NB: this story contains spoilers regarding the first, 'best' ending of Kana: Little Sister. Please don't proceed unless you've completed this ending to the game.
'My Sister, My Strength', part 7. This story follows 'Imouto and Oniisan'.
It's also part 1 of the four-part conclusion to this series.
There's blood on my hands, and I don't know whose it is.
I'm not even sure where I am. I can see bookshelves, but they're skewed at a crazy angle, reaching down towards the lower right corner of my vision. It looks wrong, somehow. The wooden floorboards seem to be upside down, sloping up towards the sky. There's a faint reflection of daylight in their polished surface. The shop is empty.
Kana's store? Is that where I am? Are these... my hands?
A pair of hands is there in front of me, but they can't be mine. I don't know why I thought they were. The fingers are stretched out, as if they're trying to ward something away. The knuckles are abraded and spattered with drying blood.
They can't be mine, though, because I can't feel them. They don't move when I tell them to. In fact... nothing moves when I tell it to.
Where am I? What's going on?
"I understand. Please hurry." I hear the soft clatter as a phone's returned to its cradle. As my vision dims and blurs, I see a pair of slippered feet walking into the space before me. It's Kana. Her head is also pointing towards the floor. Why is she doing that?
She climbs a couple of the stairs and crouches down next to me. It's hard looking at her like this. She's almost upside down. I want to tell her to stop it, but I can't find the words. My lips won't move.
"I've called an ambulance, Taka," she says, her voice tight and anxious. Something must be wrong. There's blood on her face, smudged and blurred by the tears running down her cheeks. She takes the hands in front of me and clutches them tight. They can't be mine. Why can't I feel them? Why can't I feel... anything?
"Hold on, Taka," Kana begs, helplessly. "Please... just hold on."
Darkness washes over me.
It's dark here, almost too dark to see. All around me, the vague shapes of trees loom in the dimness, stretching far overhead, blocking out what's left of the sun's light. It's thick and warm here below the canopy of the trees. Humid. Rotting.
I'm walking along a well-worn path. It feels like I've been here before, though I couldn't say where or when. I just have the feeling that the trees will clear, somewhere up ahead, and
I hear the gentle splashing of a waterfall. The path leads me to a clearing by the side of a freshwater pool. Close by, a small cascade empties into the pond, creating ripples in the surface of the water. It's cooler out here, away from the insulating barrier of the trees. The sun is almost down now, and the wind has a sharp bite to it. I wouldn't want to be out here after nightfall, that's for certain.
Among the lichen-covered rocks and the straggly patches of grass that poke up between them, a young girl is lying on the ground. Her blue overalls are smeared with mud; her knees and elbows, in particular, are grass-stained and filthy. Large seeds spill from the loose pockets of her overalls. She has quite a collection of them.
I step forward. Night's almost here. What's a little girl doing out here, all alone?
She doesn't seem to hear my approach. She's just lying there, her hands clenched over her stomach, her arms and legs curled up tightly. She's already shivering in the cool night air.
"Hey," I say, hesitantly, crouching down beside her. "Little girl, wake up. Wake"
I pause, shocked. It's Kana. Kana, as she was more than ten years ago. But me, I'm
I'm not there. I can't see myself. I reach out my hand I know I'm reaching out my hand; I can feel the gentle breeze on my skin and try to touch Kana's shoulder, but my hand just passes right through her as if she doesn't exist. Or as if I don't exist.
"Kana!" I yell, hoping to wake her. "Kana, get up! You can't sleep here! You'll... With your health the way it is, you'll catch something. You... you might d Kana!"
"Mommy..." she mumbles, almost deliriously. "Mommy, help me... I'm so cold..." Her hands tighten around her stomach, and she sobs quietly. "So hungry..."
Kana, no. Where... where am I? Where's your brother, Kana? Where's Taka?
I'm right here, I realise. Here, invisible and useless. I don't exist to her. This Kana has no brother. This Kana may die out here.
I fall to my knees, clawing at her frantically. My hands are no more tangible to her than the touch of the night wind. She doesn't even flinch. She just lies there, weak and hungry. Lost, where she might never be found.
"Kana! Kana, wait. I" But the wind picks up, plucking at the fabric of Kana's overalls, making her shudder with the cold. The wind picks up and blows through me. It sweeps me away.
"Bro. Bro, can you hear me? Please... I need you. Come back to me..."
It's parentteacher conference day, and the parents are gathered in Kana's third year classroom. Well, most of the parents.
"They couldn't come," one of the parents says to someone else, sounding scandalised. "The parents of that little girl there, Kana... Kana something-or-other."
"Couldn't come, or couldn't be bothered to come?" the other parent asks, snidely.
"It must be hard, having a daughter who's sickly like she is. Who can't come to school that often..."
"Well, then they should take better care of her! I hear they're well-off enough. Why don't they send her to a special school, rather than lumping her with our children? She's barely here enough to qualify as a member of the class, I hear..."
Kana's sitting miserably in the middle of the classroom. The other students seem to have realised her parents aren't here, and are taking full advantage of the situation. She flinches every now and then as spitwads randomly strike her face and neck. I look at the parents, but they're too busy gossiping among themselves to be much concerned with their children's behaviour. The teacher is up at the front of the classroom, deep in conversation with someone's father.
Kana just pulls her chair in closer to her desk and hunches over her homework. Covering her head would draw attention to herself. And so, her only option is to make herself as small a target as possible. There's no-one to stand up for her. No-one who cares.
The teacher begins the class. The students and parents settle down, all determined to make a good impression. The teacher selects various students to stand up and read out their essays. It's typical third grade stuff: My daddy is a businessman. He wears a suit to work. He brings me presents when he comes home sometimes. I love my daddy. And so on. Why do teachers put their poor students through this kind of thing year after year?
"Huh?" Kana looks up, startled.
"I'm talking to you, Kana. Please read your essay."
"Mmy essay?" Kana stutters.
"Yes. Please stand up and read it out."
"Um..." Kana shakes a bit, but she pushes back her chair and climbs to her feet. The students whisper amongst themselves, laughing and pointing. The parents get in on the act a bit, as well. Silence falls as Kana starts reading, in a faint, quavering voice.
"I... I live at the hospital. Every day the nurses come to take my blood. I am not very healthy. There is nothing I can do about it. My... my parents bring me books to read, but they do not know what type of books I like. It is very boring at the hospital. I have to stay there or... or I will die. I wish I didn't have to stay there. Sometimes it is very lonely. Sometimes I don't want to go back..." She pauses, her eyes crinkling up as she struggles to hold back tears.
"Kana? Kana, please keep reading."
Kana sniffs hard, her entire face screwed up with her efforts to keep herself from crying. She looks down at the sheet in front of her. "Ssometimes I don't want to go back," she repeats, haltingly. "Eeven if it means that I might dd" She can't hold it in any longer, and she howls helplessly, tears streaming down her face. The students mutter and jabber to each other. Someone laughs. Kana stands in the middle of the classroom, alone and friendless, crying her heart out.
"So inappropriate," one of the parents mutters.
"Do her parents even think what it's doing to our children to have such a morbid little girl in the same class with them?"
"It's pathetic, that's what it is..."
The scene blurs away again, tearing me from Kana.
"Pplease, Bro. I love you. I need you. How can... I can't be strong without you..."
"Here, Todo, carry them! And don't you dare drop a single one!"
"I... I understand. I won't drop any of them." Kana's voice is subservient and passive. She staggers under the weight as the three girls stack piles of handouts into her outstretched arms. It's more than a grown adult could expect to carry safely.
The three girls are older than Kana. They're hardly acting like role models, though. They're wearing too much makeup and they carry themselves as if they think they're cooler than they actually are. The sad thing is that each of them would probably be almost nice, if you got them on their own.
But they're not on their own. They have numbers, and they have size. To them, Kana is prey.
"Now, carry them to the teachers' lounge! Move it, bitch!"
"I... I will." Kana shuffles forward tentatively. Her knees are buckling, and she's straining to keep her balance. The pile of handouts teeters precariously, but she manages to compensate for the swaying motion of her awkward gait
At least, until one of the girls shoves her from behind. Kana goes sprawling to the floor, and the handouts fly from her hands, scattering all over the place.
"Oh, look what you did!" scolds the one with pigtails. "Pick them up, Todo!"
Still on her hands and knees, Kana scuttles forward, gathering the pieces of paper with trembling hands. One of the girls kicks her arm out from underneath her, and Kana collapses on her face. She doesn't get back up. She just lies there, her shoulders trembling convulsively. I can hear her whimpering quietly.
"You're no good at this!" says the sharp-eyed one. "You want to know what I think the problem is? It's your stumpy little arms! They're too short! What did you do, freak have them shrunk on purpose?"
Kana cries bitterly, struggling for breath, but says nothing.
"We're going to help you! We'll help make your arms longer."
They pull her up. They grab her arms and pull at them, hard. Kana screams and struggles, but they don't let go. Tears pour down her cheeks and drip from her chin. Her breathing is erratic and wheezy, and her eyes are wide. Panic-stricken.
Letting her go, they push her down again. They taunt her loudly. They call her a freak. She huddles there, still crying, as they jeer at her.
"Say it, freak! Tell us what you are! Go on!"
"I..." Kana chokes, but it's hopeless. She can't escape. She can't run. "I am," she whispers, hanging her head. "Yes, I'm a I'm a... freak..."
"We knew it!" they chorus, raucously, circling around her like starving wolves. "What a good little freak girl she is! She even admits it!"
"Maybe we could get you to put on a show for us?" the pigtailed girl suggests, leaning forward to prod Kana with one finger. "What do you say, bitch? The world's stumpiest girl? Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Say it!"
"Anything you want..." Kana sobs, brokenly, burying her face in her hands. "Anything..."
Kana. Kana, no. Don't let them... Don't believe what they're telling you. Kana!
"Bro, you were always there for me. I'm here for you. Do you hear me? I'll always be here for you..."
It's bright and warm in the park at this time of day. There are a few children swarming over the jungle gym, and another two having a great time on the seesaw.
The swings are empty, though, and Kana's standing there with her school satchel slung over her shoulder, looking at the left one as if it might bite her. Hesitantly, she steps a bit closer to it, then draws back sharply as it sways slightly in the breeze. When it doesn't do anything else, she moves closer again, reaching out with a finger to poke the seat gently. It rocks back, the chains jingling quietly. The expression on Kana's face is puzzled, but determined.
Holding her skirt down, she turns around and lowers herself onto the seat. She grabs the chains, panicked, as the swing moves beneath her. She nearly loses her balance, but somehow manages to pull herself upright again without falling off. She breathes quickly and shallowly, bracing her feet on the ground. For a moment, it seems as if she's going to give up and get off.
But then she looks at the other children in the park. The sound of their laughter rings through the air. Kana's wistful face looks as if a smile has never even touched it. Her expression firms itself again.
She kicks with her feet. The swing arcs backward. Kana keeps her legs extended, though, and the swing only goes through a couple of back-and-forths before coming to a halt. Kana looks puzzled. She doesn't know about using her legs to create momentum. She's fourteen years old and she doesn't know how to work a swing.
She tries a couple more times, kicking harder, but without any more success than the first time. The quiet, longing expression on her face gives way to bitter resignation. She climbs off the swing. She walks away, dragging her feet.
The wind blows. It carries me with it.
"You showed me how to live. You taught me there was something better. Don't leave. Don't leave me."
"No. No, you can't mean it..."
"I'm sorry. There's nothing more we can do. A transplant was Kana's only hope, but it's too late now. I'm sorry we couldn't find a compatible donor, but the odds were always going to be... astronomical. All that's left now is... is to make her comfortable. Mrs Todo, if you'd like to say something to her... now would be the best time."
Kana's lying in the hospital bed. She looks terrible. Her eyes are shadowed; her face is pale and drawn. Mom steps into the room and sits on the folding chair beside the bed. She takes Kana's hand. Weakly, Kana smiles. Her eyes are dull with pain.
"Mom..." she whispers. "It's... it's time, isn't it?"
There's nothing that our mother can say. She just clutches Kana's hand tighter, bending over it. Kana's eyes crease as she grimaces.
"I'm sorry, Mom," she says, her voice soft and strained. "Sorry for being... such a burden."
"You weren't, Kana," Mom insists, raising her head. "If anything, your father and I... we neglected you. We, we didn't mean to. We're so sorry, Kana..."
"I wish," Kana murmurs, letting her head sink back. The words are coming with more difficulty now. It's hard for her to draw breath. "Mom? Why do I feel... like I'm... dying alone? Like no-one... ever loved me? Did I just... take up space...?"
"No, Kana. No. That's not true. That's never true."
"It is." Kana's tone isn't bitter, or sad. It's matter-of-fact. And that may be the worst thing about it. "I haven't really... lived. I never... made a difference... to anyone. My life... never..." Her voice trails off.
Kana, don't say that. You did live. Together, with me! You were everything in the world to me. Don't... don't say that your life didn't mean anything!
"Ththank you, Mom," Kana says. "Thank you for... taking care of me." Her eyes sink closed for a moment, then open again. "Mom? Mom... I'm ready now."
Mom just nods mutely, rubbing her reddened eyes with the back of her hand. She gets up, stiltedly, and walks to the door.
Kana lays her head back, closing her eyes. A single tear courses down her cheek.
"I knew," she whispers, hopelessly. "I... always knew... it would end this way."
I'm here, Kana. I'm here!
But she doesn't hear me. She lies there as pale as death, awaiting the end of a life that never meant anything. I want to reach for her, but my hands just sweep right through her body again. I can't touch her. I can't make a difference. I'm not there.
The darkness envelops me. It blots out Kana. It blots out everything.
"Bro... Taka... I'm here. I'm here for you. I love you. Please... Please, don't leave me alone."
Kana's sobs echo quietly through my heart. But I'm not there. I don't know where I am.
Is waking better than dreaming? Taka finds out in Kinaesthesia.