Whispers and hooded figures flashed in and out of Akiara’s mind as she swayed in and out of consciousness. The cold, metal sheet upon which she lay gave her much discomfort and for whatever reason, she was unable to move. Her heart began to thud and a feeling of panic overwhelmed her, only for her mind to fall into a pit of darkness. Perplexed by this strange dream world, her past experience already forgotten, the darkness disappeared and her mind flickered between several different places but she failed to remember the details. This state continued for what felt like an eternity and she could swear that at one point she heard a sharp meow. Eventually everything faded away and among blank periods, dreams of Suki floated throughout her mind. A lush, green field of grass appeared before her and she leaped through its soft embrace with a heart full of joy. Stopping momentarily to lick her paws, a strange jarring sound came to her attention. The sound was harsh and increased in volume until it was almost overbearing and the dream world abruptly fell apart.
Waking up to the beeping of her alarm clock, Akiara groggily reached over and turned it off without a second thought. Unwilling to get up just yet, Akiara lay in bed and tried to remember the strange events from the previous night. She remembered heading out, but had no recollection of returning home. Perhaps she had just felt too exhausted to remember. Even as she tried to grasp at the memories of the nights dreams, they quickly escaped her grasp and flew just out of reach.
Giving up on remembering, she glanced over at the clock and was surprised to find that she still had a couple of hours before she had to get up for school. Perplexed as to why her alarm was triggered so early and unable to return to sleep, she decided to get up anyway. Escaping from her warm cocoon, she flicked the lights on and scooted out of bed, not noticing the clump of cat hair that fell from her shoulders. Getting dressed didn’t take long, nor did her morning routine so she was ready to begin her day within a matter of minutes. Stepping into the kitchen, she was instantly met by a ball of fur which came barreling into her. She thought that, for a moment, the word “food” had been uttered but that thought quickly escaped her. Bending down for a quick cuddle with Suki after laying out his meal, then spending a good 5 minutes brushing his hair off herself, she began preparing her own. The miso soup just needed warming up and the rice, as well as the other items, didn’t take long for her to prepare. A delicious smell began to fill her home as the food was set on plates, and a grumble escaped her stomach.
Setting out her meal, she grabbed one of her books that had been lying on the table and read throughout the course of her meal. With an hour still remaining after she’d finished, Akiara spent the time flipping through class notes and reading her book as the morning sun began to peak its rays through her window. Her mind drifting away into a sea of clouds, she almost missed the time when she was supposed to leave; saved by a stray ray of sunlight that poked her right in the eye. Quickly skimming through the last couple pages of her book, she dropped it on her desk and grabbed her bag on the way out of her room. Reaching the entryway, she slipped on her shoes and made to head outside but before she closed the door, she turned and waved to Suki. She was almost certain that she heard a faint “Goodbye” but already short on time, she didn’t put much thought into it.
The sweet smell of spring still lightly embraced her and the distant mountains cleared her mind of any of her previous worries. Walking through familiar scenery, Akiara’s mind began to drift away and her body went into autopilot, following the path she knew so well. She momentarily hesitated at the street crossing, quadruple checking for any vehicles before she made her way across and even stopping at the other side to quickly glance around her. Continuing her trek, it didn’t take long for her school to appear in front of her and the masses of students that made their way towards the same location. Normally, Akiara would continue inside without a second thought, but one thing gave her pause and left her feeling confused. There seemed to be a very thin mist twirling around the people near her. It was hard to notice and only somewhat appeared when she focused on it. Reaching up, she tried to grasp one of the strands that strayed near her, but her fingers passed right through as if nothing was there at all. The strand didn’t move, as mist would, nor did it feel any different than the surrounding air.
The thin fog was more muddled when people were grouped together and very thin when there were just a couple of students in an area. Completely befuddled, she turned to the person next to her and asked, “It’s kind of misty today, huh?”
The guy looked up from his phone before glancing around and said, “I’m not quite sure what you mean? The weather is completely clear today.”
“You don’t see anything?”
“Well, there are some petals blowing in the breeze but I definitely don’t see any mist.”
The guy left with a puzzled look on his face, not interested in staying and talking more with her. Akiara stood in place for a moment trying to understand what was going on. The thing fog blended beautifully with the mountains and the petals that occasionally twirled through the air. It was unaffected by the wind and only seemed to follow people, snaking along behind them. Her pondering was interrupted by her phones furious vibrations. Snapping out of her daze, she checked her phone and saw a string of texts from Hinako.
“Hey, where you at?”
“Class is starting in 10 minutes. Are you coming?”
“AkIaRa WhErE aRe YoU??!”
Stuck between a grin and a worried expression, Akiara made a beeline through the now almost empty schoolyard and into the building. Switching shoes at a record pace, she ran upstairs as if her life depended on it. Taking a sharp turn, she caught sight of her classroom and came to a dead halt right outside of the door. Giving herself a moment to catch her breath, she entered the room.
Most students were still chatting with one another and a few looked her way, giving her a small wave. Returning the gesture, she made her way over to her seat and plopped down into it, still exhausted from her sprint. Looking over at her, Hinako gave a concerned look and asked, “Are you doing ok? It’s not normal for you to arrive so late.”
“I’m ok for the most part. I’ve just been having the strangest day, which all started with a wild dream that I had.”
Akiara told Hinako of her dream, or at least what she remembered, and the strange fog that seemed to be everywhere. When she got to the part with the mist, Hinako said it might have been due to her restless night. Agreeing with her, Hinako made her promise to go straight to bed as soon as she returned home. A lack of sleep could end up making her really sick. Finally agreeing with her friend for once, she promised to do just that and began preparing her notes right as their teacher walked in.
Class went by normally, or as normally as it could with strings of mist floating around the classroom. While she didn’t notice any from her classmates, unless she focused on them, it would almost always be in her sight as she’d stare at the teacher. It was hard to believe that a lack of sleep could cause something like this to happen, but going to sleep earlier than usual wouldn’t hurt.
As class wrapped up for the day and everyone began packing their bags, Hinako passively asked, “Hey, do you want to stop by our favorite cafe on the way home today? I don’t have club and I’ve been craving some bubble tea.”
“Yeah, I would love to!”
“Awesome! It isn’t a replacement for sleep, but perhaps it will help a bit. Plus you can give me your overdue recommendation for what I should read next.”
Letting out a small chuckle, Akiara scooped up her bag and the two left the school. The trip to the cafe didn’t last long, as the cafe owners knew it would be popular with students so they positioned it within a couple of minutes from the school. Heading in, the lively atmosphere brought back nostalgic memories from all the times they had visited in the past. They both ordered bubble tea and sat by the window, spending just about an hour idly chatting with one another after which they each said their goodbyes and made their own way home. As autopilot began to engage itself, Akiara suddenly remembered that she’d just finished her last book and needed a replacement. Making a sharp u-turn, she backtracked to her family’s bookstore.
Entering and giving a wave to Itsuki, the manager, she spent some time browsing the familiar shelves until she found what she was looking for. Taking a moment to flip through the pages and take in comforting smell of a new book, she dropped it inside her bag and made a note of which book she would be taking. Since the bookstore was owned by her family, she just made a note of which book she was taking so it could be removed from their catalog. Obviously she couldn’t make a habit out of taking books as it would only end up hurting her family, but the occasional book was fine.
The walk home was very pleasant as the sun’s gentle rays warmed her back and the tall mountains, combined with the pink sakura blossoms, made for a scene right out of a painting.
Before she knew it, she had made her way through the gate and up to her front door. Unlocking it and stepping inside, she almost instantly spotted Suki curled up in the corner of the stairs, basking in the sunlight.
Passively thinking “what a lazy cat”, she just about had a heart attack when a voice responded, “no you.”