Dying is like a brick wall.
That’s what I thought anyway. It’s the end. There’s no afterlife, no transcendence, no ghosts floating around because they couldn’t let go of an imperfect world. Maybe there’s reincarnation but that’s essentially a new life anyway.
Dying is the end of the road. Some people’s legacies last a little longer but every name fades out of existence eventually.
Dying is a lost chance. Saying goodbye after the fact is just for the people left behind.
Dying is a natural part of human life.
Or it is until the Society of the Eight Gods of Fortune get involved.
I met my brother near the start of the cherry blossom season in 2004.
It’s an odd way to say it, but it’s the truth. We didn’t know about each other until just before our grandmother died. And the day she died was my one and only meeting with her.
She’s our grandmother from our mother’s side. I live with my father. ‘Nii-san though, he lived with our mother and I’d always thought she was dead. I hadn’t known about him, either.
He hadn’t known about me, but at least he’d known his parents are divorced.
Poor ‘tou-san got the short end of that stick from both sides, but we sorted that out. We had that much time at least.
Then Nii-san died, and that was the end of that time. The cherry blossoms were still in bloom in some parts of Japan.
It was all related to how we met that day.
The bombshell put him in an awkward position, and I can’t really blame him. He tried to follow through anyway. He did, technically.
But he’d been so anxious about it he’d slipped on the stairs chasing me – or running away from me.
Traumatic amnesia or something. He doesn’t remember exactly. And it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that he hit his head. Which led to Kouji turning around and being swept into the chaos.
In the end, there was a concussion. And something called post-concussion syndrome to explain away the headaches and dizziness that came and went and then came back again. And both of those things were bad for balance and they could only be so careful after.
We weren’t careful enough.
The next time he fell and hit his head, he didn’t get back up again.
That chapter in my life opened and shut far too quickly, but one thing stuck out. It was over.
Until I found a panicking twelve year old Nii-san pacing in my room. ‘Can you see me?’ he asked desperately.
I could see him. Which made no sense because his funeral was two months short of ten years ago to the day.
I resigned myself to a hallucination. Until he managed to send an email from my computer and prove it wasn’t.
I guess I should count myself lucky he didn’t write anything too crazy to Takuya. And that he picked Takuya instead of… say, one of my university lecturers or something. Or Junpei. Junpei would have freaked out.
Not that he used his own name in the email to force the whole explanation.
But it proved he wasn’t an hallucination. That and the comments from my parents about things moving around. Kouichi is the one moving them. But only I can see him.
Unless he posts something online. Then everyone can see what he’s written.
It makes no sense at all.
But our time together was so short, I’ll take this extra time.
Day one is filled with excitement.
Day two, the melancholy settles in.
Or Kouichi’s, anyway. It’s business as usual for me. I even look perkier, according to both Izumi and Takuya. But Kouichi doesn’t come out of my room because no-one else can see him. He doesn’t use my email again. He doesn’t touch the social media, or the emulators that Takuya insisted on installing and I wound up keeping because, honestly, it’s cheaper than buying new game platforms all the time and it’s something to unwind and chat to him and Junpei about.
I thought Kouichi would have plenty to occupy himself with.
He was sitting on a corner of my bed, exactly where I’d left him that morning. And not a single thing was out of place.
I didn’t get it. Honestly, I didn’t get it. People who died didn’t get second chances, so why is he just wasting his?
For a moment, I’d forgotten there was ten years in between. I’d changed a lot in ten years. Went from a fifth-grader to a university student. Back then, we didn’t have a clue what our futures would look like.
I’m living it now. He isn’t.
‘I guess… we have a lot to talk about.’
‘Not really,’ Kouichi says. He’s just staring at the wall. Or through the wall. Or something.
In retrospect, it’s a good thing that slips out, but I’m not thinking that at the time. I’m just…confused. And a little hurt.
‘Ten years,’ Kouichi says quietly. ‘Ten terribly long years when all I could do was watch. And then suddenly, I can touch things. And you can see me. But nothing else has changed. And when will you be unable to see me again?’
Day three isn’t much different from day two from Kouichi’s perspective I imagine, but day four shows the fruits of our labour.
I hadn’t thought about it that way at all. That Kouichi might have hung around us, trying to touch us but being unable to. Or that he might have had dreams he hadn’t had the chance to fulfil. Or regrets he hadn’t had the chance to do something about.
But it’s the twenty-first century. The age of smartphones and the internet and social media sites and indie publishing. There are ways to exist just through the net. Ways to make one’s mark just through the net.
I know he drew. I know he wrote. I know he read so many books he’d run out with his school’s measly little collection.
He can do all those things on the internet. Read, write, draw and post under a pseudonym.
He tries it day four.
Day five is when I get to see the fruits of his labour.
He’s fast. Maybe it’s because it’s ten years’ worth of creativity pent up. Or maybe it’s not even creative. Maybe it’s things he’s seen along the way. Things he’s hung on to.
I don’t ask him. He looks peaceful working with the stylus. Or the keyboard and mouse.
I don’t tell Izumi why I borrowed the drawing pad and stylus from her. She doesn’t ask. Just expects it back some time this year, or I can pay for it. Maybe she’s teasing. Maybe she’s not.
If he’s here that long, I’ll definitely buy Kouichi his own. But for now, I just borrow it.
And maybe Kouichi still thinks it too, because he doesn’t ask why it says “Orimoto Izumi” in the corner.
Maybe he’s even seen it before.
Day six is the weekend, and unlike school, I don’t have classes at all on Saturdays. I sleep in. And then tease my brother into a little exhibit of his work.
He doesn’t blush and scramble to hide his pad like he did at first. Just like I don’t turn into an awkwardly stiff board. We’re comfortable today. It’s good.
I wish it can last.
But when Kouichi shows me what he’s been up to the past two days, I know it won’t.
He’s done some seemingly random things. Drawings or little vignettes illustrating places I’ve never been, and people I’ve never met. But he’s got two main projects. One I recognise from the news. The story of the Inokashira Park incident. And that professor’s death. And a girl carrying a weird gun around. There aren’t that may drawings. More words. Information he’s collected and collated. A story.
I scroll through it. I don’t understand it.
He shrugs and says he doesn’t either, but it’ll come together one day. ‘Too many people are searching for an explanation.’
I don’t understand him again.
It’ll be a long time before I truly get what he means that day.
His other project is far more familiar and understandable. It’s me. My life, from when I was twelve years old. Like a photo album but drawn they both lack something and have something more.
And another perspective, at that.
It’s like looking at my life through someone else’s eyes.
It is looking at my life through someone else’s eyes.
‘I still look twelve years old,’ Kouichi quipped. And he’s smiling.
This, I can understand.
Day seven starts out awkward, because Takuya shows up unannounced and plops onto my bed.
Luckily, Kouichi is on the desk chair at the time. But he’s got the drawing software open. He’s in the middle of drawing a white-clad man with a mask and waving what looks like an onusa. And there’s a spirit disappearing. And a phone with a picture on it, catching that moment in time. And blood: the price of bearing witness.
And Takuya knows full well I can’t draw and have (or had) absolutely no interest in the occult. So of course he stares at the screen and slowly goes: ‘what the heck?’
‘The consequences of showing up unannounced,’ I deadpan, though my heart is pounding away inside.
Of course, Takuya is stubborn as hell. And a dork. And surprisingly accepting of things that don’t make scientific sense and he’s doing a bachelor in sports coaching.
Kouichi uses the word processor to type out his responses. It works pretty well, in between us all doing other stuff.
Then they play each other on an online shooter. Kouichi is terrible at it, even if he can kick my butt in shoji.
Day eight we’re back at uni, and Kouichi’s working on posting random doodles under his pseudonym and elaborating on his main projects.
Day nine he begs me to call in sick.
I do it, and then he points to the open browser.
I blink at it. It’s the story of Kichijouji. The Inokashira Park Incident. The professor’s murder. The few other random people who turned up dead in the last nine days. It’s published now, where everyone can read it, and scrolled down to where I’d read up to last time, except now there’s more.
Of course there’s more. It’s published. It’s finished. It’s almost crazy how much he’s done in so short a time. How many sketches. How many words. Like the ideas were all in his head and I guess they were. My life, the way he’s seen it. And Kichijouji.
Until I read the end of the story, I didn’t understand at all what was so important about Kichijouji.
But I see it then. How those seemingly unconnected events come together. Different planes of existence in the same world for the dead and the living. Different frequencies. A broadcasting tower that’s changed the frequencies nine days ago, making it possible for the dead to interact with the living but it’s imperfect: misaligned. He’s lucky he’s one of the few people in tune enough to be able to see his brother. Or maybe it’s because they’re twins and share a frequency that transcends life and death.
And then there’s the one minute to a day rule which really doesn’t make a difference to us because Kouichi died ten years ago. But the victims of the Inokashira Park Incident have a chance.
I read the names again. Gamon Yuuta. Moritsuka Shun. Hashigami Sarai. Aikawa Miyu. Sumikaze Touko. And Narusawa Ryouka.
Those six people plan to destroy the tower.
That means destroying… this.
Part of me wants to jump on a train right now.
Another part of me knows I shouldn’t.
‘What will happen to you?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know,’ he replies. He sounds like he’s been crying. Maybe he has, but his eyes aren’t red and there are no tear stains on his face.
My towel is scrunched up though.
We spend the day together, in the city. We order takeaway. Talk and walk and eat and talk some more.
It’s meaningless and meaningful at the same time.
It’s our second chance to say goodbye.
Day ten and my room is empty.
I know it will be. It still hurts.
His death is a brick wall I’ve run into twice now, and it hurts more the second time.
Kouichi fell and hit his head twice too. The second time killed him.
What is it with the price of second chances?
Occultic;Nine is what he calls it. I know why. Everyone should know why. It’s in the story. It’s the name one of the main characters decided on.
I wonder how many people know it’s the truth.
The story is read, commented on, blogged and reblogged and tweeted and retweeted and it explodes on social media, helped along.
It keeps on winding up on a site called Kiri Kiri Basara. Mostly by merit of the same person. Some guy unoriginally labelled as “admin”.
Then, one day, there’s a private message from him. ‘For the author of Occultic;Nine,’ I read aloud. Following that is a series of numbers. And then, almost as an afterthought: ‘it was way scarier and more confusing at the time, you know. I guess being dead for ten years sort of numbs you.’
The next morning, there’s another message, this time sent from my account – or Kouichi’s account, rather. ‘Thank you, Gamon Yuuta-kun,’ is all it says.
The following morning, another message. ‘You had more than 255 people watching you.’
Why 255, I wonder? Wasn’t the number of deaths in the Inokashira park… actually, I don’t remember anymore.
In the end of Kouichi’s story, they’d changed anyway. How many people had gotten a true second lease in life? How many people remained dead?
I didn’t care to check myself. Kichijouji was far away from Shibuya.
That afternoon, there’s a reply. ‘I know that now. But most of you didn’t immortalise me, you know. And Ririka-san doesn’t even count!’
And then another one, seconds later. ‘Isn’t it great you can make stories even after you’ve died? What are you going to write about next? Fantasy? Or another true story most of the world won’t believe?’
And then a third message. ‘By the way, live person reading these. Aren’t you going to tune your radio?’
It’s 2015 and I don’t own a radio. Few people do. But radio stations are still a thing. So they exist.
I go out and buy one. A proper old one, with dials. It costs more than I’d expect but I get it anyway. Who knows. I might’ve even gotten ripped off in the process. But it took a while to find a place that sold them and I’m not looking for another.
Yep. I’m following the half-baked instructions in a guy who’s supposed to be dead. I checked his name at least. Still well and truly dead. Even if Kiri Kiri Basara is still functioning and he’s apparently the guy who runs it.
Must be to do with the frequencies. I’m no physics major. I don’t really get it.
But if it means I can still talk to my brother. If it means he won’t be completely stonewalled by this world like all before, then I’ll try.
And I fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with the dials until I think I’ve got the number.
There’s static. Lots of static. And then. ‘Hey.’
It’s the cracks in the wall. Or the window.
‘Hey,’ I reply.