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CHAPTER 41

The Return

 

“I’m home.” Mary quietly whispers to herself.

I instinctively start to take off my shoes as I enter, but I notice she didn’t bother. I wonder if it’s because of her Caucasian influence, or that there was really no point in wasting time to take them off. Everything is going to be reset in a few hours anyways.

I guess I’ll just leave them on too.

“Parents are out of town, so make yourself comfortable. I’ll go make some tea.” as she heads off to the kitchen.

So this is Mary’s house.

Mary’s house was much larger than I expected. It didn’t help that this huge place was eerily quiet. Mary only told me to follow her here, refusing to answer any of the million questions I had, and opting to stay silent the entire time. At first, I refused to move until she explained herself, but Mary insisted that we talk at a more “safer” location, whatever that meant.

She couldn’t be talking about the transfer student?

I start to pace around her living room. I think her family was in the process of moving, as I could see a couple cardboard boxes filled with junk scattered around me. One of the few things not put away yet were the photos placed on the mantle. I take a closer look.

That’s odd…

It was an old and worn photo of a family at an amusement park. As I inspect further, I could easily recognize the little blonde-haired girl was Mary as a kid, but for some reason, I couldn’t make out her parents, no matter how hard I tried to concentrate. It wasn’t because they were strangers, but it was like my mind automatically blurred out there faces, almost as if they were simply placeholders.

The more I thought about it, I wondered if I really knew Mary on a personal level. Was our friendship really that shallow and out of convenience? Despite knowing Mary for some time, I’ve never actually hung out with her outside of school, or even got her phone number until recently.

It’s not out of convenience; my feelings for her are real.

I try to take my mind off that by continuing to quickly investigate if anything was out of the ordinary. I keep looking around, but nothing seems out of place like her Masked Avenger pin. Everything looks completely normal, but almost a bit too normal. I don’t think there’s anything left to check, so I sit down in the middle of her couch. I then hear the distinctive sound of a kettle pot boiling.

“Sorry it took so long, it’s been a while since I had guests over.”

Mary appears and places a single cup of black tea on the coffee table in front of me.

“Thanks.”

She sits down on the small ottoman across. I notice she didn’t have a cup for some reason.

“You don’t like tea?” I ask.

Mary shakes her head. “No. I hate that bitter stuff, remember Kaz?”

Right. Of course.

I wait for Mary to initiate because she was the one who led me here, but she keeps staring intently at me.

“Ahem.” she coughs unconvincingly.

Ah!

I finally get that we aren’t going to start until I take a sip of her tea.

Yuck!

Maybe I was uncultured, but it honestly tasted like I was drinking battery acid! The tea leaves a bitter after-taste in my mouth that I can’t help but react to, though I quickly regain my composure.

“It’s good…” I anxiously force a laugh.

Mary doesn’t react. She sits still, like a doll.

“Who are you?” I start off.

Mary looks at me as if I’ve asked her a stupid question.

“I am Mary Kaneko, duh.”

Of course it’s Mary Kaneko. But she didn’t feel like the same Mary Kaneko I had somehow fallen in love with today. It’s like I was meeting with a stranger for the first time.

“So…can I ask who am I talking to?”

Her question completely catches me off-guard. My head was still a bit woozy from theses cryptic flashes flaring up.

“Kazuhira?”

That was my name right? At least, that was the name I know. With those cryptic headaches and along with Akane Yuki calling me “Kazuki,” I’m not too sure why that name keeps coming up, and why it sounds so familiar.

“I see.” Mary breathes a sigh of relief as it’s the first time I see her smile. “I’m glad you still think that way, though I wouldn’t have minded if you said something else.” she responds.

“Did you expect me to say ‘Kazuki’?”

Mary stays silent, though her silence confirms my thoughts.

“Do you trust me?” she asks.

“What do you mean?” I reply.

I think if she asked me that before, I would have said yes without hesitating. Why wouldn’t I trust the girl I’ve fallen for, the one who was there for me when I was in trouble? But now, every logical instinct in my body was telling me the person in front of me was dangerous. It was like I was her victim, and I just walked right into her trap.

Mary leans in closer, as her eyes go up and down, her gaze carefully looking at my body language. She asks me once again:

“Do. You. Trust. Me?”

I look into her pale blue eyes. I didn’t feel the same comfort from before, as they don’t make my heart at ease. It was like I was staring deep into the abyss of her soul, and I see emptiness. It didn’t feel like Mary Kaneko was in front of me, but rather the “idea” of Mary Kaneko.

Up until this point, Mary Kaneko hasn’t been actively harming me. That must mean that I can trust her right? I know that Mary has to know something about the key to breaking this loop, because Akane Yuki had been focusing her resources on me this whole time, and so far, she knew about as much as I did.

It’s my fault Akane is stuck at square one.

It’s my responsibility to gather more information. Even if I can feel this is not going to end well, I need to know.

“Yes.” I finally answer. “I trust you completely.”

Mary pauses, and then straightens her posture. I still can’t get a read of what she’s thinking, since Mary’s been strangely quiet and reserved this whole time. She rubs her pin, attached on the red tracksuit she had on.

“If I answer some of your questions, will you promise me to forget about everything?” she asks.

Forget everything? I’m sorry, but I can’t forget this time.

“Forget? I’m trying to break this loop to save you Mary! Why would you want me to forget?”

That was my goal this entire time. It was ironic the one person I was trying to save didn’t want to be saved.

“Because there’s no way out of here Kaz…why can’t we just be happy with what we got?”

“What are you talking about? There has to be an escape! Your Masked Avenger pin…isn’t that a sign that time can move forward? I still remember it being brand new, but now it looks worn and faded.” I point out.

“Do you know how long I’ve known Kaz? I’ve been experiencing the same February 2nd for over 37,335 days.” she reveals. “It might even be more to be honest.”

“W-What?!?”

Mary had been aware of the loop longer than Akane Yuki? If Mary’s rough estimation was true, then we’ve been stuck here for over 100 years!

“How do you remember?”

Mary shrugs apathetically. “I would think getting hit by a truck every night has something to do with it. Sometimes I miss it on accident, and I lose some of my memories. It’s kinda like when you turn your game off before it's done saving!” she chuckles nervously.

I couldn’t help but feel uneasy at how casual Mary was about her death. I suppose everyone had their way of dealing with things, especially in an abnormal situation like this.

“It’s not a big deal Kaz, really. I think after the tenth time I got kinda used to it.”

“But wait, if you were aware of this loop the whole time, why didn’t you say anything?”

Just why is Mary okay with this loop?

Akane Yuki and I have been trying to escape this loop for the longest time. My reason to escape this loop, in order to save Mary and the people I care about from dying, is utterly pointless.

“Because…I didn’t want to.” she admits. “There’s no way to escape.”

“I get to spend the rest of my life with the people I love forever.” Mary looks deeply into my eyes. “Dying is just a small price I have to pay to be with you.”

“But how?! How can you be okay with that?!”

I suddenly raised my voice without realizing it. Clearly Mary and Akane Yuki were more similar than I thought. Both of them must have gone past the point of “normal.” But who could blame them, considering this abnormal situation we’re stuck in.

“Because I love you.” she smiles.

The old Kazuhira would have passed out from hearing that directly from the girl he loved. However, I couldn’t accept it.

“We’re stuck in this loop Mary! Why does it even matter when we know it’s just gonna start over and over? I don’t think I can ever accept this.”

“I was afraid of you figuring this out Kaz, but knowing you, this was inevitable.”

Mary rubs her pin. I think she always did that whenever she was nervous. It had aged quite significantly, which was odd since everything in this resets. Mary’s pin was the first thing I’ve encountered that changed.

“Who is this Kazuki? What’s really going on?”

Mary breathes a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry but I can’t answer that question. I made a promise.”

“What promise?”

“It was ever since that night.”

“That night?”

Was she talking about the night I died? The one apparently one thousand loops ago?

“What are you talking about Mary? What happened?”

Mary rubs her pin again, averting her gaze from me.

“You shouldn’t be asking too many questions Kaz. It’s not going to end well. All I know is, there is no way we’re going to ever escape this loop.”

“How do you know? Akane Yuki’s been-“

“Don’t say that name!” she interrupts me.

I try to calm myself down, as I instinctively feel my fists curling.

“I really do want to help her, but I can’t.” she replies. “We’ve made promises, secrets we cannot break.”

Suddenly I felt a resurgence of my frustration that can no longer be contained.

“Promises?!? What are you talking about? You, me, Akane Yuki, nobody is ever going to break this loop if we don’t help each other. I know the error of my ways, so help me remember Mary! Just tell me!”

Mary sits there, seemingly unabashed by my fit of rage. She says only one statement that suddenly makes my knees weak.

“You shouldn’t be asking yourself ‘what’ you can’t remember, but ‘why’ you can’t.”

Why?

My mouth drops wide open as I feel my hand instinctively cover my jaw.

Not what, but why.

Why?

Why?

Why?

Why can’t I remember?

I could remember these loops perfectly, but only the recent ones. According to Akane Yuki, 11,505 days have passed, and that was only recorded history. It was actually 37,335 days, maybe more. Did something happen that made me forget? All this talk about unbreakable promises made me question – did I make a promise?

“Who made you a promise?” I asked, my voice quivering.

Mary stays silent again.

“Oh.” I audibly think aloud.

Why did I promise her? Why did I promise her to stop?

Then why did I start remembering again? This only confirms what Akane Yuki said, that I had already repeated my intentions towards breaking this loop before. Could that mean I was repeating this exact conversation with Mary once again?

“What happened? What did I do?” I said, in the calmest voice I could muster.

I was running through all the possible scenarios, but only one thing was clear to me – someone must have killed me. Mary was the only one I was with that night, leaving no other suspects.

Except…

“Don’t say it Kaz. It’s not too late to turn back.” Mary warns me.

It was too late. My emotions were completely taking over, making me ignore anything logical. It doesn’t matter to me right now why she did it, but because she finally crossed that line.

“Akane Yuki…killed me?” I reluctantly accepted.

Yes of course! What an idiot I was! She was trying to kill me from the start wasn’t she? Maybe being with Mary was the final straw for her or something. I was so close to unlocking my memories, and maybe Akane Yuki just didn’t want that to happen with Mary around.

Does that mean I have other past memories…?

From my confrontation with Akane Yuki, I could also assume this wasn’t the first time she might have done something like this. What other memories did I try to forget? Why did I choose to forget that Akane Yuki killed me?

“I tried to stop her, but…” Mary moves closer to me. “A part of me didn’t want to. I’m a monster.”

“Just give in Kaz. There’s no escaping this place. Join me, and we can be together forever, happily living with the people we love in this endless loop.”

If Akane Yuki couldn’t find an exit, how’s someone like me even gonna have a chance to escape?

No! I can’t give in. There’s no meaning here.

I made a commitment to myself, that I would break this loop no matter what.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t. I need to escape, and to recover my memories.”

Mary sighs, but then smiles faintly.

“Of course. Somehow your sense of justice always prevails through.”

I’ve calmed down a bit. I was glad Mary was accepting of my goal.

“I’m sorry to say Kaz. but I don’t think I would be your ally.”

“What?”

“I’ve accepted my fate being stuck inside this endless loop. It’ll only take time for you to understand me.” Mary stretches her arms and yawns. “It’s probably time for you to sleep as well.”

What?

Suddenly I felt a bit woozy. Even though I was energetic just seconds ago, I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. My stomach begins to feel like there’s a fire inside! I start coughing uncontrollably, and could taste blood coming out of my mouth.

“W-Why-“

I fall to my knees, hitting the coffee table and spilling the tea all over it.

The tea!

“I’m sorry Kazuki, but this is for your own good. You’ll be thanking me one day when you finally accept the inevitable.”

I can’t believe it! I’ve known Mary for so long now, that I could never imagine her doing something like this. Then again, maybe getting killed almost every night would change someone’s psychological behavior. All I know is, I must escape this loop. Now, I was on my own. I’m not sure if I could trust anyone.

I’m feeling light-headed.


“Maerd a evah uoy od?”

Where am I?

My body feels like its floating.

Bright and fluffy. Bright and fluffy.

Light and shallow. Light and shallow.

Did someone say something?

I must be imaging things yet again. I wonder when this start happening? Sometimes I try to ignore the other voice, but more often than not, he’s able to break through to me.

“He’s a friend of mine.”

It’s Her. The little girl in the white lily dress “stares” at me.

“Now you’re here at the right time!” she congratulates me.

Mixed colored confetti appears before me, as the distinct sound of a celebratory kazoo whistle is blown.

“I think you’re going to like him big brother. He tells me a lot about you.”

What was it talking about? Was there someone looking over me? Like a guardian angel? I find it difficult to believe anyone was remotely interested in my boring, uneventful story.

Finally a little boy appears in black. Like the girl, his face is scribbled out as well. For some reason, I felt as if he was smiling at me. I can’t help but feel uneasy at the sight of him.

“All you need to do is say yes.” she says to me.

If I gave up, would that mean I would cease to exist? Does the idea of “Kaz” lives on?

I say something to the pair. The girl accepts. He does not.

“Didn’t you want to break this loop? Is this not what you wanted the whole time? To dream?” he asks me.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why she is asking me that question.

What kind of dream is she talking about?

How is any of this related to my problems and my friends?

The little girl takes my hand forcefully.

“This is your choice, remember? She is waiting for you, isn’t she?”

She? The girl must be talking about Akane Yuki, the transfer student, the love of my life.

Why did I think of her? In fact, why do I feel like she and I have met before? Something inside is telling me to not give up on her – even if she did kill me.

But I have given up haven’t I? That is why I am stuck in this loop.

“Do you have a dream?” he asks me once again.

Why does she keep asking me that? I am getting honestly getting irritated. Maybe I was just projecting onto this little girl, when I am the one who should be remembering.

Remember.

Remember.

R e m e m b e r.

“Akane.”

The girl of my dreams. I wished I could stay with her forever, didn’t I? To permanently stay in World A(kane).

“I’m still excited to see what’s next!” the girl says to me. She seems overjoyed, unconcerned about my safety. The little girl is only here to observe.

I’ve had enough of this dream.


I am cold to the core. I feel nothing as my body temperature rapidly decreases. Inside is nothing, but now it reaches absolute zero, with no amount of warmth being able to enter. I am completely frozen.

Today is February 2nd. It’s not going to be February 2nd soon.

“My name is Akane Yuki, pleased to meet you.”

The new transfer student was acting like any other normal student. She smiled gently at the class, attracting the attention of everyone.

What’s going on?

Something is very wrong right now in Class 2-B. I don’t understand, but I understand.

Has Akane Yuki given up?

I wouldn’t blame her. None of her clues led to anything significant (mostly my own idiotic self). Giving up and playing along with the rest of the loop was as easy as breathing.

I can’t give up, not when I finally remembered something.

I look at the new transfer student standing in front of our class. She must have been speaking, but I did not hear her voice. Akane Yuki looked the same as I remembered her, but I still could not believe it.

That is Akane Yuki.

She couldn’t have given up! That’s impossible. Even though she’s been chasing for an exit over 11,505 days, why did she suddenly have a change of heart? It just feels completely out of character for her to give up all of a sudden. And so the rest of our class began to pester her with introductory questions. However, this time she doesn’t coldly reject everyone immediately like before. Instead, she answers them politely, with a smile.

Akane Yuki is acting…almost like a real transfer student.

That was the problem – I was the only one who saw through her “act.” It felt like I was watching a scene from a movie play out, and Akane Yuki was immersing herself into the role of the “transfer student.” If I had no knowledge of what was really going on, I probably would have fallen for her charms just like everyone else here.

What I am seeing is a lie.

Everyone here is living a lie.

Everything I know is a lie.

I cannot stand watching this lie go on any further.

“I refuse!”

Even if everyone else is a lie, I refuse to accept Akane Yuki as one.

“…Are you okay Kaneshiro?” my homeroom teacher asks.

I realize I was already standing up, recalcitrant to him. All of a sudden the classroom felt empty, as I see the confused glances of my classmates gradually disappear. Maybe they actually were outraged like my teacher, but it seems I have long abandoned their presence. I focus onto Akane Yuki, still standing in front of the classroom. I walk towards her.

I stand in front of Yuki-san.

Yuki-san stares right through me, as I cannot tell what she is thinking by her expressionless face. It bothers me actually, since I expected her cold and intimidating gaze like when I first met her. Technically to everyone else, this would be our first encounter together.

I try to drown out my classroom’s noises, turning their voices of concern into muffled sounds. I ignore them all, and kneel in front of Yuki-san. I lower my head towards the ground, and extend out my hand towards her.

“What are you doing?” Yuki-san asks. She responded rather politely, unlike how she usually addressed me, though I can feel the slight hint of embarassment in her tone.

“I have come to save you.”

She pulls back, face-palming at my dorky line. I commit to my part.

“…W-What are you saying?!?”

“I’m sorry for the delay my love. I have to come to save you, Akane Yuki, for I am a hero of justice!”

The background noise around us slowly quiets into silence. I’m sure Akane Yuki is experiencing the same peaceful quiet as I was. There is no one else here besides us. Without raising my head, I wait for her to take my hand. I wait, like a statue, for her to hold my hand, hopefully accepting my proposal to her.

But she should have grabbed it by now.

Akane Yuki does not take my hand.

My scrawny legs finally give out, as I collapse to the side, rather pathetically.

“…Disgusting.”

What is wrong with this girl?!?

I wasn’t able to see how she felt since my head was lowered to the ground. As I look up to her, towering over me, I suddenly feel a stinging sensation near my right calf. It seems that my legs didn’t actually give out, but rather she had attacked me with a kick.

Of course.

I didn’t surprise me. Maybe I was arrogant to think that Akane Yuki would kind enough to willing reach out her delicate hand to me.

“Tell me your name.” she says to me.

“My name is-“

She steps her foot onto my head, keeping me pinned down!

“And I’ll know if you’re lying…”

“KAZUKI!” I shout in pain.

She steps off. I want to look up, but I stay in the same feeble position.

“Ha…hahaha…”

Unable to hold it much longer, Yuki-san laughs. I think she’s laughing at how pitiful my plea to her was. She seems amused from the bottom of her heart, probably to an extent I have never seen throughout the 11,505 loops. I still lay on the ground, but I feel relief course through my body.

“You sure took your sweet time idiot. You should be grateful that I waited 27,253 days for you to return. I never thought you’d make a fair maiden like I wait for so long!” she pouts.

“It’s actually been 37,335 days…” I correct her.

Yuki-san leans over and extends her hand. She forcefully pulls me up in one motion, as I stand in front of her.

“The hero always arrives just in time.”

Akane Yuki’s eyes widen in surprise. She smiles faintly at me.

“It’s time we break this loop Kazuki.”

Without a moment’s notice, Akane Yuki pulls me out of the classroom. I follow her lead outside, onwards to our next step.

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A note from kenbinru

The Hero has returned...or has he? As it turns out, Akane Yuki was the one who killed Kaz that night. Why would he want to keep that a secret? I guess we'll find out in the next chapter. At least they're back together...somewhat? 

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About the author

kenbinru

Bio: Musings & Misc. Follow kenbinru.t*mbler.c*m for illustrations.

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