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Translated by Rachel Thomas
Written By Raquel Pagno
Copyright © 2016 Raquel Pagno
All rights reserved
Distributed by Babelcube, Inc.
Translated by Rachel Thomas
Cover Design © 2016 Henrique Morais
“Babelcube Books” and “Babelcube” are trademarks of Babelcube Inc.
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Japan – September, 1623
The night was lost in total darkness. A strange breeze fell upon their perspiring faces. Not even the stars had come out to illuminate their path.
Akiro pulled her by the arm, dragging her into the Aokigahara forest. Someone had reported them to the Emperor’s men. Yumi was a true Kitsune, a fox in the form of a human whose soul should be exterminated together with the spawn she carried in her belly and with Akiro, the traitor who had married the demon.
Yumi was not pleased that her half-blood son would be born in this cursed place, full of dark spirits, but she should not complain. She had abandoned her true form to live alongside Akiro. She had chosen her destiny and now she must obey her husband.
“Yumi, be strong! Just a bit further!” Akiro knew that no soldier would be brave enough to enter the forest of death. He needed to find a cave. Only then would his son be safe.
“I can’t take any more.....I’m not going to make it.” The labor pains were becoming unbearable. A few steps more, Yumi fell to her knees.
She did not have any strength left to give birth. Akiro tore the baby from its mother’s body. Yumi did not scream. Only a faint, muffled groan escaped her throat as the final spark of life faded from her eyes. Her lips parted in a desperate effort while small tears fell on to her cheeks.
Akiro held the baby close to Yumi’s face. He would not leave without the mother’s blessing. Yumi moved her lips into a trace of a smile. She longed to touch her child but she was too weak to raise her hand. She heard the barking from the pack of dogs. The Emperor’s men, unable to enter the cursed forest, had sent in their ferocious hunting dogs. The baby’s cry had already driven them into a frenzy. They had to escape fast. It was impossible to save Yumi from the emperor’s wrath. Her soul had been stolen.
“Go.....I will visit you...in your dreams...”
Two lights shone in the sky at that moment; the new moon that toasted the birth of the boy and the sphere that shone over his shoulder like a full moon, a new soul that had just been born.
Akiro cradled his son and disappeared into the darkness.
Brazil – June, 2014
Lorena slowly awoke, her hands covering her face, protecting her eyes. The white, ethereal light that penetrated the tulle curtains filled the room giving it an almost spectral appearance. Lorena moved her fingers away, just enough to recognize the silhouette standing beside her bed.
She would have recognized him miles away. The arrogant demeanor and nose in the air of someone who thinks they are superior to the rest of Mankind.
Lorena hated him.
She had hated him ever since she laid eyes on him for the first time, at the beginning of the school year. Hank had a gift of irritating her. Every gesture, every mocking word that came out of his mouth only made her hate him even more. By an irony of fate, Hank was chosen as her partner in the Physical Education classes. Lorena wondered what she had done to deserve such a punishment.
“My Lorena.” My Lorena? He can’t be serious, she thought, as her eyes adapted to the bright light. “I’ve found you at last.”
“What are you doing in my room, Hank? Get out now!”
“Calm down, calm down. What did I do?”
“You...you... broke into my room, God knows how long you’ve been there, and you....” She wanted to yell how much he irritated her, mention the first time she had seen him, so full of himself, that air of superiority that followed him everywhere he went. She wanted to shout that his presence bothered her and that she wished she had never moved to his town, to his state. She wished she had never even moved to the same country! Lorena’s life had become hell since Hank Hirano had shown up.
Wasn’t it enough that he had stolen all her future friends at her new school? Since the first day of class with Hank, which was about six months earlier, she realized that everyone seemed bewitched by the intelligence of the best student of the class. This was in direct contrast with his bad boy style, the way he always offered favors to everyone and, of course, his beauty and his muscles. Was Lorena the only one who could see it was all false?
“Hang on.... if you look more closely, you’ll see I’m not in your room. In fact, you brought me here last night.”
“What? How dare you....” Lorena was about to throw the truth in Hank’s face but, when she looked around, she realized she really wasn’t in her house.
The room was entirely white. The walls were decorated with paintings adorned with golden frames, as was the dossal that was attached to the bed from where a thin lace mosquito net hang. Lorena’s clothes were also not the same. She was wearing a long white camisole, nothing like the old sweatshirt she remembered putting on before going to bed.
Like in a game of Spot the Difference, Lorena noticed that Hank was also not the same. He was no longer wearing his traditional black jeans nor the T. shirts of his favorite band. The small ring piercing in his nose, which clashed so much with his good boy image, had also disappeared. Only the silver chain remained around his neck, hidden under the white sweater, the only evidence of the Hank Lorena knew and despised.
“What am I doing here? What have you done? I can’t remember how I got here. Did you force me? No, you drugged me! Of course you drugged me! And when I was unconscious, you brought me here, didn’t you?”
“No, I couldn’t have brought you here, if you hadn’t wanted to come.”
“But I didn’t want to come! I want to go home. I want you to let me out of here!”
“You’re not a prisoner. You can go back whenever you want. That isn’t up to me.”
“You’re crazy! You’re a psychopath!” Lorena got up and went over to the window. She looked outside and noticed the gardens that surrounded the place, all filled with flowers of the most varied colors and fruit trees. In the distance, a forest stretched ahead with trees whose canopies were in contrast with the dim light of the rising sun.
“But, what is this place?” The question was not for Hank but for herself. That place was exactly like the castle from the fairytales she used to dream about as a child. It was all there, exactly how she imagined it, the happy animals running through the gardens, the clear sky filled with birds of varied and beautiful species. The steeds were grazing freely in the green meadow.
“But this is impossible!” she whispered to herself. For a moment, as she tried to find a logical explanation, she forgot about Hank.
The alarm woke her with its insistent ringing. Lorena found it hard to believe that it was anything more than a dream. A perfect dream, if it hadn’t been for the presence of Hank Hirano, which had turned it into a nightmare. His presence, however, was not by chance. Hank had been invading her dreams daily for weeks.
For each new dream, an uneasy feeling would come over Lorena. The settings would change according to the plot of the dream but two things were always present: the feeling that Hank had something very important to tell her and the certainty that the dreams were more real than they should be.
Every time Lorena woke up, she remembered each episode. The scenes appeared in her mind with frightening clarity as if they were true memories of her life, not like the vague memories she had of her other dreams.
“Lorena! You’re late! Your breakfast is getting cold!” Her mother’s shouting brought her back from her reverie.
The clock on the bedside table showed half past seven. Lorena leaped out of bed and jumped in the hot shower. She threw on the first pair of jeans she could find in the wardrobe, a sleeveless T. shirt and a baggy sweatshirt. She tied her hair up in a ponytail, threw her rucksack on her back and put on her running shoes. She really thought she was going to need them.
She went downstairs and ran through the kitchen, ignoring Laura’s protests who was still insisting that she had breakfast. Before closing the door, she glanced one last time at the photo of her late father framed in wood and plaster. Her father seemed to be staring at her. She silently said goodbye.
As expected, the bus stop was empty. Lorena would have to go on foot to school. She ran most of the way. The faster she tried to walk, the slower she seemed to move. Of all days, it has to be on the one with biology! she thought, remembering her school report from the previous trimester, riddled with red grades.
“Late too? It must be our day today! Ready for a telling- off?” Carla met her at the school entrance. For some reason, Carla was her only friend, the only one who wasn’t fooled by Hank. Maybe she also realized how false he was.
“Tell me about it! Today of all days! My grades in biology are still terrible.”
“What happened to you? You’re not normally late.”
“Not like you, right?”
“Ah, you don’t have to throw it in my face! You know only too well whose fault it is...” Carla was referring to one of her two current boyfriends.
“I know, you always put all the blame on Bill.”
“No, you’re wrong! Today it was Laurence. He didn’t want to let me go for love nor money.”
“Like you tried really hard.”
“Ah, knock it off!”
“Ok! So, let’s go in before the prefect shows up.”
The two girls walked down the corridors until they reached the second grade classroom. Two knocks on the door and, when the teacher opened it, Lorena immediately saw Hank, sitting in the first row, right in her place.
She couldn’t believe it. She wanted to grab Hank by the hair and make him move. It was obvious he had sat there on purpose. Lorena always sat there, in every class, since the beginning of the school year. Hank, and everyone else, knew it.
“You can sit in my place,” offered Carla, seeing the fire burning in Lorenas’s eyes, ready to murder Hank.
“Thanks!” replied Lorena through gritted teeth. The thought of spending four hours so close to Hank was not appealing at all but she accepted it because Carla’s desk was also in the front row and, as she was shorter than most of the other students, if she sat further back, she wouldn’t be able to see the biology lesson properly. And she really needed to attend this class.
“So, you two latecomers, sit next to a classmate. Today’s exercise will be done in pairs and it has already been explained. I’ve almost finished picking out the names for the pairs so I’ll let you choose your pairs among those who haven’t been picked yet.”
“But, Mr.....” Lorena started to complain.
“I don’t want to have to explain again!” cut in the teacher, pulling a face. Lorena smiled at the teacher’s joking tone. She looked around to find a classmate. On her left was Bill, Carla’s second boyfriend, but Carla hadn’t waited for the teacher to finish and was already sitting next to him. Lorena started to turn back to the right but Hank had already moved his chair next to hers.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Lorena shivered as images of the dream flashed in her memory.
“Don’t you need a partner, baby? A little birdy told me your biology grades aren’t all that great. Mine, on the other hand, are fantastic, 10 and over! I thought I could help you out with this subject.”
“I don’t need your help. I can easily sit with someone else!” It was already more than enough having to put up with him in Physical Ed.
“But there’s no-one else left!” Lorena looked around. How could it be possible that, during the second she had lost arguing with Hank, all the remaining students had found a partner?
“....and, finally, the last pair: Lorena and Hank,” said the teacher as he noted down the name of all the pairs. “Remember your partner’s name. You’ll work in the same pairs for the whole trimester.”
The teacher had to be kidding! Lorena didn’t know if she could stand being next to Hank for that class, let alone the whole trimester! There must be a way to change this situation! She would wait until the break and then ask, or rather, beg, the teacher to change her partner. If that didn’t work, there was always suicide.
“Ah, great! I’m going to love extending our partnership, baby.”
“Our partnership? We don’t have a partnership, Hank. I’m going to find a way to change this as soon as the bell rings at the end of class.”
“No harm in trying,” mumbled Hank.
Lorena sulked for the rest of the lesson. She did not speak to Hank and ignored any questions or snide remarks.
The bell rang. Hank got up and left, throwing Lorena a bemused look.
Lorena clenched her teeth. Hank was the most irritating person in the world. She waited until all the other students had left and stood in front of the teacher’s desk.
“So, Lorena, excited about the activities in pairs?” asked the teacher, as if he was unaware of the animosity between Lorena and Hank.
“In actual fact, Sir, that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about...” Lorena grimaced.
“If you’ve come to ask me to change your partner, don’t waste your time.”
“But, Sir, I don’t think Carla would mind if you put us together. Would it hurt to have a bit of good will?” said Lorena, trying to play the innocent and look angelic.
“It’s not a matter of willing on my part, or about me thinking your friend wouldn’t love to form a pair with you, Lorena. The problem is that I’ve already filled out the forms with the students’ names. Look, one for each pair.” he lied.
“But don’t you have a spare form?” the angelic face was gone, now replaced by irritation.
“Unfortunately not. I only have the ones that have been filled out. I don’t see this as a negative thing. It will be good for you to work together with a different classmate. Besides, Hank’s grades are far better than yours and your friend’s. You should be happy to have such an applied student working with you. I hope you can take advantage of this.” Lorena left the room seething. Of course the teacher had a spare form. But he was going to force her to work with Hank Hirano on purpose.
“Hey, Lori, did you manage to convince the teacher?” Carla did not seem even remotely concerned.
“No, Carla. He came up with any old excuse to keep me together with Hank,” said Lorena, sounding disheartened.
“Thank God. I didn’t want to be away from Bill a minute longer,” she answered happily.
“I can’t believe you wouldn’t help your best friend just to stay next to Bill! He’s not even your number 1 boyfriend!” Lorena pulled a disgusted face and then smiled.
“Who says? Now he is number 1. Laurence was demoted to number 2. Speaking of boyfriends, look who’s coming.” Carla rolled her eyes.
“Oh, that’s all I needed....” Hank came over on his black, Suzuki 1500 cc. Lorena turned around but Hank went around her, accelerating rapidly, making the tires screech. He stopped in front of Lorena.
“Want a lift, partner?” His tone of voice irritated Lorena even more.
“Well, I think I’ll be going then....” Carla left quickly. Lorena gave her an icy stare. Was Carla really capable of leaving her alone with Hank?
“Don’t be proud, come on. I know you missed your bus. Your house is on the other side of town.” He winked with his right eye, as if he were flirting.
“I like to walk. Anyway, I need to do some exercise. Losing a few pounds won’t do me any harm,” she answered angrily.
“Lorena,” Hank took off his black helmet and looked at her seriously, “we have an important subject to sort out.”
“I don’t have anything to sort out with you,” she answered, trying to sound indifferent, looking from side to side whilst he ran his hand through his hair, trying to keep control and finding a way to make her understand that it was important.
“Yes, you do. Even though you think you don’t,” he insisted, looking straight into her eyes.
“What is this? You’re a bit confused, aren’t you? Have you been drinking, by any chance?”
“I promise I’m sober.”
“So, you know that we have nothing to discuss. The biology work hasn’t started yet so you’ll have to wait another week, maybe two, until we have something to do together.” She turned her back on him and started walking.
“Tell me, who have you been dreaming about lately?” Lorena froze. Did he know that he had been invading her dreams over the last few weeks? Had he overheard her talking to Carla? Either that or he had supernatural powers of divination.
“Why....why are you asking me that?” Lorena felt the words trapped in her throat.
“Because I know exactly what and who you’ve been dreaming about.” She seemed disoriented for an instant.
“Tell me another one, Hank.”
“I’m serious. Much more serious than you think.” The serious tone in Hank’s voice frightened her. It wasn’t like him. The sarcasm and irony that were so familiar to him had vanished completely.
“Let me take you home and I’ll tell you about the dream you had last night.”
“You’re crazy!” she yelled in disbelief.
“You woke up, awakened by the daylight. You were in a castle, the same castle from your childhood fairytales....”
“That’s enough!” Lorena covered her ears. He couldn’t know. She had never described her dreams in such detail, not even to Carla. “I’ll go with you, but if only if you promise to tell me how you know that.”
“I promise.” Lorena snatched the helmet from Hank’s hands and put it on her head, without making any effort to tie up her unruly hair that had fallen loose from her ponytail a few hours earlier. She got on the back of the Suzuki. Instinctively, she stretched out her hands behind her, looking for the bar to hold on to. She was stopped by Hank’s hands. He pulled her arms forwards and enclosed them in a semi-circle around his body.
“You’ll be safer like this.” Lorena saw the smug smile on his lips in the rearview mirror.
It had just gone midday when Hank and Lorena arrived at the house. He didn’t go fast during the journey, as if trying to prolong it, or to ease Lorena’s tension. He parked the motorbike in front of the veranda entrance. Lorena got off quickly and took off the helmet. Hank didn’t turn off the engine. Lorena feared he would escape. She couldn’t let him go without him explaining how he knew about her dream. She stretched out her hand, grabbed him by the arm and unbuckled his helmet.
“Take it easy, baby,” he said, restraining Lorena’s hands.
“Now tell me, Hank. How do you know about my dream? You’ve been spying on me or...” Lorena didn’t finish her sentence. It was obvious that, even if he had been spying on her, Hank would never have been able to discover something that was going on in her mind whilst she was asleep. Had she been talking in her sleep whilst Hank was watching her through the window?
“Aren’t you going to invite me to come in? What I have to tell you is going to take a while.”
“I can’t. My mom might be back any time now.” She tried to keep her voice steady. If it wavered, he would know she was lying.
“Try again, baby. I know your mom will only be back at the end of the afternoon.”
“How do you know? Have you been spying on my house, Hank Hirano?”
“I didn’t need to. Laura works at my dad’s store.” Lorena and her mother had moved to the coast because of a job offer. Hank’s father had just opened a dealership and the wage Lorena’s mother would receive selling cars was more than double her wage selling clothes in her old town.
“What? My mom’s boss is your dad?” That explained the Suzuki.
“Uh huh!” Lorena felt a knot in her stomach. Had her mother told Hank about her dream? Had she heard her talking in her sleep and interpreted the dream, exactly as it had happened, in the smallest of details? Of course not.
“Come in!” Lorena left the door open. It wasn’t a good idea to lock herself in the house alone with Hank. She didn’t trust him and she was sure the nosy neighbors, who would tell Laura all about his visit that day, trusted him even less.
“Nice house! Actually, I think it really suits you.”
“Because it’s old, shabby and smells of mold?”
“No, because it’s special.” Lorena turned around. Hank stared at her. “And it doesn’t smell of mold. It smells of incense.”
“Come on, Hank, Tell me what you have to tell me.” Hank came around the counter that separated the living room from the kitchen, got a glass of cold water then came back and sat on the sofa. He patted the space next to him for Lorena to come and sit down. He was totally at ease, taking the expression “make yourself at home” literally.
“I’m fine like this.” She remained where she was, standing up with her arms crossed and a dissatisfied look on her face. She wasn’t happy about the visit and made sure she showed it.
“Fine. Let’s get straight to your dream then,” agreed Hank, beaten.
“How do you know about it? Who’s been telling you about my dreams?”
“Nobody. I saw it myself.”
“Stop kidding around, Hank! What do you mean you saw it yourself? Have you been spying on me? I talk in my sleep, is that it? You hear me through the closed window? You must have really good hearing!”
“I didn’t hear anything through your window. I saw your dream. Because I dreamed exactly the same thing.”
“Stop it. This is getting ridiculous.” She tapped her foot on the floor, restless.
“It’s true. I’ve been dreaming about you for a few days. Last night, you were in a castle, let’s say, an enchanted one. You were asleep in the highest tower and I was next to your bed, watching you sleep. A light came through the window directly onto your face and woke you up. You woke up, afraid, cursing me.” Hank smiled. You hate me even in your dreams.”
“How do you know all this? I can’t believe we had the same dream. Why us two? We’re not even friends!”
“But, it’s true. I remember the dreams perfectly. I mean, they are so real I could swear they really happened. Couldn’t you?” Hank’s eyes expressed sincerity.
Lorena had to admit it. The dreams were very realistic. The feeling Hank had described was exactly the same she had felt every morning when she woke up. She also remembered all the dreams with Hank, however hard she had tried to forget them.
“I don’t understand....”
“The other night,” Hank cut in, “I dreamed that that we were trapped in a honeymoon suite. Do you remember that? I’m sure you dreamed it too. It was actually fun, there was a big pool outside the building and a waterslide that you can slide on out to the street. But you wouldn’t let me slide. You were really boring in that dream.”
“Lorena remembered the dream perfectly well. Her and Hank were on a kind of secret mission but as soon as he saw the water slide, he didn’t want to do anything else except play on it. Lorena had to stop him.
“There’s something wrong in all this. You can’t be serious.” She rubbed her face in her hands, as if trying to clear her thoughts and feelings.
“Give me a clue, then, about any other dream you had about me and I’ll describe the dream to you. Then you can decide if you believe me or not.”
“Ok.” Lorena sat in an armchair in front of Hank. “Let’s see....Forest?”
“Yes, yes. We were in a forest and you were an Indian. I was some kind of hunter but I can’t really work out what I was doing in the middle of the woods. I wasn’t hunting Indians, I’m sure of that. Next?” He clicked his fingers, eager.
“We were inside a shabby cabin. You were badly injured and I was preparing some medicine for you from herbs and things. Next?”
“Your house.” That was the strangest dream Lorena had ever had. Until then, she hadn’t even known Hank Hirano’s address but she dreamed she spent a sunny day at his house, sunbathing with Carla by the pool. The following day, she convinced Carla to follow Hank and, to her surprise, the house was exactly the same as the one in the dream.
“Sure! That’s one of my favorites. You and your friend, what’s her name her again?” He pressed his fingers on his forehead, straining to remember.
“That’s it. You and Carla were sunbathing beside my pool whilst I was jumping on the trampoline showing off for you both,” he smirked.
“You manage to be a show-off even in dreams!” She stuck out her tongue like a child.
“But you liked it. You’re not such a nag when you’re in my dreams. This was the only dream when we were relaxed with nothing else to do but enjoy ourselves. In all the others, there was a bigger objective, an implicit purpose, a mission to complete.”
So, he knew it too. Lorena felt exactly the same way. There was no denying she and Hank were having the same dreams and were sharing the same feelings about them. She had never heard of anything like this before. When she was a child, she heard that if you fell asleep thinking hard about someone, you would dream about that person. Sometimes, it worked. When she fell asleep thinking about her dad, she would ask her guardian angel to being him back to her. But that didn’t apply to Hank, at all. The only thing she wanted from him was distance.
“Ok, then. It really is true. Have you asked yourself why this is happening?”
“A million times at least.”
“And how did you find out we dream the same thing? I mean, how did you discover that I had the same dreams as you, night after night?” Hank reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small notebook from the inside pocket. Lorena’s school diary. She hadn’t even noticed it was missing.
“You stole from me?” Lorena grabbed the diary from Hank’s hands.
“I suspected you were having dreams about me. I heard you saying to your friend, more than once, that you’d had a nightmare. As I know you’re not very keen on me, I guessed I was the nightmare. But, I had to be sure.”
“So, you stole my diary? But I didn’t write down any dreams in there, Hank,” she laughed smugly.
“Yeah, but on each page, for about the last twenty days, you wrote at least once: I hate Hank Hirano! That was enough proof for me. When I told you about the castle, I was sure.”
“And what do you intend to do about it?” She feared his answer.
“Actually, I have a plan.”
After Hank left, Lorena switched on the computer and went into Google. She searched throughout the whole afternoon but did not come up with anything. There were some stories about identical dreams but only isolated and doubtful cases, generally between people from the same family or with a strong emotional attachment. Nothing resembled what was happening to her and Hank.
She had no other option but to go along with Hank’s plan. He was right about one thing: they had never talked inside the dreams. In some way, there was communication but there had never been a dialogue until the night before. Hank said he was the one who changed the dream, forcing Lorena to talk to him. It was strange but after what Hank had told her, Lorena no longer doubted anything.