Part 6 of the "Tilt Girl" series.
Toshiko Mochizuki woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. This had been happening regularly since her teenage daughter Shinobu had run away from home when she learned that both her father and older brother were gay. Toshiko had been spending her days on the phone and in her Citroën, frantically searching for any clue regarding Shinobu's whereabouts. Three weeks of exhausting effort had turned up only false leads, frustration and disappointment. Toshiko had lost her little girl.
Something felt wrong. Toshiko shut her eyes. Yes, something was terribly wrong; she could feel it. A huge group of airplanes -- big ones, with their lights turned off for stealth -- was flying across the sea towards Japan. (Toshiko could "feel" what she wasn't supposed to since she was a child, but she had decided not to tell others about it after seeing an aunt with similar abilities taken away in an ambulance and never coming back.)
Something terrible was about to happen.
She intuitively thought about Shinobu. Schoolteachers always said the girl was "dreamy," but as her mother Toshiko knew that whatever it was that her daughter dreamed about, it allowed her to make surprisingly down-to-earth decisions, as if she had an older, more-experienced advisor living in her head. Toshiko thought that by now Shinobu would be running low on money and would have found a way to keep herself warm and fed while requiring minimal labor.
Toshiko suddenly realized that Shinobu was staying with her older brother at his apartment near Tsukuba University. It was obvious: there, she'd have a place to stay and free food. And, Toshiko knew that Shinobu was very close to her older brother with or without his homosexuality, and that Shinobu had the ability to exercise enough control over her brother to keep him from calling about his sister's presence.
Toshiko picked up the phone. To her surprise, the line was dead.
Shinobu Mochizuki was sleeping in her older brother Yoshimitsu's closet. She'd been living there for a couple of weeks now; the teenager had run away from home after she learning that both her father and older brother were gay. Her choice of sleeping in her brother's closet (instead of, say, on his suede couch) was a reflection of her desire to be near him and to be away from him. It was also important that she'd have access to a well-stocked refrigerator.
Shinobu was awakened by a sound, or rather, a low rumble she'd never felt before. It rattled the floor, the walls, the wire coat hangers. It was getting stronger, and it was obviously man-made.
She turned to her iPhone to see if anybody had something to say about it on Twitter. To her surprise, she couldn't link up to the web. The "No Service" message in the upper left-hand corner of the touchscreen scared her, for she had not seen it since she moved into her brother's closet. It told her something out of the ordinary was in progress.
Enamored by the first Mission: Impossible movie, Shinobu had as a young girl developed an internal Ethan Hunt simulator that she would turn on from time to time. The simulator turned her into the overconfident secret agent played by Tom Cruise.
The Ethan Hunt simulator told Shinobu this:
The work of agents, probably. Somebody's trying to mess with the infrastructure. They usually knock out communication channels first.
Shinobu stepped out of the closet. Her brother was asleep in his bed, probably dead tired after a day at the gymnasium.
The rumbling was coming from outside, so Shinobu put on her pea coat and stepped out onto the veranda.
The noise was deafening. It was engine noise, and it was coming from above. Shinobu was astonished to see silver bombers fill the night sky. There were hundreds of them, each with four propeller engines beneath their wings. Shinobu watched in horror as buildings on different parts of the Tsukuba University campus exploded. Mixed with the sound of engines and explosions were emergency vehicle sirens and screams of horror and pain.
It's called "strategic bombing." Pretty soon there'll be a counterattack.
A trio of fighter planes flew out of nowhere and fired their missiles and cannons. A couple of the bombers exploded mid-air; one lost a wing and knifed into a nearby supermarket.
Shinobu felt the heat of the explosions and fires in her face. Shreds of the exploded bombers landed around her: metal, glass, wiring.
She felt something wet and warm cling to her nose. When she held it between her fingers, she saw that it was a piece of flesh, slightly charred.
Shinobu understood that hundreds of people were dying in the air and on the ground. But she didn't know where the bombers came from, and for what reason.
It's happened before.
Shinobu thought about the B-29 raids of World War II. All four of her grandparents went through them, and she hated having to listen to their stories because they were repeated hundreds of times. And as a child of a peaceful age, Shinobu just couldn't relate to the concept of war.
And it's happening right now.
Yes, and it wasn't fear that Shinobu was feeling. It was something else. She tried with all her might to come to terms with a world that now tilted in a way she couldn't have imagined only months before.
Anything can happen.
With a loud splat a body landed on the verandah's outer wall. It was missing both legs and the lower half of its torso. And, it wasn't dead yet.
Shinobu took off its helmet (it had a sticker with a pair of white wings and writing in a language she couldn't read) and saw that it was a girl about the same age as her.
When their eyes met, the dying girl smiled, as if she had always wanted to meet Shinobu.
The girl tried to say something but could only produce a gurgle; she then stroked her hair back and took off one of her earrings to give to Shinobu.
It was a crude, handmade Hello Kitty earring; when Shinobu saw it it made her cry. Shinobu put it on, and in return put one of her black lucite spider earrings on the girl's ear.
The girl smiled and gently carressed Shinobu's cheeks. When Shinobu cupped her mouth over the girl's, the girl tangled her tongue around Shinobu's.
Shinobu would later say she never felt warmer. But, the girl's life was fading fast.
Shinobu let out a yell when the girl's body fell from the verandah.
It took Toshiko three hours to drive from Urayasu to Tsukuba. It was a crazy drive; the cell phone, GPS and radio were dead, the highways were blocked and she drove against waves of propeller engine bombers from who-knows-where, which in turn were met by sleek fighters that picked them out of the sky.
Toshiko guessed (correctly, it turned out) that very few of the ancient bombers would make it to Tokyo, the capital. Toshiko turned up a Glenn Gould cassette on her Citroën's stereo to forget the bombs and bomber fuselages that were falling and exploding around her.
Toshiko tried to focus on the image of a tiny Canadian man hunched over a grand piano. He wouldn't care if war broke out around him; neither would she.
When she finally made it to Yoshimitsu's apartment building near Tsukuba University, she ran up the the flight of stairs (the elevators were dead) and knocked sternly on Yoshimitsu's door. The door was opened by a very drowsy Yoshimitsu. Toshiko was aghast -- and in a way, tickled -- when she learned that her son had slept through the bombings and didn't know that they had occured.
Toshiko found Shinobu on the verandah, sitting on a white plastic lounge chair, wearing her pea coat. When Toshiko asked her little girl if she was all right, she nodded.
Toshiko saw that Shinobu had been crying for a long time. But she seemed . . . stronger than she had last seen her. Had she found something important during the time she was away?
We're going home, said Toshiko.
Shinobu nodded again and went inside.
As she drove both of her children back to Urayasu, Toshiko noticed that Shinobu kept touching her right earlobe, which was hidden beneath her hair.
Somebody had given her an earring, perhaps?
When she asked Shinobu about it, the teenager replied with a radiant smile.