Chapter 19 - Ashes & GhostMature

Toshi sat alone in the cold rain. His flesh was too numb to feel but it wasn’t as unpleasant as the collective stare the remnants of his classmates gave him. Despite more incidents, Toshi remained a blight in their eyes; he killed Katsu and yet here he sits with no reprimand. His eyes were now hidden under the matted helmet of his hair and he was grateful for it. Here he sat, a numb object occupying space. PMR, Katsu, they were just ghosts behind his eyes.

A slender figure cut through the misty drizzle. Instinctively, Toshi turned his gaze to the ground. Just walk past. Don’t ask me anything, I cannot handle interaction right now he thought. But the figure revealed herself to be Ko. She cast a solemn look upon his soaked clothing and surprisingly sat next to him.

“Toshi.” she said. Her voice was more gentle than anything he had heard. Despite this, he did not brush his hair from his vision or even look up.

“Can we talk? Please?”

His shoulders twitched. Ko was unsure whether this was merely shrugging or a shiver but she continued. When she spoke, Toshi felt a strange sense of ease but rejected it. PMR’s presence infected him and he felt dirty.

“Katsu was really horrible to you, wasn’t he?” she asked. There was apprehension in her lingering glance.

Toshi looked back at her and scowled. A familiar anger bubbled inside him. You’re a loser, Toshi-chan. This is what we do to losers. Though his facial muscles were stiff from the cold, his frustration caused Ko to flinch away. But she did not stand and re-join her classmates. Some were watching; they probably wondered had she lost her mind.

“What was your first clue?” he snapped.

Ko bowed her head, much to his surprise. Guilt stabbed inside him but he said nothing.

“I’m sorry Toshi. I should have done something.. I was-“ she said before cutting off. She buried her face in her hands and cried silently. Toshi instinctively moved closer, unsure of what to say. She looked back at him with her reddening eyes. Straightening herself with practised sensibility, she continued as though nothing happened.

“People are dying. Because of that website.”

Toshi flinched at her tone. Her opened his mouth but no words came forth. What could he say? He obviously wasn’t the first PMR had spoken to. Suddenly he felt dirty; like a strange cancer was engorging within him threatening to taint everything personal.

An unfamiliar voice crackled startling them and the prying students.

“Good morning students. Classes today are cancelled. I repeat, classes today are cancelled. The school bus is ready to take you home unless you wish for an alternative. In that case, the reception is open for you to call your parents or guardians. I repeat once more: classes today are cancelled.”

Ko and Toshi exchanged a puzzled look. A sharp shape cut through the rain. It was Kocho Aida. Uncaring of the downpour, her focus was on Toshi. Her lips moved and he understood and followed her into the school. Ko remained as uncertain as ever.

Toshi followed Kocho Aida into the IT department. It was a place he only discussed with his classmates; not once had they allowed him inside. He imagined pornographic posters, energy drink and video games. Instead he saw piles of computers and broken electronics.

Akira and Hideo swung on their seats. Their expressions were of genuine ambivalence. Toshi wondered if it were their default expression but said nothing. Their stares pierced him but thankfully the returned to their PC’s. A deathly blue glow illuminated their frames; he knew instantly why Aida had called him in.

“Toshi, please understand.” said Aida. Her voice was almost pleading. “I know about PMR.”

He nodded. Suddenly he felt as though his darkest secret were common knowledge.

“We’re close. We want to stop him.” continued Aida. “You’re familiar with him, aren’t you?”

It wasn’t like Kocho Aida to submit to local rumour but perhaps fact trumped this. Toshi nodded numbly and a gleam of triumph shone in her eyes. Instantly, he felt a welling of sadness inside as he saw the source of her recent sadness.

“We couldn’t find much. Damn virus site.” groaned Hideo.

Akira spoke as Hideo jammed the keyboard angrily.

“We found a weird advert or something. It was a logo for the ‘Shione Corporation’. Remember, that Enron clone from the 1990’s?” he said, looking over at Aida. She instead was focused on Toshi who was scratching his left arm.

“Is it true your laptop is still with Detective Orikasa?” she asked. Toshi nodded sadly and she silently cursed. All windows of opportunity were closing and she knew it. Overhead, the lights flickered ominously causing them all to look up.

“That ain’t good. What if it fries my computer?” Hideo muttered.

A familiar spidery font crawled across their monitors. Toshi trembled as he wiped a film of sweat from his forehead. Aida reached out to him but he receded from her touch.

Stop it.

Akira snarled. His long hair flicked as he shook his head.

“Fucking hacker. I wish I could-“ he said before his words were punctuated with a wet choking sound. He shook violently as Hideo began freaking out.

“Akira, what the Hell?” he screamed. He grabbed Akira by his jacket as though he were trying to drag him back to life. Blood poured from his eyes and mouth in a fusillade but this did not repel him. His hands soaked and his begging punctuated by sobs, Hideo turned to Aida in desperation but she could offer no solution. She reluctantly raised her hand at his face; the dark claret of his blood began converging from his eyes to his mouth.

“Aida, Aida HELP ME!” his voice pierced her. As the electronics sputtered and shrieked behind them, he took off with a clumsy canter. His blood trailed behind him in thick droplets.

“Kocho Aida…” whispered Toshi as he stumbled forward. Aida barely caught him in time but her nurturing instinct was strong. He wasn’t about to fall from her grasp. As she scrambled for her cell phone, the rain beat down on the window panes harder than ever.

The End

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