Saitama Prefecture – Japan
Shohei Nishizawa and Newt
11:03 PM - October 28th - 2019
Shohei Nishizawa and Newt
11:03 PM - October 28th - 2019
Shohei laid on his bed, legs spread under heavy covers with his head resting under his linked hands. He hoped the moonlight would gleam through his curtainless window. He was fond of the moonlight shining on cloudless nights. He found it relaxing. Tonight, the clouds absorbed any stray moonlight. Sometimes, though, the waning crescent would peek out behind the fortress of thick, sullen clouds and beam alabaster through the window. Shohei thought it curious that a new moon was cycling just as he felt he was being thrust headlong into a load of new nonsense. He snorted. It was likely just some sick joke from the universe, he thought.
He was trying to ignore it, but there was a thin yet searing pressure in Shohei’s chest that wouldn't seem to go away. He couldn’t point his finger on it, but it was a familiar feeling. He loosed his stomach and shot a breath between closed lips. His blinks were sparse. He swallowed, shifting and rolling to his right with his right hand between his head and pillow and blinked. He scratched his chest. By the nature of a sleepless autumn night, Shohei’s mind was an unbound vagrant, traveling haphazardly through long untrodden memories. He was used to this happening under stress, but he usually didn’t let it go this far. Thoughts of his mother flooded his memory. Smiling loosely, he remembered when she first took him to the Kenroku-en Garden. Just the two of them gasping at the animals on the trails. Gawking at the beauty that he could hardly fathom let alone appreciate as a child. He thought of his grandparents and how they must be worried about Yuu, Shohei’s father. And Shohei worried too. When his father left there was a spark in his eye like he was actually trying to clean himself up, like he’d finally come to terms with his love passing.
The pressure in Shohei’s chest flushed through him in a wave of disappointed anger. He knew what it was: the feeling that he didn’t have proper control over his life. “Thisㅡ it's just rotten,” he whispered to himself, crooning into the night. He sighed and rolled his eyes back. He reached out for the cell phone that sat on his bedside table and powered it on. The bright blue-white light stunned him for a second, wincing. He opened his text messages and clicked on the name ‘Shiori, the he started writing:
yo, i’m going away for a little while. chilling with a friend. take care of nanny and gramp when you get back, and if you hear from dad let him know i’ve been doing great. love ya.
Shiori was off on a trip with friends. She was getting back tomorrow but Shohei planned on leaving in the morning. He had class, so it wouldn’t be suspicious if he couldn’t figure out an excuse to tell his grandparents. He figured he should spend the morning with his grandparents, help make breakfast and gossip about local news. He smiled, half-content with that being the last of any family members he would see for a long while.
Shohei shifted and his eyes wandered to the window and the peeking moon. He could see a corner from the shed’s roof. He smiled. “I hope Newt’s sleeping well."
. . .
A breeze blew against the shed, rustling and shifting the darkened flowers hanging off the window frame. The clouds shadowed overhead. Inside, Newt rumbled and rolled and snored. He was curled up in a quilt knit by Nanny Nishizawa. He was grinning in his sleep and a tear rolled down his cheek.
The sun was beginning to hang itself in the sky, streaming in through the kitchen windows, as Shohei clanged about the cupboards, grabbing plates and utensils while his grandmother was cooking rice, miso soup, and chum salmon. It was a calming scent to Shohei, it made him feel warm, comfortable. His hands were undeniably shaky but he refused to let his worries get the best of him. He set the patio table to keep busy.
“Just in time!” Shohei’s grandfather bellowed as he opened the front door. He had a terribly deep and loud voice. It carried and it always surprised Sohei that that sound came out of his tiny, thin grandfather.
“Aki, quit yellin’!” Shohei’s grandmother shouted back. She was never serious, she simply liked teasing Aki.
“Oh, shush, Kana” Aki waggled his hand as he entered the kitchen. He was a good couple inches shorter than Shohei. He was thin but fit, especially for his age of seventy-two. This banter was generally the morning routine; Aki would be loud, Kana would quip, and Shohei would have a warm grin smeared across his face.
“Ya’kno, I never did ask where Shiori up and traveled off to this time.” Aki sat relaxed out on the porch. Another part of morning tradition was eating out on the patio furniture, though the mornings were getting cool as November neared. Aki's legs were crossed and he held the local newspaper in front of his deeply lined face, his eyes scanning the news.
“She’s always running off somewhere,” Kana mumbled through sips of tea.
“I think they were going to Kyoto, apparently it’s for school,” Shohei said, leaning against the porch railing, “should be back today though.” His eyes were fixed on his clasped hands. He was juggling different excuses on why he’d be gone for a little while, but couldn’t decide on one.
“Oh, I think you’re right, Shohei,” his grandfather said before licking his finger to change the papers’ page. He peered over at Kana. “I hope she thought to visit Oki.”
“Oh, you know those girls were surely busy.” Kana set her tea on the round table between her and Aki. She smirked and the lines under her eyes tightened. “They don’t have time for old folks like us no more.”
Aki laughed, “they sure don’t. But I barely have time for old folks like us!”
A smile bunched up on Shohei’s face. He spun his eyes from the mist rising off the neighboring pasture fields to Aki and Kana, sitting snug in their wicker chairs. “I’m also actually leaving for a bit too. I think I should be back by next Sunday,” he trailed off and swallowed, his spit like mortar on his tongue. “I’m going to my friend Hani’s new apartment. I haven’t seen him in a bit.” His words came out thin and uncomfortable. “If that’s okay," he added. Shohei hated lying to his grandparents, it felt like a wash of disappointment flooded his cheeks and eyes, but this situation called for it because the truth, Shohei figured, was worrisome for infinite reasons. He scratched the back of his head, looking towards Aki but not at him. An itchy heat pricked at his neck and back.
“Well, goodness! Everyone is up and leaving us,” Aki spurted. Shohei jumped and his cheeks flushed white. Aki folded the newspaper in front of him, revealing a soft grin and warm eyes. “Go, then. But make sure you enjoy yourself.”
“And keep up your schoolwork,” Kana chuckled and winked at Shohei. A kindness swelled from the way Kana titled her head as she smiled. With two hands, she gripped her cup and took another sip.
"I will, I will." Shohei couldn’t help but build a smile himself. He almost felt a fool for thinking his grandparents would oppse. He looked at his watch: 8:45 AM. He pushed out a thin breath and stood. "I guess I should get going now."
Kana shook her head softly. "Already?"
"Yeah, I have to take the bus into the city and I want to have time to spare." Even though they were understanding, lying to his grandparents still didn’t sit well with Shohei.
Kana rocked her head. "Alright, but give me a hug before you go,” she paused and pointed out a finger, “and call us if you need anything.” She was sincere but her voice held worry. Kana would never say so but of all her grandchildren, Shohei was always her favorite. That meant that, along with extra gifts here and there, Kana always worried a little bit more about Shohei. Shohei wrapped his arms around Kana, holding her tight. Kana ran her fingers through Shohei’s dark hair as he held her. “You’re so tall—, you're all getting so tall,” Kana mumbled and shook her head, “I can hardly believe it.”
Shohei laughed, trying to ignore the mist fogging his eyes. Kana traced her fingers along Shohei’s cheekbone, warm and delicate. “Alright,” Shohei announced, puffing his chest and pushing a breath out as he spoke, “I’ll see you soon, and I’ll try to call if I have the time.” That lie was probably the worst of all, as it was more of a prayer; a hope that Shohei would even be able to call his grandparents after he left. A hope that was steeped entirely in the growing fear that he’d never see Aki and Kana, or Shiori and Yuu, or his inner-city friends ever again.
Kana let go of her soft grip. “You better.” She wagged her finger and Aki laughed.
“Stay safe, Sho,” Aki said and nodded to Shohei as Shohei slung his backpack over his shoulders. Aki wasn’t one for physical affection, but his words of encouragement stuck like a blessing in Shohei’s mind; a ward for Shohei to fend off trouble when going off into the unknown. He could have been wrong, but now it seemed to Shohei that his grandparents knew he wasn’t being truthful, but their trust in him exceeded their worry.
“Love you!” Shohei shouted and waved to his grandparents as he approached the end of the driveway. He felt the mist re-emerging in his eyes. “Shit,” he muttered, wiping his eyes.
As Shohei rounded the corner out of the view of his grandparents’ house, he saw a strange pink and green quilted lump sitting along the treeline. “That’s not what I meant by 'hide and wait',” Shohei muttered, rubbing along his eyebrows. “Newt, it's me,” he called out as he walked over.
Newt flipped the blanket over the top of his head, his snout now peeking out. His eyes were misty too. “Oh, Sho! I didn’t think you were ever going to come,” he shouted, his voice shaky and overwrought. He stood with the blanket draped over his head and shoulders. “I thought you just left me here!”
“Oh quit blubberin’ you goof,” Shohei said, looking at his watch again, “it’s only been ten minutes since I told you that I'd be here, and I’m here now. You gotta learn some trust, my man.”
Newt smiled, his eyes glistening from the rising sun. “I know, Sho. But it’s scary out here. A bird attacked me when I came through the woods.” He pointed over to a tree that had one-third of its trunk covered in ice. In the middle of the crystal blue frost, a crow was stuck, unmoving with wings spread wide. Newt seemed proud of what he accomplished, bearing a smug grin.
Shohei patted Newt on the head. “Oh, man, there’s no need for that. The birds won’t hurt you.”
Newt pattered his feet about in the leaves and broken branches. “But this one was trying to steal my muffin.”
“What muffin? Where did you get a muffin?”
“From the pantry.”
Shohei squinted his eyes. “What pantry?”
“The pantry in the house.” Newt blinked absently.
Shohei rolled his eyes back, a quick heat taking over his skin. “Newt,” Shohei hissed. He slapped his forehead and slid his hand down along his jawline. “I told you not to go in the house for a reason.”
“I’m sorry Sho,” Newt grumbled, “I was hungry.”
“Well, you can’t—” Shohei took a breath, “okay, whatever, it’s cool. We got bigger things to deal with.” Shohei pulled the D-Loader out of his jeans pocket. A new icon was flashing: an arrow facing down at a mostly filled-in rectangle. Shohei crouched so Newt could see the D-Loader’s screen. The pink in Shohei's cheeks from the cool autumn morning was draining. “This has been blinking on the screen for an hour. I think the symbol means download, ‘cause that rectangle’s been filling in as the hour’s gone by. It’s almost done so I’m guessin’ something weird is going to happen soon.” Shohei tossed a glance down at Newt. Newt looked wholly excited: his jaw dropped and his pupils were large and his eyes fixed. Newt nodded, though he was still transfixed. Shohei shifted his feet, brushing around the leaves. His anticipation was drenched in fear and excitement and formed like a pellet in his throat. Stay chill, it’s cool, we’re lax, he repeated like a mantra in his head, watching the pixels slowly fill. Newt’s eyes glistened with each square. He had a strange sense that he was going home even though he didn’t know anything about Illiad.
The final white square filled in the rectangle and Shohei gulped. The screen of the D-Loader emitted a fluorescent green, scanning Shohei and Newt. The bright light reflected on Shohei’s gray-blue irises. He blinked, overcome with sudden excitement. It’s real. This is real. It’s real and it’s happening right now, he thought, though his sparse breaths suggested he shouted it. First, the tips of his fingers felt warm and numb, then his hands, then arms, until his entire torso felt weak and light; hollow. Shohei felt weightless. He glanced at Newt, panicked. But Newt was completely astounded. His grin was wide and beaming, and his gaping mouth exuded awe. He swallowed and shook his head.
"Sho, I feel weird." Newt's enthusiasm persisted through his anxious murmur.
Shohei tightened his eyes. First, he noticed Newt was a lighter color and Newt's body started to crackle with static. Then, Newt's body seemed to warp and glitch like a digital image. Shohei noticed that he was starting to warp as well. Soon, his hands and feet dispersed into pixelated dust and so did the rest of him. Before either of them realized, Shohei and Newt were being sucked into the D-Loader. Once the D-Loader acquired their data, it started uploading Newt and Shohei onto the Server Illiad. For Newt, this process was fairly clean and easy. Being data already, he was shuffled and reshuffled into the right shape and uploaded onto the server, waiting for Shohei. It was almost pleasurable. For Shohei, the process was agonizing. Once his body left the physical world, it was a terrible test of will that he didn't have a choice but to endure. While being downloaded, his DNA was modified into data. Despite not having a physical body, the process still inflicted a shocking electrical pain on Shohei. It felt like thousands of hot needles on his skin, or like someone poured hot water into his ears. It was excruciating and took a toll on Shohei's willpower. By the time Shohei was re-formed and on his way to Illiad proper, he was mentally and physically exhausted, sore, and, for a moment, he regretted not just ignoring Newt, the D-Loader, and M's cryptic messages.
Newt and Shohei were both dropped on a beach in Illiad. The sand was a charcoal color, but the glisten of the massive white sun made the sand appear navy. The water was a sharp turquoise and, in some parts, the waves were erratic and violent while in others, the water was like green ice. There was a bright white grid stretching out from where the sea crested the black horizon, lining the dark purple gradient sky like a mesh. The thick nimbus clouds hovered above, unmoving. The air was damp. Shohei's breaths were long and deep, and he tried to steady them as he looked out at the water. He looked to his left and Newt was glancing about wildly. They were both taking in their surroundings.
"We're here," Shohei whispered. "Newt, we're—"
A thick thud sounded behind Shohei and some muttering followed. Newt and Shohei quickly spun themselves around. Shohei's eyes widened. Oh boy, there are others.