Nezumi, Dripping Wet
Nezumi was in a tunnel. In the darkness, he drew a quiet breath. The air smelled faintly of moist dirt. He inched his way forward carefully. The tunnel was small. It was just big enough for Nezumi to squeeze through, and it was dark. Light was nowhere to be seen, but it soothed his soul. He liked dark and small spaces. In these spaces, no large living things could come to capture him. Momentary relief and tranquility. There was a dull pain from the wound on his shoulder, but it wasn't enough to concern him. The problem, rather, was with the amount of blood he had lost. The wound wasn't deep. It had only grazed a little bit of his shoulder. By now, the blood should have begun clotting and closed the open wound. But the wound was still.... He felt a warm and slippery sensation. It was still bleeding.
――Anticoagulant. They had coated the bullet with it.
Nezumi bit his lip. He wanted something to stop his bleeding. Thrombin, or aluminum salt. No, not even so much as that. At least, clean water to wash his wound.
His legs buckled. Dizziness overcame him.
Fainting from lack of blood, maybe. If it was, that would be bad. Soon, he wouldn't be able to move at all.
――But maybe I wouldn't mind.
He heard a voice inside him.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to curl up, unable to move, shrouded in damp darkness. He would nod off to sleep, a long sleep ― and peaceful death. It wouldn't hurt, not that much. It might feel a little cold.
No, that would be taking it too lightly. His blood pressure would plummet, he would have trouble breathing, his limbs would be paralysed ... of course it wouldn't be painless.
――I want to sleep.
He was tired. Cold. Hurting. Unable to move. He only had to suffer for a little while, he told himself. Stay still, rather than struggle fruitlessly. There may be people pursuing him, but none who would rescue him. Then, he should just put an end to living. Curl up here, and just go to sleep. Just give up.
His feet continued forward. His hands ran along the walls. Nezumi gave a forced smile. His voice was telling him to give up, but his body still doggedly carried on. How troublesome it all was.
――An hour left. No, thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes was the time limit for any free movement he had. In that time, he had to stop his bleeding, and secure a spot to rest. The bare requirements to keep living.
There was movement in the air. The darkness before him was gradually becoming lighter. He took each step painstakingly. He emerged from his dark and narrow side-tunnel to a wider area surrounded by white concrete walls. Nezumi knew that this was a part of a sewer tunnel that had been in use until ten and some-odd years ago, the end of the twentieth century. Contrary to the ground above, No. 6's underground facilities were not very well-maintained. Much of it had been left in the same state as they were from the last century. This sewer tunnel was just another one of those, abandoned and forgotten. Nezumi couldn't have asked for a better environment. He closed his eyes and visualized the map of No. 6 that he had extracted from the computer.
There was a good chance that this was the abandoned route K0210. If it was, then it should extend close to the high-income residence area called Chronos. Of course, it could very well also lead to a dead end. But if he had decided to live, then moving forward was his only option. Nezumi in his current state had neither choice nor time to deliberate.
The air shifted. It wasn't the stale dampness of before, but fresh air carrying plenty of moisture. He remembered that it was raining hard up above. This passage was definitely connected to the upper world.
Nezumi inhaled, and smelled the scent of rain.
* * *
September 7, 2013 was my twelfth birthday. On this day, a tropical low pressure-system, or hurricane, that had developed a week ago off the southwestern area of the North Pacific Ocean, made its way north, gathering power, until it hit us directly in the city of No. 6.
It was the best present I had ever gotten. I was filled with excitement. It was only past four in the evening, but already it was getting dark. The trees in the yard bowed in the winds as leaves and small branches were torn off. I loved the clamorous noise they made. It was the bare opposite of this neighbourhood's usual atmosphere, which hardly involved any loudness.
My mother preferred small trees over flowers, and through her enthusiastic planting of almond, camellia and maple trees all over the place, our yard had grown into a small grove. But thanks to that, the noise today was unlike any other. Each tree made a different groaning sound. Torn leaves and branches smacked against the window, plastered to them, and then were whipped away again. Time and time again, gusts of wind burst against the window.
I itched to open it. Even strong winds like these were not enough to crack the shatter-resistant glass, and in this atmosphere-controlled room, humidity and temperature remained stable and unchanged. That was why I wanted to open the window. Open it, and bring in the air, the wind, the rain, a change from the usual.
"Shion," called Mother's voice from the intercom. "I hope you're not thinking of opening the window."
"Good... did you hear? The lower lands of the West Block are flooding. Terrible, isn't it?"
She didn't sound like she felt terrible at all.
Outside No. 6, the land was divided into four blocks ― East, West, North and South. Most of the East and South blocks were farmland or grazing pastures. They provided for 60% of all plant-made foods and 50% of animal food products. In the north, there was an expanse of deciduous forest and mountains, under complete conservation by the Central Administration Committee.
Without the Committee's permission, none could enter the area. Not that anyone would want to wander into the wilderness, which was completely unmaintained.
In the centre of the city there was an enormous forest park that took up more than a sixth of the city's total area. In it, one could experience the seasonal changes and interact with the hundreds of species of small animals and insects that inhabited it.
A vast majority of the citizens were content with the wildlife inside the park. I didn't like it much. I especially disliked the City Hall building that loomed in the centre of the park. It went five stories underground and ten stories above, and was shaped like a dome. No. 6 had no skyscrapers, so maybe "looming" was a little exaggerated. Nevertheless, it gave off an ominous feeling. Some people called it The Moondrop from its round, white shape, but I thought it resembled more of a round blister on the skin. A blister that had erupted in the centre of the city. As if to surround it, the city hospital and Safety Bureau building stood close by, and were connected with pathways that looked like gas pipes. Surrounding that was a green forest. The forest park, a place of peace and tranquility for the good citizens. All the plants and animals that inhabited this place were minutely monitored, and all flowers, fruits and small creatures of each area in every season were thoroughly recorded.
Citizens could find out the best time and place to watch or gaze at these through the city's service system. Obedient, perfected nature. But even it would be raging on a day like this. It was, after all, a hurricane.
A branch with green leaves still attached smacked into the window. A gust of wind followed, and its roar resonated for some time. At least, I thought I could hear it resonate. The soundproof glass cut me off from any outside noise. I wanted the window out of my way. I wanted to hear, to feel, the raging wind. Almost without thinking, I threw the window open. The wind, the rain, came blowing in. The wind rumbled as if coming from deep within the earth. It was a roar I hadn't heard in a long time. I too, raised my own hands and let out a yell. It would scatter on the storming winds, and reach no one's ears. Yet still I shouted, with no meaning. Raindrops flew into my throat. I knew I was being childish, but I couldn't stop. It began raining harder. How exciting it would be to take off all my clothes and burst out into the rain. I tried to imagine myself naked, running around in the torrential storm. I would definitely be declared insane. But it was an irresistible temptation. I opened my mouth wide again, and swallowed the droplets. I wanted to repress this strange impulse. I was afraid of what lurked inside me. At times, I find I'm overwhelmed by a tumultuous, savage surge of emotions.
There was a mechanical warning sound. It was notifying me that the atmospheric conditions in the room were deteriorating. Eventually, the window would close and lock automatically. Dehumidification and temperature control would commence, and all wet things in the room, including me, would be dried instantly. I wiped my dripping face on the curtain and made my way to the door to turn the air control system off.
What if, at that moment, I had obeyed the warning sound? Sometimes, I still wonder about it. If I had closed the window, and chosen to stay in the adequately dry comfort of my room, my life would have been entirely different. It wasn't regret, not anything like that. It was just a peculiar thought. The one thing that changed my whole world, so meticulously controlled up until now, happened from that one small coincidence ― that on September 7, 2013, on a stormy day, I by chance had opened the window. It was a very peculiar thought.
And though I don't have a particular God I believe in, there are times when I do feel a certain conviction toward the term 'Divine Hand'.
I turned the switch off. The warning sound stopped. A sudden silence fell over the room.
I heard a faint laugh behind me. Instinctively I whirled around, and gave a small cry. There was a boy standing there, soaking wet. It took me a while to realize that he was a boy. He had shoulder-length hair that almost hid his small face. His neck and arms that protruded from his short-sleeved shirt were thin. I couldn't tell whether he was a boy or a girl, whether he was very young or older than he looked. My eyes and conscience were too focused on his left shoulder, which was stained red, to think about anything else.
It was the colour of blood. I had never seen anyone bleeding as profusely as he was. Instinctively I was extending my hand out to him. The intruder's figure vanished at my fingertips. At the same time, I felt an impact, and I was slammed against the wall with a strong force. I felt an icy sensation on my neck. They were fingers, five of them, closing around my throat.