In The Fox-Witch's Wake, Part 1: Memory's Oblivion




Chapter 2: Strange Visitors

Honoka opens her shoe locker and notices a glint in the dark. She takes her shoes out, and flips them over an open palm.

Thumb tacks dropped out. Four in each. She chuffs smugly, speaking her thoughts out aloud. "Thanks for the stationary!"

"You're welcome." Scowled the senior in the distance, slowly striding towards the juniour. She leans an elbow against the shoe locker over Honoka's head, pressing her full body against the lockers.

"Little Sarada Honoka, was it?" She leans in, completely entrapping Honoka from leaving. Surrounding students walk away brisk and silent before the confrontation, afraid of causing any attention-catching ripples of their own.

"Lives at Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki 882-1101? Right above Moriyaki Grocery store, to be precise, where your own mother owns and lives in? Because your family is too poor to afford a normal house?"

Honoka says nothing as Yamada Saeko's strands of non-regulatory-conforming dyed hair catches in her face.

"And poor Mister Sarada! Wasted much of his life in a thankless job as a computer intern at a small office in the middle of nowhere to support the family, trapped at a small branch of Yamada Accounting? No prospects, no future. Wouldn't it be terrible if he was… tragically let go of? Or would it be a breath of fresh air for him, I wonder?"

Saeko recoils as a palm flies towards her face, less than an inch from striking her. Honoka gives nothing but a resolute stare.

"Mischievous evildoer! Your attempts to threaten I, Sarada Honoka, amount to nothing!"

"You little brat…" Saeko shoots a look to the end of the locker rows for directions. Her female lackeys wave casually towards her, then point towards the prefects standing to the opposite, huddled together for courage before the bully-queen of the school.

"No loitering! To classes, please."

Saeko hisses and dismounts from the shoe lockers, not before leaving a parting spit across Honoka's.

"I'm just getting started, damn you."

Honoka nonchalantly wipes her locker dry, and sticks a tongue out towards Saeko.

I'm Sarada Honoka, and I'll never be scared!

"Ne, ne, everyone," Misaki skips ahead of her friends and turns about to face them, "Have you heard?"

Mizuka lowers her girl's magazine, her ogling of the hottest in-season Jpop boy-gang interrupted. "What is it, Misaki-chan?"

"TV crews are all over town!"

"What, you mean all those vans? You sure they're not just yakuza coming to visit the local pachinko parlor?"

Misaki stamps her feet petulantly. "Iiiiiyeeee! No way! I've seen what they've been doing myself! They come in from the vans, but they're going all over town and talking to everyone they see! What do you think, what do you think? Are they trying to scout for talent? Are they preparing for a show being shot in Takachiho?"

Misaki strikes a pop star pose, flashing V-signs before each eye. "Idol Misaki's debut begins, here!"

"What if…" Both girls turn towards Honoka. "What if they're looking for Miss Fox?"

A noticeable pall fell over Mizuka and Misaki's expressions. Those two never did quite get over how the Fox Witch of Takachiho took their wishes and monkey-pawed them into unrecognizable disasters.

Mizuka wipes her temple nervously before the shadow of the kitsune who went on to become the local town nuisance. "That… can't be, Mishio-san has been gone for over a month! Why would they suddenly show up now of all times?"

Misaki agitatedly shakes her arms. "That's right! This can't be anything to do with her! So please, let's find out!"

Mizuka groans and covers her face up to her nose with her magazine. "But I want to just go home…"

"Pleaaaaaase? Just today? Let's investigate together! Just today, then I won't bother you both about it any longer!"

Mizuka groans, and relents. "Fine."

Misaki jumps and cheers. "This way! I saw one of the vans headed this way!"

Along the road and a dirt path for a shortcut, the trio soon came across one of these mysterious vans. It is painted white and seemed ordinary, and it appeared to have the logo of a prefectural broadcasting corporation across its body. The three girls crowded behind a corner, peering their heads out one below another.

"See? I told you they're going to do a show! Wait, isn't this Usui-kun's house? They're going to interview him first? Unfair!"

Honoka remains wary. "Why would the windows need to be tinted completely black? What's there to hide?"

"Their camera equipment is probably light-sensitive… Quiet!" Mizuka shushes the other two into clamming up. "Someone's coming out!"

True to Mizuka's warning, the door slides open and two individuals of unremarkable appearance get out. A cameraman and an interviewer lady in casual attire, both wearing corporate caps. They buzz the doorbell, and an elderly male answers the door, calmly striding out with cane in hand.

Mizuka looks to Misaki and Honoka. "Usui-kun's grandfather."

"Hello. What do you need?"

"Good evening, sir! I am Mochizuki Suko and this is Orio Dai! We are visiting this beautiful town on behalf of our show on local legends, and we would like to ask: Do you believe in the Fox-Witch of Takachiho?"

"Honoka-chan! You really should put an ice pack over that eye!"

"I will, when I've got some ice…" Honoka rubs her left eye, darkly shadowed over with a throbbing bruise. Mizuka gives it a leer.

"Did you really trip and hit your eye? It seems… too precise…"

"Why am I the only one with nothing to do? Suddenly getting fired, not even getting severance pay… Businesses have vacancies, but no one will give me something to do! CEO's bitch-daughter with her yellow hair, giving me that filthy smile along with the pink slip… Glug, glug, glug, Aaah… Makes me angry! Don't you both dare look down on me, you hear?!"

Where did all the alcohol come from? Beer sitting on father's car roof, bottles of cheap wine at the front door, everyday he comes back with more alcohol than he could possibly buy…

"Honoka-chan?" Honoka snaps back to reality, seeing Misaki up in her face.

"Oh! Sorry, sorry… Hero-in-training Sarada Honoka makes accidents, too!" It worked for the moment; Misaki's concern changed back to amusement.

"Honoka-san!" It was Mizuka's turn to cry out in shock. "Look! Isn't that-"

A desk, sitting outside their class. Honoka's desk. Its hinged lid bulges wide open, its inner compartment crammed full of sticky food wrappers and trash. Drawn all over its surface in permanent marker ink was a series of vulgar symbols and unmentionable insults.

Honoka turns out to the distant hallway, hearing cheers and high-fives…

I am Sarada Honoka. Adversity is the constant companion of heroes, and a true hero… A true hero always rises to the occasion!

"I knew it!" Honoka hissed under sharp breaths, placing a hand over her tightening chest. "They were interested in Miss Fox!" Mizuka shushes Honoka with a tenseness in her own breath.

Usui's grandfather cocks his head, and gives his interviewers a perplexed look. "I'm sorry… What was that? My hearing isn't quite what it used to be. Could you repeat the question?"

"Of course! Do you believe in the-"

The old man flings his cane upon the ground with great gutso, his facade of a calm demeanour broken.

"Do I believe in that DAMN nuisance raising my blood pressure?! Of course I do!"

Miss Suko and Mister Dai didn't even flinch. Something about that absence of body language did not seem right to Honoka's intuition. Mizuka and Misaki however were too busy suppressing their chortles at the comical scene, that being the grandfather pumping his arms up and down.

"She upturned my garbage cans to look for trash! She dug through my garden and uprooted my radishes!"

"Oh, my." Exclaimed Mizuka with a deadpan tone. "That certainly sounds like Mishio-san."

"She cursed my grandson to shirk his studies!"

"Nnnno," Misaki waves dismissively, "I'm pre-tty sure Usui-kun's just lazy in general."

"She called my cat a 'baka-neko' among other insults, then chased him through half of the town announcing out aloud how she'll kick his bottom so hard he'll be sent to the moon!"

"Actually that does raise a good question: Why DOES Mishio-san hate cats?"

"Um," Honoka looks to her friends above her, "I think I heard her say something about disliking bakeneko yōkai, but-"

"That trouble-making no-good fox witch can go to hell for all I care-"

"He's a believer. Box him."

The van's front passenger door swings open and a third figure leaps out, bearing a mysterious black box in his hands. Unlike 'Miss Suko' and 'Mister Dai''s casual wear, this figure was dressed from head to toe in strange garb that had a darkly-professional look to it, looking like some sort of riot cop yet not quite.

"Hey! Hey, what are you doing-" The old man mumbles, any cry for help suppressed by a strip of duct tape slapped over his lips.

"Mmnph?! Hmmmphhmmmm-" 'Mister Dai' locks his arms in place with unnatural speed as the shadowy third figure removes a lid from beneath the box and crams it right over his head.

A near-blinding scintillating wave of light erupts from the box's seams and inscriptions across its surface, forcing Honoka to wince and turn away. Strange strobing ribbons of light worm their way across her vision, almost appearing to slither, searching for mind-morsels before finally fading away against the laws of reality.

The box is lifted and the tape is ripped off, Usui's grandfather looking as if a sudden weight fell upon his thoughts…

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