returned.

“So, you didn’t even ask me.”

“I just assumed given what happened when I asked to go to school …”

Mr. Tyler looked grim.

“The field trip isn’t optional.” he said. “So, you can go.”

“Thank you.” Takara offered.

Though her response was far from over the top, Mr. Tyler looked skeptical but said nothing. Takara was, in fact, grateful to go. But apparently Mr. Tyler wouldn’t believe any positive emotion coming from her … for some reason. Takara noted that in the future she should not appear to be too excited about anything he did for her, not if she didn’t want him to retract the offer later.

“Anyway, I have to get back to work. I’ll be sure to have your teacher contacted about this.” He paused. “… You can head back to your room now.”

Takara nodded then watched as Mr. Tyler turned around and headed away from her and toward the other man. Takara considered. She decided to turn away and get out of there. True, it was tempting to linger around the other people gathered there and feel normal for a moment. She was growing tired of being kept in the same room. Not being able to choose her own schedule heightened this feeling of being trapped.

Still, once she got outside of his scope of vision Takara slowed down significantly. They may be able to tell her where to go, but from that point on she would control how fast she got there. Since her meeting with Mr. Tyler had been so brief, Takara found she still had plenty of time before her first class. She sighed when she finally caught sight of her room. With her homework done, Takara only had thinking about what Mr. Tyler was going to say to her teacher to occupy her time until the morning class began.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 10

Miss Harrington did announce at the next class session that a field trip would be scheduled for the coming Friday if everyone could attend. There were no complaints, so she went ahead with the scheduling. It seemed there had been a standing agreement, which Miss Harrington had been routinely canceling, with the arcade. Now, however, Miss Harrington was seemingly over whatever it was that had been troubling her before. All she mentioned that gave anyone a clue as to the reason for the reversal was that a conversation she had had recently had been very reassuring. She was now certain that she could handle things. Takara glanced at Kenji’s image briefly and noticed the same puzzled expression on his face that was likely on hers. Their conversation afterward sort of touched on their mutual confusion; but really their talk was very simple and brief. They would see each other on Friday, after all. Takara felt relief that she would see him again.

The week went by really slowly, but it was uplifting to hear before class began how excited everyone was about the forthcoming field trip. They would finally be given the opportunity to start work on an assignment of their own rather than just take a tour of the facility. Takara was relieved to find out that few students had actually gone back to the arcade on their own time. Actually, the only kid who seemed to go there a lot was the kid named Erik Lancaster. And it wasn’t as though he was trying to upstage the others, it seemed. He just had a real interest in the virtual reality corridor. Since he lived close to the facility and the course didn’t delve into that particular subject a lot, his parents bought him a membership to the arcade. Yet, it appeared there was only so much one could do on his or her own. That was why Erik was eager for the class to meet there. Then again, everyone seemed to feel the same way; just reading about the course subject didn’t seem like enough. Though the topic was interesting to read about, the real draw of the course, Takara discovered, was the work that could be done at the arcade facility.

Finally, Friday came. Takara became nervous that morning. After all, she wouldn’t put it past these people to tell her she couldn’t go at the last minute. Takara wrung her hands for a moment. She wondered whether there was a way she could guarantee she’d be able to go. Her first thought was to be especially nice to whomever she ran into. After all, she was in a good mood and was excited to begin the day. But then she thought better of it. This course was Mr. Tyler’s idea; Takara figured it was more than likely suggested to prevent her from going back to her old school for some reason. If Takara got on too well at the online school, he might bring in a private tutor instead; then, she would never have an opportunity to leave the Institute and contact her mother. Not to mention, she would lose her contact with Kenji as well.

Takara sat on her bed and considered. The way she had to live here … there was always a possibility someone would analyze her reaction. She sighed. Perhaps, she should focus on how tired she was. The fact was she hadn’t slept much the previous night. She kept dreaming that she had overslept and missed the field trip. And her restlessness only got worse the further into the night she got. Eventually, she just decided to stay up lest she really did sleep too long. It would be just like Patty to let her sleep in when she could least afford to.

Takara had made some progress in improving her strength, however. The walking was really helping to improve her endurance. The irony was the more she did and the more she pushed herself, the more she realized how weak she had become after the accident. Takara looked down sadly. At that moment, Patty entered the room. It was her job to arrange for the bus to come pick up Takara. Takara looked at the woman briefly then turned her gaze away. She held her breath. She wondered whether the woman was going to say anything about the day’s activities.

“Well, aren’t you going to get dressed?” Patty asked.

Takara stood without looking at the woman. She walked straight forward towards her dresser. She had waited to dress, so she wouldn’t appear to be desperate to go. Patty placed Takara’s tray of food on the dresser and headed out of the room. Takara could feel the woman glare at her, even though she didn’t see it firsthand.

Still, the reality was that Takara had picked out her outfit in advance. It was the prettiest outfit she could select without drawing too much attention to herself. It really felt as though she were going to a regular school again. It would be hard for her to hide her excitement, but it was imperative, nonetheless.

Takara ate every bit of her food. She figured she needed every ounce of strength she could get. Also, if everything went according to plan, she wouldn’t have the time to get food at the arcade. She’d be too busy mailing her letter! Takara even attempted not to appear to be in a hurry while she ate; still, her eyes watched the clock steadily.

Next, Takara grabbed her bag, and, as casually as possible, she headed out the door and into the hall. Takara did make eye contact with a few people she passed by. She tried to appear as pleasant as she could. She just hoped she could get out of the building without …

“Takara!” a voice called out.

Takara froze. Then, she slowly turned toward the atrium. There was Mr. Tyler with the same strange man as before.

“Come here, won’t you?” he called out from the same high-back chair her father used to occupy when he went to the atrium.

“I-I have to get …” she stammered.

“You have enough time.” he mentioned coolly, while staring straight ahead.

“Come … here …” he stated with intensity without actually shouting.

Takara made her way over to him with her eyes cast downward.

“Takara, please shake hands with Mr. Connelly. He is wanting to make your acquaintance.”

Takara eyed the man suspiciously.

“Come now, is that any way to act?”

“You don’t remember me, do you?” the strange man asked.

“No.” Takara answered skeptically.

The man sat up in his chair. He and Mr. Tyler appeared to exchange glances. Mr. Connelly seemed to be relieved.

“Well, why don’t we say that your father and I were friends.” the man continued.

“Really?” Takara asked.

“Sure.” he replied with a smile.

Takara looked between the two men. There was something going on here, but Takara couldn’t guess what it could be. The only thing she could tell was that Mr. Connelly seemed happier now that she had come over.

“You may leave now, Takara.” Mr. Tyler informed her.

“All right.” Takara started.

“It was nice to meet you.” she added. She said this towards the other man at the last minute. Only, strangely, the man seemed uninterested in her now. He merely lifted his eyes and nodded slightly. Takara was taken off guard. She turned slowly and headed for the exit. She felt deflated for some reason. But then, as she walked from the Institute and came out into the sunshine, her mood began to improve. She began to feel empowered again. There was something about just this small amount of freedom that left her feeling invigorated. She also started thinking about positive things. She may have felt low before she left, but the truth was that she had gotten out, and she was on her way. She had her letter to her mother. She even had her father’s key safeguarded in her shoe. Just having something from her father’s room was comforting, even though she had no plans to use it.

The key did, however, make it a bit harder to trek down the driveway. It would probably be even worse going back up the hill later. But still, somehow, it was worth it to have that key with her. When Takara got to the street, she was unnerved to find the bus waiting for her. Takara attempted to walk as fast as she could lest they leave her behind. It occurred to her that if she hadn’t been building up her strength these past weeks, it might have been gone already.

Upon boarding the bus, the first person whom Takara made eye contact with was the teacher. Miss Harrington kind of smiled then looked away.

“I’m sorry …” Takara acknowledged. “I’m late.”

The woman nodded slightly. Takara concluded that maybe her teacher was still upset about what had happened the last time they were on the bus. Still, instead of focusing on that, Takara decided to connect with Kenji instead. It would be nice to have someone to sit near, though it would probably be too risky for them to sit in the same seat. As Takara scanned the bus, she was horrified to note that Kenji wasn’t there. Takara froze. Where could he be?

“Takara … Takara, will you please have a seat.”

“Oh—yeah.”

Takara went for the closest seat. She barely sat down on it before the bus moved on. Takara cast a look into the back of the bus just to make sure she hadn’t missed Kenji. Maybe he had dropped something and was picking it up when she had looked before. Only she wasn’t wrong; he wasn’t there.

Takara turned back in a daze. How could this be? What could it mean? Kenji never mentioned that there was a possibility he wouldn’t be able to make it. Did something happen to him? Takara still had her hand on the top of the seat in front of her. She resisted the urge to look back a third time; instead, she let her eyes drift towards the teacher. Should she ask her where Kenji was? Takara decided against it. She breathed and then sat back in her seat. She would contact him as soon as she could and make sure he was all right.

Takara tried to refocus on her mission to send out the letter, but she found she was too deflated for that. And it wasn’t as though there was anything she could do with the letter at that moment.

The bus pulled up to the arcade. Takara filed out with the others. She breathed in the fresh air. Actually, it seemed as though it might rain. Takara did think to look around her then, though she couldn’t see any postal boxes to place her letter in. They all headed into the arcade. As Takara stepped into the main room, she felt lost. She looked down and off to the side. Students walked past her on their way inside. Takara decided to wait until the teacher announced what they were going to do before she headed all the way into the main room. Takara sighed and began looking around her again. Her eyes wandered upward towards the transparent part of the second floor that jutted into the main room.

That’s when she saw him: Kenji was there in that spot! They made eye contact. Takara beamed at him. He had found a way to be there after all. And he may have even chosen that spot, so that he could keep a lookout for her.

The teacher then decided to gather the group together. Takara looked at the teacher as she spoke. As Takara glanced back up at the cubicle, she found that Kenji was gone. She didn’t really know what to make of it, but at least he was here … somewhere. It would probably be a good idea to pay attention to the teacher in the meantime, Takara decided.

“I have an assignment sheet for you to download to your tablets. It’s a pretty simple assignment. It’s basically just to familiarize you with the computers. We’ll be working in the virtual reality corridor at a later date. And, of course, you are always welcome to come back on your own time. I have scheduled times for you to work during the week.”

Takara’s heart sank. Her face flushed. How would she be capable of keeping up with the course if she couldn’t come back here on her own? Takara looked at some of the other students. Then, at that moment, Kenji came up to Takara’s side from behind.

“I’ll get that sent out to you right now.” Miss Harrington turned and began to fetch something from her bag. She pulled out her tablet. After a few moments, she informed them that it was done.

“Since we still don’t have enough computers for all of you, I’d like you to work in groups of three or four.”

Takara and Kenji looked at each other. There was a silent understanding between them that they would work together. Suddenly things were looking up; now, Takara had an excuse to talk with Kenji. She had been somewhat worried that people might notice she had a particular interest in him otherwise. But whom else could they work with?

“Hey, Erik.” Kenji called out. “Do you want to work in our group?”

The boy with the light brown hair turned and smiled.

“Sure.” he stated. Kenji had been talking to Erik online recently about their shared interest in virtual reality. Takara also remembered that Erik was the one who had ended up asking Miss Harrington about when the next field trip would be. Takara decided she approved of the choice. After Kenji, he was the one other person Takara would feel comfortable working with. He seemed to be pretty independent-minded, and that made Takara think that he would be unlikely to tell people what she did. After all, she still had to mail out her letter.

“Is everyone ready? Good. Then, everyone can go get on a computer.”

Takara, Kenji, and Erik got the computer that jutted out into the main room. As it turned out, both of the boys Takara was to work with had been working in the lab before the start of class that day. Erik stepped to the side of Kenji’s computer and logged off his own computer. He returned shortly thereafter, pulling a chair with him. Takara sat in a second chair that had been left in the cubicle. Kenji sat in the chair in front of the computer.

“Is it okay that I start?” Kenji asked them. “We are supposed to take turns.”

“Yes, that’s fine with me.” Takara replied.

“Yes.” Erik concurred.

Takara sighed. She looked around her. This was great on so many levels; now, they could help one another get their work done. It was also nice to be able to interact with other people in a positive way again. Still, there was something she couldn’t forget about. As much as she wanted to enjoy this experience as long as possible, she had to finish this assignment as soon as she could. She needed to free up some time in order to have the opportunity to mail out her letter. She breathed. She didn’t even know where she could find a postal box to put it in.

Still, she decided the first thing to do was to focus and get her work done early; that way she would have time to consider what to do next.

“I can’t believe how simple this assignment is.” Erik remarked quietly. “I mean, it’s not exactly worth the wait.”

“Yeah, I know you really wanted to learn something you hadn’t already figured out on your own.” Kenji acknowledged.

“Yeah. But I guess we have to get this kind of thing done before we can move on; still, it sort of has me worried that we aren’t going to get to do anything interesting.”

“I’m just worried I won’t be capable of keeping up with the workload.” Takara heard herself add before she could catch herself. What if they — but especially Erik — thought to ask her questions about this statement?

The two boys looked at her.

“She isn’t here all the time like you are.” Kenji explained.

Erik nodded. Takara breathed. She found she was very grateful to Kenji at that moment.

Kenji sighed.

“Well, I think we should be capable of getting this done pretty fast, and then we can do whatever we want.” Kenji put forth.

That sounded good to Takara, and the trio did manage to finish the assignment swiftly.

“Well, I’ll just submit it to the teacher then.” Kenji announced.

“Great. I’ll be in the virtual reality corridor if you need me.”

Finding herself alone with Kenji, Takara asked him, “Do you happen to know where a postal box is?”

Takara held her breath for a moment. After Kenji pressed the submit button for the assignment, he turned and looked at her.

“Umm … let me see.”

Kenji did an online search for postal boxes. Takara was surprised it hadn’t dawned on her that she could use the computers from the arcade for this purpose. Then again, Kenji was using his own login. If Takara had been the one who had logged in, she’d be afraid her online movements would be tracked.

“Here’s … let’s see … I guess there’s one just two blocks away.”

He pointed to his left.

“That way.”

Takara beamed.

“That’s great! Thank you!”

Takara then headed for the elevator. She figured there was plenty of time to make it there and back before the bus left. It was simple really. Takara felt so relieved and enthusiastic at that moment she forgot to be cautiously aware of her surroundings. For as she left the elevator and headed decidedly for the exit, she heard a voice call out to her from behind: “Stop, Takara!”

Takara froze so suddenly that she almost tripped. As she turned, she was surprised to find Miss Harrington glaring at her.

“Just what are you up to?” the woman accused her harshly.

Takara looked off to the side in shock.

“You can’t leave this building until we’re all ready to go.” the teacher persisted.

Takara kept her eyes cast down. Her face reddened.

“Do you understand me?!”

“Yes.” Takara responded.

“Since you’re done so early, maybe the others are, too, and we can all just leave right now!” Miss Harrington spat.

Takara continued looking down in embarrassment.

“And don’t you worry; you’ll have plenty to do in the future assignments. You’re going to need all of your class time to keep up with them!”

What did she mean by that? Why would Miss Harrington want to make things more difficult for her? Miss Harrington walked past her then. As Takara looked up, she noticed that Kenji was standing in the entrance to the hallway. The look on his face said that he heard everything. He approached. Takara looked down again; she was mortified.

“You all right?” he asked her.

She nodded slightly.

“I’m not sure what that was about.” he spoke softly. “But it seemed out of line to me.”

Takara nodded again. She was still in shock.

“Can I help?” Kenji whispered to her. “Do you have something to mail?”

At first, Takara looked at him with surprise. Yet, she was careful not to overreact. She then slipped her hand into her bag. And when she saw the teacher wasn’t looking, she passed the letter to him.

“Thank you.” Takara said, glancing over at him.

Takara forced herself to smile, though her eyes were still sad. Kenji smiled and nodded. Takara felt a certain amount of exhilaration as she handed her precious letter over to Kenji. Maybe it was the fact she knew him from before that caused her to trust him. Either way, she felt she finally had someone on her side again. Kenji found he was just as happy as she seemed to be; finally, there was something he could do for her.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Intermezzo

Chapter 7

Takara didn’t hear anything more about her attending the field trip, and she didn’t ask. She waited for Patty to mention it, but she didn’t. As the day approached, she figured Mr. Tyler had given her teacher an excuse as to why she couldn’t attend. It was probably only the possibility that he could be blamed somehow for her not being able to go that he had objected to. He probably didn’t want the questions. As for his objecting to Takara bringing up the fact she possibly couldn’t attend the field trip? Why wouldn’t she have had doubts about that? What, with all the restrictions he had her adhere to — it only stood to reason she would wonder. And what was more, she could very well see him changing his mind at the last minute in order to mess with her head. In fact, every time she logged in to that one class, she was surprised to find her name hadn’t been removed from the roster. Takara had no intention of giving Mr. Tyler the satisfaction of reacting to any of his mind games.

Takara lay upon her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was a Friday and, while that used to be a joy for her, she now found herself with nothing to do. It was actually the copious amounts of free time she had that wore on her the most. She sighed. That was the moment Patty came into the room.

“Takara.” she stated. “Why aren’t you dressed yet?”

Takara looked at the woman quizzically.

“Your field trip …” Patty added impatiently.

“I’m going?” Takara wondered.

“Mr. Tyler said you would be difficult about it. He said to make sure you went …”

Instead of letting Patty finish her lecture, Takara stood and began to assemble her belongings. She decided to hurry lest they change their minds. Still, she waited for Patty to leave before retrieving the letter she had written for her mother.

Takara had begun moving the letter around the room when it was dark. She also figured someone would be less likely to search the same place twice. And though Takara concluded it was probably silly, it did give her a sliver of self-determination — something she’d been lacking for quite a while.

Today, Takara slid the letter up one of her long shirt sleeves. It was probably a warm spring day, but Takara figured her health issues would answer any questions they might have as to the reason she had dressed warmly, so that she wouldn’t have to.

After she was dressed, Takara got some surprising news. Instead of being driven to her destination, Mr. Tyler had arranged for her to take the bus. Takara tried to temper her shock that he expected her to wait outside for a bus the very first time she left the house after her coma. But then, she knew how it would look if she protested — as though she wanted special treatment — so she just nodded and let them escort her down the long, winding driveway to the side of the road.

Since they put her out early, she had time to wait and time to realize just how weak she had become between the coma and the captivity. Then, there was the fact she was standing alone in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, she wondered whether she should just throw caution to the wind and escape right then. Then again, where could she go that Mr. Tyler wouldn’t find her? She realized at that moment that her situation could get worse. Then, before she could go any further with this train of thought, she noticed that there was one security camera pointed right at her. Takara looked away and froze under its prying eye.

Fortunately, the bus pulled up not long after. Takara’s first instinct when she boarded the bus was to apologize to the other students for making them go so far out of their way in order to retrieve her. But then, she decided, if Mr. Tyler were to hear about it he would probably view that statement as a personal insult.

As it turned out, it didn’t seem to matter. Most of the students seemed to be completely uninterested in her. Then again, why should they be interested? Theirs wasn’t an abnormal reaction once Takara got to thinking about it. She probably wouldn’t look at every person who stepped onto the bus. And at least this meant that the extra distance the bus had traveled hadn’t caused the other students to become annoyed with her. Takara did manage to make eye contact with one of the students. Of course, he eventually looked away.

Takara took a seat in the middle of the bus. She leaned back in the seat. Still, even though she was being driven away from the Institute, she couldn’t completely shake that feeling of anxiety she had had since learning her father was dead. She was out in the world now, but there was no real sense of relief. Maybe it was because she knew she’d have to go back to the Institute later on that day. Or, maybe it went deeper than that. After all, she had never had a chance to say good-bye to her father, never attended the funeral. There was no one to grieve with: he was just gone.

Takara suddenly wanted to find his grave and visit it. But this trip, this only reprieve from her prison sentence at the Institute, was for a different purpose; it was to learn. Takara managed to cheer herself up by remembering that it was her father’s work that they were studying. She knew a little about the subject, too. Those nights when she would go to see him in his office — sometimes he would explain his ideas to her. It was probably to occupy her while he finished up whatever project had captivated his mind. But, still, she grew to enjoy it all the same. He’d even told her once that she had a natural ability for his work. At the time, she wondered whether he was just being her father. But after starting this course, she began to see that it was true. And she figured in this small way she could hold on to him. Certainly, she felt her father would be pleased she was following in his footsteps. It would probably be the only aspect of her current life he would be happy with.

The bus slowly rolled to a stop in front of a three-story building with tinted windows. There was a bright sign in the front declaring it to be a virtual reality center.

Takara braced herself for the inevitable falling forward followed by the falling back that came with riding the bus. Then, Miss Harrington stood at the front of the bus and gave the students instructions on the day’s assignment. She sent a copy to the students on their tablets. Takara reddened. She didn’t have a tablet. Then suddenly, as though sensing her concern, Miss Harrington announced that she had a tablet in hand that had been purchased for Takara.

Takara didn’t know what to make of that. Takara released the top of the seat in front of her, which she had been grasping, and sat back in her seat. On the one hand, it was a relief; on the other hand, Takara found it strange. Mr. Tyler on his own volition had probably arranged it. He was very aware of everything she did apparently. Only he didn’t just give her the tablet beforehand for some reason. Could it be that he didn’t want her to have it at home? Takara blushed thinking about the embarrassment that would ensue if her tablet was taken away from her at the end of the day. Miss Harrington stepped off the bus and headed into the building. One by one, the other students filed off.

It was then that Takara felt a wave of exhaustion. She braced herself. Was she even well enough to be doing this? That’s when Takara noticed that a boy, the boy who had looked at her before, had paused next to her on his way off the bus. She looked over at him.

“Are you all right?” the boy asked her. He had a serious look on his face.

Takara considered briefly. She looked down for a moment. Then, she finally looked back at him.

“Yeah, I think I’ll be fine.” she replied.

The boy smiled briefly then continued on. Takara pulled herself up and made the effort to catch up with the others.

As Takara met up with the group inside the building, Miss Harrington began to speak.

“Well, we’re going to start with a tour.” she announced.

Miss Harrington looked off to the side, and a man from the Virtual Reality Gaming Complex came forward. Takara wasn’t sure whether the tour was a good or bad thing for her. Takara wouldn’t have to think much to make it through the day, but she would have to walk. Fortunately, there was an elevator to ride on when the tour headed for the second and third floors.

There were many things of interest in the complex. Of particular interest to Takara was a computer room with the most advanced computers on the colony. With them, the students could run their own virtual reality programs. Each computer had its own booth with a tabletop to place items such as tablets on.

Another area of interest was the virtual reality corridor. Takara’s heart leapt when she heard that her father had designed those rooms and had donated the money to build them. They were apparently a smaller version of what was at the Institute. Next, there was automation. That was a more recent addition. Takara’s father would read a lot of his plans for the automation program to her. Of particular interest to him was combining the two concepts. Actually, that was what he was working on right before his death.

For a second, Takara thought the others might ask her about the facilities at the Institute. The truth was that she had never seen the facilities there; she just knew they existed. She had gotten the impression that they consisted of many large rooms that linked together, and that they even extended underground. Takara was relieved, though a bit surprised, when no one turned to her while they were discussing her father’s work. Part of her wanted to talk about her father, but since she was afraid what she might be asked if she brought it up she didn’t volunteer any information.

Then again, as Takara scanned the group of other students she did notice that one student, the same one who had approached her on the bus, had turned and looked at her when her father’s full name was mentioned.

“Could it be?” Takara wondered. “Could he know who I am?”

Takara considered.

“He does look somewhat familiar.” Takara admitted to herself. But was she just fooling herself?

Suddenly, Miss Harrington announced that they would be trying out the computers with the time remaining. Only since she hadn’t reserved the computers ahead of time, there weren’t enough computers available for all of the students. So, they would have to take turns.

Takara was not one of the first students chosen, but that boy from before was. Takara decided she may as well observe his experience. When she walked into the computer lab and began to look for the boy, she noticed an alcove she hadn’t spotted before. It jutted out from the rest of the room. The most unusual part of it was that the walls of the room were transparent. Takara kept her eyes on the view as she made her way into the room. The main room and the entrance below began to unfold before her. Then, right to her left was the boy from before and a couple of other students observing. Takara crept in beside them. Her attention was split between what was happening below her and what was on the screen. Takara began to slowly tap her toe against the floor. After a few moments, the boy turned and looked at her. She turned and looked at him in return. Then, she smiled softly. He nodded then went back to his work.

Takara’s brow furrowed a bit. It was probably nothing after all. He had indeed seemed familiar, but it was probably just wishful thinking on her part, she concluded. She was so desperate to find someone who knew her — or at least who knew of her from better times — that she had started to believe she recognized this boy. It was actually a bitter disappointment. Maybe she could still build a friendship with a fellow student anyway … but that probably wouldn’t go unnoticed by the teacher. And could she even trust that student if she did reach out? Would that person trust her? Takara decided a new friendship would only work under these circumstances if that person trusted her right away and believed that her judgment could be relied upon. How could she expect that from a total stranger? She had made the mistake of hoping Patty would be on her side, but that hadn’t lasted. And what had been more disturbing was that Takara still hadn’t figured out why the woman’s attitude toward her had changed so drastically. She could only assume it had something to do with Mr. Tyler. Takara sighed.

“Can you see the screen, all right?” the boy asked her unexpectedly.

Takara looked down at him and saw a flash of recognition in his eyes. Could it be?

“All right, students. Please finish up what you’re doing and meet me in the lobby.” Miss Harrington pronounced.

As a couple of students pushed forward to get a last-minute glimpse of the screen, Takara decided to head for the elevator. She was tired. Overall, it was a good day, but her body yearned to lie down again. It was frustrating to realize that after wanting to leave the Institute for so long she wasn’t capable of making the most of this rare opportunity to be free of it. Her fatigue did have one positive effect on her; it made her determined to get stronger.

Once she got into the hallway, she saw the teacher standing at the entrance to the lobby. She was making some sort of a phone call. Takara just walked forward as usual — that is until she heard her name mentioned. Takara froze.

“Yes, we’ll be leaving right now. Yes, she’s doing fine. All right, good-bye.”

The teacher hung up. Takara released her breath as her teacher turned and saw her standing there.

“Takara … A woman called from the Institute to check up on you. I told her you were fine. I hope I didn’t overstep.”

Takara shook her head. The teacher smiled.

“I think you had a good day, but we’d better get you back.”

Takara frowned and looked off to the side.

“Yes.” she forced herself to say.

Fortunately, that boy came upon them then.

“Kenji, right?” the teacher asked.

“Yes.” The boy pushed up his glasses.

“Well, we’d all better get going.”

Takara looked at the boy named Kenji briefly as he walked past her. She thought about trying to walk next to him. But given how ill she was feeling, she doubted she could keep up with his pace. So, she decided against it. After all, trying to hold him back as though she had something important to tell him might seem incredibly suspicious. Kenji might be her only link to the outside world — that is if she didn’t blow it in the meantime.

It wasn’t until she was standing there facing the bus that she remembered her letter. Takara froze in place. It seemed as though the plan was to return to this place one day, but when? It could be weeks from now. Being at the Institute now was bad enough, but having to wait to even mail the letter that could allow her to escape seemed almost unbearable.

“Takara? Are you coming?” the teacher called from the bus.

Takara blinked. Then, almost as though Miss Harrington could tell what she was thinking, she added, “We’ll come back here soon.”

The word “soon” wasn’t exactly specific, but it was reassuring, nonetheless. Certainly, it gave Takara just enough will to spur her legs towards the bus. Still, she sighed when she retook her seat. It was disheartening to be returning to the Institute. It was as though she was on a rail, and she couldn’t get off. Takara bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t force herself to leave this train and claim her own path again. Where was this path leading anyway? Maybe it was crazy, but it didn’t feel good wherever it was going. Takara tried to convince herself that she had made progress that day towards freedom despite the fact that she had failed in her most important task: sending that letter on its way. But then there was Kenji; he could be important. She dare not look at him now, but she did see him get on the bus. Somehow, knowing someone might know who she used to be was comforting.

“All right. We seem to be missing one.” Miss Harrington checked the list. “Has anyone seen Erik Lancaster?” she asked.

People looked amongst one another. Then, a voice called out from the back, “I think I saw a guy head into the virtual reality corridor when all the computers were taken.”

“Oh.” She turned to the bus driver. “Oh. It’ll just be a moment. I’ll go find him.”

Miss Harrington headed off the bus and into the complex. It wasn’t all that long afterward that she returned with a boy, who appeared to be a bit younger than Takara and Kenji. He looked a little embarrassed as he stepped onto the bus. Still, he held the light brown hair atop his head high in spite of it.

“All right.” Miss Harrington breathed. “We can go anytime.”

The bus driver started the bus. And with a slight jostling of the students in their seats, they were off. The bus petered along dropping off one student at a time. Takara sighed. She might as well relax. After all, this was going to take awhile.

Suddenly, the bus came to an abrupt stop.

“What?!” Miss Harrington exclaimed aloud.

Takara and the other remaining students peered over the top of their seats.

“It’s okay, everyone. It’s just a tree limb.”

Suddenly, there was a loud noise in front of them and to their left. All the students seemed to turn simultaneously towards it. Then, despite Miss Harrington’s protestations, they headed to the left side of the bus in order to watch a giant … something moving off into the distance toward their right while destroying everything in its wake.

The thing was a bulky reddish creature about two-stories tall. It resembled a lobster.

“What’s that? It’s alive!” one student commented.

“No, it’s not alive.” Takara spoke up. The group turned toward her. “It’s just a robot.”

“Cool! It’s a robot!”

The students began to chatter among themselves. It was as though this was part of the course experience. Takara just kind of stared at the robot in disbelief. It was just like the automation that her father had envisioned, but the scale — that was unexpected. Takara then looked over and saw the horrified expression on Miss Harrington’s face. All the teacher kept repeating was that if they’d made it to that spot moments earlier — if they hadn’t been running late — they would have been crushed. After the creature had left their line of sight, the bus driver suggested he find an alternative route to progress. Miss Harrington seemed eager to leave the area, so they backed up and headed down a side street.

Just like that morning, Takara’s place of residence was the last stop. As she passed by Miss Harrington, she noticed that the woman was still pale. Takara paused. It really was a big deal to almost die. Takara had acknowledged that reality in her mind but wouldn’t allow herself to really feel it. After all, no one at the Institute acted as though Takara’s near-death experience had been a big deal. Takara was moved by sudden compassion, and she said to Miss Harrington in a tone she wished someone would speak to her in and with the words she secretly wished they would say: “It’ll be all right. You’ve been through a lot, but you’re still here. And tomorrow is bound to be better.”

Miss Harrington turned and looked at Takara. Takara was expecting a disapproving look to cross the woman’s face given the way she was treated at the Institute; instead, Miss Harrington broke into a beautiful smile. Then, she suddenly hugged Takara. Finally, she whispered, “Thank you, Takara. You take care of yourself.” The woman let the girl go, and Takara smiled back at her. Then, she forced herself to head off the bus and start the long walk up the driveway.

Should she have given Miss Harrington the letter? That’s almost all Takara could think about as she slowly plodded on. Takara stopped to catch her breath a moment. “When am I going to take action?” she chastised herself.

Takara had never had trouble asserting herself before. Why was she so indecisive now? It was as though she was limping along emotionally, incapable of rebalancing herself. Yet, the biggest thing — literally — that Takara thought about was that large robot that had torn through the forest and toppled those trees.

Where had it come from? Maybe the news would have a story on it — if she ever got back to the Institute. Then again, to even watch the news she would have to have permission from Mr. Tyler to stay in the atrium for a while. After all, the television sets were only left on during the work day.

“Takara!” Miss Harrington’s voice suddenly called after her in a frantic tone.

The woman came running up to Takara over the short distance Takara had been able to cover. The bus was still waiting behind the woman. Takara was unnerved that Miss Harrington appeared to be out of breath.

“Takara …” she gasped.

“Yes?”

“I need … I need your tablet back.”

 

***

 

By the time Takara made it up the steep incline of the driveway, she found she was very thirsty and, of course, tired. No one at the reception desk seemed to lift their eyes as she passed by on her way in. So, she slipped into the elevator and got off on her floor. Takara, upon entering the building, thought she might stop by her room before checking to see whether she could watch the television in the atrium. But as she passed by the atrium, the television was turned on, and it drew her attention. There was the story about the robot, and a whole group of people were standing in front of the television. Mr. Tyler was among them. Takara came up behind the group and stood there watching the footage different news agencies had managed to gather. That’s when Takara noticed that one of the receptionists she’d seen at the receptionist desk over a year ago appeared to be crying. Could it be a relative of hers had been hurt?

“Has something tragic happened?” Takara asked. The question was directed at the woman.

The woman turned and gasped. Then, Mr. Tyler and a bunch of other people turned towards Takara as well. Takara was confused.

“You should be in your room!” Mr. Tyler quickly barked at her.

Takara flushed with embarrassment. She quickly turned on her heels and walked as fast as she could back to her room. She couldn’t recall having taken a breath until she secured the door behind her. She went and grabbed the pitcher of water from her dresser and poured herself a drink. She sat on the bed and proceeded to consume the water.

“What was that about?” Takara wondered. Was it really that easy for her to mess up? One thing was for sure; the fact they were that reactive to her showed the problem was obviously them and not her. Still, it was bothersome — both because she had to live among them and because it meant she wouldn’t be able to find out more about the incident with that strange robot.

“Something just seemed oddly familiar about it.” Takara concluded.

 

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2019