Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ A Black Flower In The Snow ❯ The Hollow Candy Shop ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Author’s note: In the previous page, Toushiro called Amai “Amai-chan”... I had her calling him Toushiro-senpai as well, but deleted it. I’ve found that remembering who calls who what suffix to be too challenging for my oh-so-western brain, so instead, I’m just going for last name when they’re unfamiliar or addressing someone to be respected such as captains and teachers, and first names with friends and relatives, and nicknames for people who are rude or very close. Also it seemed like a very weaboo thing to have just the suffix instead, with people running around calling each other senpai or baka or something along those lines… I’ll try to keep everything in english. Hopefully with my writing style, you can just tell who’s close and who’s not. Thanks for understanding :) Don’t be afraid to email me any constructive criticism either, I don’t bite! Hard, anyways… most of the time… :’)

After school, I did exactly as he said and went to the address the card had provided. It was a little hard to find as it was hidden in a housing district, but I made it. I watched from afar as a little redheaded boy, probably ten years old, bullied a little girl with pigtails that was about the same age. It didn’t seem like a scary place at all, and though a bit run down, it looked safe enough for a teenage girl to approach. Just in case, I had left the address I was going to on my note on the fridge at home, but it looked to be unnecessary as a tall, muscled man came between the children and broke up the fight. A black cat wandered around the group of people, meowing loudly at the children. Upon seeing the feline, I marched forward, determined to pet it if nothing else.

The little girl turned to look at me and blinked away her tears. “Oh, a customer!” She said in her quiet voice, and hopped out of the way of the door. The man ushered the boy out of the way and bowed slightly to me as I approached, bringing on a discomfort I knew well.

“Is Urahara Kisuke around here..? He said I could drop by for… uhm… lessons about… ah…” I was distracted by the cat, which came to sit in front of me. I smiled and patted it’s head before I looked back to the man. “Well, spiritual guidance, I guess. Is he here?”

“The manager is probably asleep.” He stated, his face static. “I will go wake him for you.”

“Oh no, please, if he wants to rest-”

“No need, I’m awake already.” Urahara called out from inside the store, yawning as he walked towards us. “I see you’ve met Yoruichi. I hope she didn’t bite you.”

I blushed and hid my hands behind my back. “Oh, no, she’s a good kitty. I hope I was allowed to pet her-I mean-uh-”

He stared at me, baffled for a moment, then laughed. “It’s not me who decides that, she’d tell you if she didn’t want you to. Anyways, we have work to do, right?” He waved for me to follow.

Feeling brave, I scooped up the cat before following him, and Yoruichi purred and allowed me to scratch her cheeks as I kicked off my shoes and followed him to a room with a short table a tea set all ready for us to relax at. He sat on the opposite side and motioned for me to follow his lead, which I did, cuddling the cat on my lap as I did. The animal sniffed at my hand and batted at my fingers playfully for a moment before deciding now was as good of time as any to take a nap. I stroked her fur as I prepared to have a lengthy conversation with the blonde salesman medium.

“You must have a lot of questions. I’ll answer them for you now, before we begin.” The man told me, pouring the tea for us. He added cream and sugar for me without my asking, just the way I liked it.

“Well, I do, but… I don’t know where to start….” I bit my lip as I went over the previous day’s events.

“Start with when you first realized that there were such things as spirits, then, and we will go from there.” He suggested, now completely focusing his attention on me.

I shifted awkwardly at his stare, but luckily as it was only one person and I was already mentally prepared, it wasn’t as bad. “Well, I guess it would be… when my grandfather would take me to work.” I told him, staring at my steaming cup as I remembered. “He was a spiritual medium, like you, I suppose. He helped ghosts and their living families connect, helped the dead cross over by fulfilling their last wishes, and warned people if a bad spirit was somewhere nearby… people rarely listened to him, though, and most people thought it was fake. He took me with him sometimes, because he was caring for me while my parents worked and couldn’t afford a babysitter… I’d help him set up the candles and lay out the dead person’s belongings, take the customer’s coats… that sort of thing. He’d act like a telephone a lot of the time, but only for the ghosts. I guess I might have thought it was fake too, but…”

I glanced up to see his expression, worried that I might find a smirk and realize this was all a prank. To my surprise, though, he was completely serious, and didn’t have a stitch of doubt on his face. It was like he was hearing the most invaluable information ever; nothing about his posture or expression gave me any reason to think he was anything but the real deal. It was because of this that I was able to continue, and to my surprise, my social anxiety seemed to have disappeared once I had reached the level of sureness in the situation that I was at now.

“I saw them. The people. Some of them had their wounds showing, others looked perfectly normal… it was blurry, and I couldn’t hear them very well, but they were there. Later on I thought that maybe my childish mind made it all up, and I didn’t go with him to work at all once I was in school… but sometimes… I still see people. People that no one else really takes notice of. It could still be my imagination. I could just be making this all up in my head… but..!” I stopped and took a breath.

“It sounds like you’ve had these abilities for a long time, then.” Urahara stated, crossing his arms into his kimono sleeves. “And lately, what has been your experiences?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and pet the cat, calming myself before I continued. “My grandparents died recently… with my grandpa in particular, we wanted to stay in touch. He said he’d find me… and when he first died, I sensed him at the funeral, and I think I saw him looking around beside his coffin, but… he disappeared and I haven’t seen him since. And just a couple nights ago… I heard something. Something loud… it was scary. It hurt my ears.”

I shivered at the memory of the sound. The man nodded, like he was finally proving a theory he had had for months. “That sound… I know what it was. But once I tell you, your normal life will be over. Are you okay with that?” He asked, glancing up under the brim of his hat.

I nodded, too eager to solve the mystery of the noise, the disappearance, everything. He closed his eyes before he answered, and even the cat seemed to perk her ears and stiffen at the grave atmosphere the conversation had brought on. I felt like it almost took too long for him to answer, but it wasn’t in my nature to rush someone, especially when they were doing something for my benefit. He took in a short breath and finally, with as much finality as possible, answered.

“It was a hollow.”

I didn’t know what a hollow was, so naturally that was my next question. But even with this new word bringing on even more confusion, I could tell by the way the air went still that it was something that I didn’t want to come face to face with. Yoruichi rolled over on my lap and stretched one of her paws at a time, then rolled over twice more, like she just couldn’t be comfortable anymore. I rubbed her belly and ears, hoping to calm her down, but finally she got up and started pacing around the room, jumping onto the table then sitting in different spots until ending back in my lap over the next hour or so. Urahara told me all about the hollow-how they were bad spirits who needed to be exercised in order to become good spirits again, and how normal spirits, or “whole” spirits, needed an external force-a shinigami-to go to the spirit world. He told me about Heaven, which was also called Soul Society, and how the shinigami lived there. That was where the door I’d seen lead-but living people were not allowed there. Then he told me about what I wanted to say was Hell, but he assured me it was not. It is an in-between place, as he puts it, sort of like a Soul Society for the bad spirits. The Hollows live there, and only Hollows can get there. Hollows eat human souls and kill the innocent. Apparently I am more likely to be eaten than the average person, too, because of my ability to see ghosts. This information didn’t help put me at ease at all.

“What can you teach me that will help with any of this, then?” I asked finally, feeling the need to get up and pace around the room a bit.

“Everything. How to turn Hollow to good spirits. How to defend yourself. How to send good spirits to Soul Society. How to protect innocent people.” He sipped his tea, which I figured by now was cold. Mine still sat untouched in front of my seat. “But only if you are willing.”

I nodded and sat back down. “Of course I’m willing. If people are dying because of these bad spirits… and the bad spirits are suffering so much because of their uncontrollable evil… how can I sit here and not help? And if I’m more susceptible to Hollow’s appetites… what if my unborn brother is the same? I have to protect my family…”

“You have to be sure. The training is hard. Sometimes you will be hurt. Not to mention, it’s a thankless job with no benefits… are you still willing to learn to lay down your life for strangers?”

I hesitated, wanting to give him a 100% true answer. I had to word it properly-this was a big commitment. If what he was saying was true-which, for some reason, I believed it was with all my heart-it could kill me… worse than kill me, because my soul would just become part of the hollow rather than moving on until the day a shinigami killed it… which could be years, if the hollow was smart. I thought about what would happen if I died-how my family would react, the mess my room would leave behind, and how my brother would grow up knowing of me but not truly understanding why my parents were only half there some of the time. I shook my head of the disturbing image and balled my fists painfully.

“I am sure. I’m not saying I will be such a good person that I’d gladly sacrifice myself on any condition… I might even run away sometimes. But if I can help some people for now… and more when I get stronger… then that’s good enough, right?”

He paused, watching me. I figured he was used to people only giving one of two answers… hell yes or hell no. I shifted in my seat under his stare, wondering if I should elaborate even more. It’s not like I didn’t want to put my all into it… but if I ran sometimes, I could come back and fight another day, right? He’d told me about Zanpakuto-soul cutting swords, which are pretty much born with the shinigami, because it is actually a part of their soul. Apparently it has a name, three different forms (sealed, shikai, and bankai) and is the best way to kill a Hollow, purifying it’s soul. He showed me different tools he used to fight them, such as a giant metal bat, a bandaged gun type thing, and even demonstrated a thing called kido, which seemed like magic. He told me that he could teach me kido, and how to wield my own zanpakuto, after he taught me the basics and I received the weapon in the first place. It was fascinating… but he had also stressed the danger, and it had stuck with me.

I made a point of standing up and brushing myself off before continuing. “I’m ready for this… I will do my best, but I can’t lay my life down for a stranger. I can tell you that I am a hero who would do anything for people in need… but I’d be lying. I guess it’s your choice if you want to teach me, now, but then the people who I actually could help…” I imagined a person being swallowed whole by some strange creature and shivered.

“I’ll teach you.” He told me, sitting with his head bowed in thought. “On one condition.”

I cocked my head to the side in confusion. “Condition?”

He seemed serious again, but I didn’t pay much attention to the mood anymore-it had been far too serious for the past… glancing at a nearby clock I was stunned to realize it had been three hours. I still had to go home, cook supper, take a bath, do my schoolwork, feed the neighborhood strays on my deck, study for the upcoming test, do a load of laundry… my shoulders slumped slightly thinking of the amount of laundry I had allowed to pile up, but never the less, I was in no hurry to get home when I was being told such important things. His long pause, presumably for dramatic effect, wasn’t doing much for me with my head being so full and what not.

“The condition…” He glanced up with an almost sinister smile, but still help his allie’s aura. “You have to do me a favor one day-nothing big, but when I ask you to do it, you have to do it. Understood?”

I bit my lip. “Nothing big? How big is nothing big?”

“Oh, you know. A load of dishes might need to be washed… I might need a letter delivered… that sort of thing. A chore, really.”

I could see through the lie, but I knew it wouldn’t be life threatening if he put it like that, so I agreed-though I still felt a bit like I was signing away my soul. “Wonderful! Well, it’s pretty dark out now, though, so how about you hurry on home and help your family out, hmm?” He stood with a smile and ushered me out with a friendly smile, one which I could tell he reserved for his customers. “Please take care on your way home, and come back soon!”

I was out of the store and on the street in minutes. The shock of going from such a strong topic to being back in the real world was enough to keep my mouth shut long enough for him to wave goodbye, put on the closed sign, and shut the door on me. I blinked a couple times, wondering if I had dreamt all that, but the red headed kid from before staring at me with apprehension made that silly thought go away. He was looking at me like he was trying to figure out why I was such a special snowflake… which made me wonder the same thing myself, and I quickly walked away from the store towards my house before I could put myself down too much.

It’s not like I deserved the training he was going to give me. Hell, I probably didn’t deserve to even see the dead, even if it was faint. I sped up, my mind playing tricks on me with shadows moving behind fences and in the trees. Hollow… I hadn’t even seen one yet and I’d boldly said I would kill them to protect innocents… Kisuke probably ushered me out so fast because he thinks I’m an idiot. I thought this, but I was still sure I would go over after class the next day and make sure I got the training he’d offered. My cheeks heated as I tripped over a little rock and nearly fell on my face, shaking me out of my thoughts. I looked around nervously, suddenly feeling like someone was watching me, but quickly waved away the feeling as embarrassment and jogged home, careful to watch my step now.

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& #8220;Amai! You’re home!” My mother greeted, walking by the front door just as I got in.

“Welcome home!” My father called from the living room, out of sight.

I smiled and kicked off my shoes in the entranceway before following my mother to the couch, where she curled up beside my father. I plunked down beside her and looked up at the t.v, expecting the sports channel or some television drama series. Instead, it seemed like almost a cartoon, with a big goofy guy with big goggles and a mustache that didn’t suit him flying around with a staff, hitting nothing but air. “The spirits will always be with you!” He screamed at the camera, making it even more ridiculous when he crossed his arms and bent his fingers in a big fake laugh, or maybe he was impersonating a ghost. “BOHAHAHAHA!”

I jumped when my parents, upon seeing this, did the same thing, screaming “BOHAHAHAHA!”

“What the heck?” I asked, leaning away from them in case they had gone insane.

“It’s Don Kanonji! He’s a spiritual medium that fights bad spirits and sends them to heaven!” My mother exclaimed, smiling widely. “He’s very popular now!”

“Spiritual medium? …...Him?” I asked, comparing him to my grandpa, or Kisuke. He looked like a douche bag and a tool, at best.

“Yes! He’s the real deal.” My father agreed, holding up a little bobble head of the psychopath on his finger. “We’re huge fans of his.”

I shook my head and stood up before the craziness infected me too. “I’m going to go make supper now. Please return back to normal human beings before I come back.”

They laughed as I left, enthusing over the strange man as the commercials came on. I decided to make bean paste curry on rice tonight, and quickly set about washing, chopping, dicing, and steaming my ingredients. While the rice steamed, I ran up and grabbed my hamper, nearly slipping as I came back down the stairs with it, only to see that someone else had already put through a load and it was only half done. I stared at it for a second, a little annoyed, but set my hamper down and decided instead to take out the garbage.

The now cool air hit me as soon as I opened the door. I shivered and shut the door behind me, dragging a huge bag behind me. I tried to lift it, but it was too heavy, so I just prayed it wouldn’t rip open as I took it over the grass of my front lawn and to the street that would lead to our garbage collection pile. Frost was starting to gather on the grass around my house, which I found strange for how warm it was supposed to be around this time of year. I worried for my mothers plants in the yard, but there isn’t much anyone can do about that. Making my way down the street, I was a little put off by how little noise there was-usually you’d hear a dog bark, or a couple of people laughing, or hear the cicadas chirping away. I lugged the bag on top of two others once I reached the pile, letting out a little sigh of relief when nothing fell out the bottom.

A gush of wind came out of nowhere, nearly knocking me flat on my butt. I brushed my hair over my ears and looked skyward, confused with the strange weather. I thought I saw something… dark… big… in the sky, but it was probably my imagination. I frowned and squinted at the shadow. No, there was something there… it kept zig-zagging, getting closer to me, then way up into the air, left, right, towards me again, halfway down the block… my brows furrowed as I focused, getting a little headache. If it was a Hollow it would have attacked me already, so I wasn’t too worried, just confused. Was a spirit trying to signal me? It suddenly disappeared, almost shattering, and the whole image was gone. I frowned, but decided to head home-my mind was definitely playing tricks. I blamed Urahara for filling my head with monsters.

Once I was back in the house, I finished making supper and set the table. My mother was talking excitedly about how much the baby was kicking…it got more active when it tasted my food, she said. I put my hand on her belly and watched her take a bite of the supper. It was true-I felt a little hand or foot move around, and I smiled-my little brother would be here soon. His room wasn’t all set up yet, but we were ready for him. My mother had a bassinet all set up behind the counter of her work, and my father had an arrangement with a daycare that one of his co-workers wives owned that would let him take the little guy in on weekdays and weekends none of us could watch him. We had three baby monitors-one for their room, one for mine, and the other for the living room, so at home he’d always have someone watching out for him.

“We have an appointment tomorrow, actually. You should come along, Amai. Your baby brother’s last test… just to make sure everything is healthy and your brother can come home quickly after he comes out…” She rubbed her stomach thoughtfully. “We still need to think of a name, though. We have some suggestions, but…”

“What do you guys have as ideas so far?” I asked, picking at my food. I wasn’t really hungry, but I didn’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night and make something, either.

“Hiromitsu (Large light)... Arashi (Storm)… Eiji (Second born)... Natsuo (Birth of summer)...” My father listed off, his grin getting bigger with each name.

“Hisao (Story of life)... Yukio (Happy/fortunate boy)... Izumi (Spring)... Ren (Water lily)...” My mother continued, and I had to smile at the differences in the names they’d chosen.

“Hmm… well, those are good…” I agreed, but I had already secretly thought of a name for the little guy. “But I think that his name should be short, like mine, to match.”

“So Eiji?” My father asked, leaning forward with a grin of victory.

“Actually, I think what would fit him is Roka (White crest of the wave).”

They both stared at me, realizing how the name was such a strong mixture of the two types of names they’d listed. Strong, short, and still beautiful, which is how a boy’s name should be, in my opinion. I’d thought long and hard about it, and I was sure that they would agree.

“That name… is very nice.” My mother agreed, nodding.

“Definitely a good name for a boy. We’ll definitely think about it.” He agreed, then ate some food.

I smiled and popped a few more bites of food into my mouth. My own name means sweet taste, smell, voice, sweet child… basically, they named me in hopes I would be sweet and kind. I wondered vaguely if their wish had come true, but figured that it wasn’t my place to say if I was. They pondered my suggestion all through supper, talking later about the ocean and how we needed to go visit it and swim before the baby was born.

After supper I did the dishes, threw through my laundry, and headed up to my bathroom to brush my teeth. The black butterfly was there again, flying around, seemingly ignoring the light and flying in random patterns until it landed on my still-wet toothbrush. I frowned in slight disgust-nobody wants a bug on their toothbrush, even a beautiful one. I shooed it away with my hand, and it fluttered about, landing on my hand instead. When it did, I jolted back in surprise, but the insect hung on tightly-it could talk!

“All members of twelfth division, get back to your posts! Repeat: the subject is no longer an issue; back to your posts. Members of fifth division, back to your posts-” I shook off the butterfly and backed away from it, staring in shock.

“Did you just speak to me?” I demanded, waiting for the lady’s voice to come back. Silence.

I stared at it for a moment, but after the strangeness, it just fluttered about innocently, leaving out the bathroom window. I was shocked to see the window was closed. I rationalized that the butterfly must be a spirit, but I’d never heard of a spirit taking the form of a bug-it was weird. I clambered up on the counter so I could see outside, but the bug was gone. I shook my head until it hurt. Things were getting really strange.

“Amai! Are you in bed yet? You have school tomorrow!” My mom called from downstairs, probably seeing the light coming from my bedroom door.

“Almost! Just washing my face!” I called back, and turned on the water, splashing my face with ice cold water. Usually it would be warm to help me get to sleep, but I needed to be shocked back into reality.

After I was done with the normal bedtime routine, I climbed under my sheets and turned off the light. My bed was nice and warm when I got there thanks to the little space heater I had in the corner of my room, so I didn’t feel like I would have any issues sleeping. I was definitely wrong.

All through the night, I tossed, turned, and felt the need to kick and flounder under the covers. I slept for a few minutes, but jolted awake, glaring at my alarm clock and starting the whole process over again. Then, at 5am… I heard my mother’s scream.