Chapter 12 – Kalpavriksha

Words: 3,265
Recommended Listening: Akira Yamaoka – “Betrayal”
Shelter: Sugimoto Residence, Inu Residence

All seven survivors stood in the kitchen of the second house looking at the empty, open cupboards.  The refrigerator and freezer stood open as well; packages of food inside already sagged and dripped.  The ice had melted in the freezer’s ice-maker.

“I’m going to get started on a second tunnel,” Daisuke said.  He dropped through the hole in the kitchen before anyone could object.

“Can any of the food be salvaged?” Akane asked, nodding at the refrigerator and the freezer.

“No,” said Junpei.

She sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Junpei, you haven’t even looked at –“

“Am I wrong?” he asked.

An awkward silence passed as they looked in the refrigerator.

“Where did the food in the cupboards go?” Hitomi asked.

“It’s not here, anyway,” Seiji said.  “Maybe it’s hidden somewhere else inside the house.”

“But why?” Akane asked.  “We had enough for all of us to…If we just ate small portions, and if we only ate twice a day, all of us would have been fine.”

Something caught Seiji’s eye in the freezer.  He reached in behind the ice tray and retrieved the object.  He held it in his hand for everyone to see.  It was one can of peaches.

“Weren’t the canned foods in the cupboard?” Junpei asked.

“This is a taunt,” Hitomi said.  “The culprit took all the food and left us one can to share between all of us.”

“It’s unspeakably cruel,” Akane said.  “I’ll never forgive them!”

“Who would do this?” Emiko asked.  She spoke absent-mindedly, and mostly to herself.  “Who would do something like this to us?”

The question was rhetorical, but nonetheless, one by one, they began looking at one another.  Emiko continued.

“We’re all in this together.  We all need one another to survive.  It doesn’t make any sense to –“

“Anyway, it’s not a very smart plan,” Seiji said, ignoring Emiko.

“What do you mean?” Junpei asked.

“If someone is hoarding all the food, we’ll notice pretty soon who’s eating and who isn’t.  Then we can make them tell us where it is.”

“How?  We’ll have no energy to fight back, idiot,” Hitomi said.

“We don’t know that the food is still in the house,” Junpei said.

Everyone looked at him.  He pointed at the refrigerator.

“If the culprit left the refrigerator and freezer open, then he wanted the food to spoil.  The food in the cupboards wouldn’t spoil, so he might’ve disposed of it.”

“Where?” Akane asked.  “At the Sugimoto residence?”

Junpei shook his head.  “I think it was thrown outside.”

“Then he’d starve with us!” Emiko said.  “What reason would he have?”

“I don’t think ‘reason’ has anything to do with it,” Junpei said.

“You think he’s a crazy person,” Hitomi said.

“If the culprit is a ‘he’ at all,” Junpei shot back.  His eyes were fixed firmly on her.

“Why look at me when you say that?”

He didn’t answer.  He maintained eye contact with her and waited.

“Hey!” she shouted.  “I asked you a question.”

“Hitomi-chan,” Akane said.  “You’ve been acting…strangely since Ryu died.”

“Oh, of course,” Hitomi said.  “The doting wife comes to the rescue of her husband.  My brother died in my arms, you witch!  How am I supposed to act?”

“Don’t talk to her like that!” Junpei shouted.  “She’s right.  You condemned that man to torture and execution.  Maybe killing him was the right thing to do, but you chose to light him on fire first and let him suffer.”

“And you all agreed to it,” Hitomi said.

Junpei looked down.  His face reddened in shame.

“Hey, Daisuke sure left in a hurry,” Hitomi said.

“Don’t implicate him,” Junpei said.  “He brought us all together.  He’s mutilated for life because we let him be.”

“And that makes him less likely to do something crazy?” Hitomi asked.

“Yes,” Emiko said.

“Why?”

“It just does, Hitomi-chan!”

“If anyone is suspicious, it’s her,” Seiji said, pointing to Inu.

“What?” Emiko asked.  “Why?”

“Look at her!” Seiji said.  “She’s…odd.  This is her house, we killed her lover –“

“’Lover?’” Akane said.  “Seiji, he was clearly abusing her.  She’s so traumatized by that man, she won’t even sleep in a bed without his permission.  How dare you say that about her?”

Seiji shrugged.  “Maybe they’re perverts,” he said. 

“You’re grasping at straws,” Junpei said.  “You know you are.”

“What do we know about her?” Seiji asked.  “The only time she speaks is when she calls herself Inu.”

The woman perked up when she heard him.

“Don’t call her that,” Akane said.  “We’ve decided to call her Yuma.  And Emiko-chan and I are teaching her how to…“  She didn’t want to say “speak” for fear that the woman might bark again, giving Seiji more room in his argument.  “…teaching her how to use words.  Yuma, say ‘Yes.’”

“Yes!” she said excitedly.  “Yes, yes, yes, yes!”

“This is crazy,” Seiji said.  “Okay, so she’s a victim of abuse.  Doesn’t that mean she probably got angry with us for killing that man and threw out all the food?”

“Why would she be angry with us for freeing her from captivity?” Emiko asked.

“Stockholm Syndrome,” Seiji said.  “Sometimes people are so traumatized by being kidnapped that they have upside-down views of their captors.  I don’t think she even understands that she’ll die too by throwing all the food away.”

“Why are you so quick to defend Hitomi-chan from suspicion?” Junpei asked.

“Why are you so quick to attack her?” Seiji said.  “She’s just a kid.”

“Besides,” Hitomi said, “I didn’t even light the fire that killed that man.”

“No,” Junpei said.  “No, you made him do it.”  He gestured at Seiji.

“Nobody ‘made me’ do anything,” Seiji said.

Junpei scoffed.  “Remember what she said?  ‘Light the fire.’  And you obeyed her, like a dog.”

“You’re imagining things,” Seiji said.

“No, he’s not,” Akane said.  She spoke slowly, only realizing the truth of her words as they came out.  “I heard her say it when I was in the living room.  I heard it through the window – there was a pause in the moaning and I heard her say ‘light the fire.’  Right, Emiko-chan?”

Everyone turned to look at Emiko.

“I…don’t know,” Emiko said.

“She said it,” Junpei said.

“The husband and the wife are on the same side again,” Seiji said.  He was starting to feel uncomfortable under Junpei’s microscope.  “There’s a surprise.”

“They aren’t always,” Emiko said.  “Junpei volunteered to give Akira-sensei his finger and Akane refused.  Just like Akane wanted to punch up through the floor here and Junpei was against it.  They even disagreed on the killing of Ryu-chan’s murderer.”

“Wait,” Junpei said.  “Now I really want to know.  Why do you keep supporting Hitomi-chan?” Junpei asked Seiji.

“Eh?”

“You agreed to the necklacing first, you lit the fire and…there was something else,” Junpei said.

“I stopped her from killing that man,” Seiji said.  “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“But wasn’t that also in her best interest?” Akane asked.

“So what if it was?” he asked.  “Aren’t we all working in one another’s best interests?”

“Kamiya-san, they’re just asking you a question,” Emiko said.  “There’s no need to get so upset.”

“To Hell with their questions!” he said.  “Why am I being put under a microscope?”

Nobody answered him.

“Forget this,” he said.  He walked out of the room.

“Where are you going?” Junpei asked.

“I’m going to the roof to have a cigarette,” Seiji said.  “Anything else, officer?”

They listened to his footsteps in silence as he crossed the house and climbed the stairs towards the roof.

“Maybe we were too hard on him,” Akane said.

Hitomi scoffed and left the room.  Junpei started to follow her but Akane held him back.

“Something has to be going on with the two of them,” Junpei said.

“Emiko-chan, you know Hitomi better than we do,” Akane said.  “Do you think she and Seiji…”

Emiko reeled from the thought.  “No way,” she said.  “No, that’s not the type of person she is.”

“This is hard on all of us,” Akane said.  “And she’s been through so much.  Maybe she feels differently now?”

Emiko thought it through but she couldn’t make sense of it.  “I’m sorry; I can’t imagine it.”

Akane nodded.  “That’s fine.  I’m sorry.”

“Maybe…” Emiko started.  They looked at her.  “Maybe we should keep an eye on each of them just to be safe.  It does seem strange that they’re in agreement so often.”

Junpei held his tongue, deciding not to push the subject any further.  Instead, he changed topics.

“Where did Daisuke say he was going?”

“He’s going to start another tunnel,” Akane said. 

To the east, the Sugimoto house waited.  To the north, hills and mountains.  They had already started the tunnel west to the third house on their side of the street.  Only south remained.

“I imagine he’ll start digging under the street,” Akane added.

“I’ll go check on him.”

“No, I’ll go,” Emiko said.  “Fukuhara-san, maybe it would be best to see if the food at the Sugimotos’ house is still there.  Things would be…very bad if we didn’t have any food at all.”

“R-right,” he said.  “I’ll do that.  Akane, do you want to stay here with…uh, Yuma?”

“Yuma, do you want to stay here with me?” Akane asked.  She smiled and nodded.

“Yes!”

Junpei hopped down the hole in the kitchen floor and was gone.

Emiko sat on the edge of the kitchen floor above the crawlspace under the second house and placed her palms on the floor, ready to push herself off and down below the house.  Then she paused.  Her eyes fixated on some wood splinters on the opposite edge of the hole.  She was transfixed.  There was nothing special about the rough edge upon which her eyes fell, but she couldn’t look away.  She breathed, in and out, several times.  She blinked when she had to and continued to stare.  For a moment, she felt like staying there forever.  She could feel her heartbeat in her head and she was conscious of her head jostling the tiniest amount with each beat.  It felt good to sit there and breathe.  It felt wonderful.  She didn’t understand why the fresh air felt so good.  Maybe, she thought, it was because of the smell of the second house, to which she had never gotten accustomed.  Since the moment they arrived, there was an odor she couldn’t place.  It was like rotten fruit, but it hung over every room.

“Emiko-chan?” Akane asked.  “Emiko-chan?”

She blinked several times and looked to Akane.

“Are you alright?”

Emiko nodded and forced a smile.  Then she hopped down into the crawlspace and made her way toward the second hole in the ground.  This new hole – which Seiji, Junpei and Daisuke had begun to dig towards the third house – was on the west side of the foundation and had been quicker to start.  Rather than break through the cellar floor like the previous tunnel, they dug directly into the earth.  Additionally, much of what they dug up didn’t need to be walked outdoors and emptied from buckets.  There was plenty of unused space under the house where buckets of dirt could be dumped and spread out.  They had all agreed that whenever anyone was under the house, only whispering was permitted so as not to lure the zonbi to look any more closely at the wood paneling that separated them.

Emiko knew Daisuke would still be visible without her having to enter the new tunnel.  He had just started digging south a few minutes ago, so he should be at the mouth of the tunnel.  Thinking of him, she smiled.

“Daisuke-kun!” she hissed.

His head popped up like a gopher’s and she laughed quietly.  Dirt already covered much of his face.

“Is everything okay, Emiko?” he asked.  He, too, whispered, for safety’s sake.

She nodded.  “I wanted to check on you.  How are you doing?”

He wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist.  “I’m just getting started.  I’m hoping to have the first several feet done by din– I mean, by sunset.”

“Are you digging deep enough to get under the pavement?”

“I think so.  If not, we can dig a decline.”

A moment passed.

“Daisuke…What do you think happened to all the food?”

He studied her for a moment before setting his equipment up on the surface and leaning his back up against the vertical tunnel wall.  Then he considered his words carefully.

“I don’t want to think any of us would do that,” he said at last.  “However, obviously someone thought it out and did it while we were sleeping.”

“Where do you think the food from the cupboards went?”

Again, Daisuke hesitated.  Then he pulled himself out of the tunnel and awkwardly laid down on the opposite side of the hole as Emiko.

“I want to show you something,” he said.

He turned himself around on his stomach and crawled towards the western end of the crawlspace, near a hole the size of a large grape.  She followed him.  When they were laying side by side, she looked at him again.  He put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the hole.  She put her eye as close to it as she could and looked out.  She saw tightly-crowded feet and ankles that wore dirty shoes and socks.  Blades of grass stuck to them.  Others were barefoot, with overgrown toenails and small cuts and scrapes along their feet. 

“I don’t see anything.”

“Keep watching.”

She sighed and once again looked out the hole.  After several seconds, one of the zonbi took a step to the side and she saw it.  A can of Yakitori Tare-Aji sat, dirtied, outside.  A zonbi kicked it with its foot and it moved a bit.

Emiko’s heart sank.  She turned to Daisuke and forgot herself.

“Someone threw it away?” she asked out loud.

He put his hand over her mouth, but nodded.  She pulled her head back away from his hand and looked out again.  The yakitori was still in view on the left side of the area.

“Do you think we could ask Akira to get it for us with his drone?”  He was relieved she was whispering again, but he shook his head.

“I don’t think he could get it low enough without crashing into the zonbi.  I’m not sure how he would scoop it up either.”

She sighed.  Then she heard the sound of metal clinking on her right so she scooted her body to the left and angled her head to see further to the right.  Their bodies were touching now; Daisuke blushed but didn’t say anything.

Emiko searched for the source of the sound.  A zonbi foot brushed up against a can of kabayaki-style sanma that was leaned up against a tin of Kantsuma Kiwami.  Emiko gasped.

“That’s Kantsuma Kiwami!” she said.  She didn’t take her eyes off the can.  “I’ve seen that for sale before; it costs ¥10,000!”

“I know,” he said.  “I think it’s the red king crab legs with the gold leaf.  Apparently, Ryu’s killer had some stored away.”

She realized what all that food meant.  She whipped her head around toward him and began to speak.  “I can’t believe…”

Emiko realized their faces were so close together that their noses almost touched.  They looked at each other for several seconds.

“I-I can’t believe someone really threw out our food,” she said.

“I know.”  He backed away and they went back to the new tunnel.  He dropped himself in.  She stayed on the surface.

“Whoever did it will starve with the rest of us, you know.”

“I know,” Daisuke said.  “I heard you talking about it.”

“How did you find out about the food?”

“I was about to enter the new tunnel to start digging and…for some reason I just laid there for a moment.  I lost focus or something.  Then, in a gap in the conversation upstairs, I heard the Kantsuma Kiwami from outside.  When it’s silent, you can hear it pretty easily.  I know that sound; I’ve spent a lot of time in supermarkets because –“

“Your parents own one,” Emiko said with a smile.  “I know.”

Daisuke looked down.  “It’s not very fancy.  We’re not rich, and –“

“It’s great,” Emiko said.  She patted his hand.  “You should be proud.”

He smiled.  “Anyway, I looked outside to make sure, but I knew what it was as soon as I heard it.”

He got his digging equipment but stopped before digging again.

“I don’t understand something,” he said.

“The culprit’s motive?”

He shook his head.  “No; I think I know why it was done.”

“Really?  Why?”

“I think it was to make us dig faster.  The less food we have, the more quickly we need to get to another house so we don’t starve.  The culprit wants us to constantly work as hard as we can.”

“That’s true, but…”

“But why make us go faster?” he asked.

“Mm.”

“That’s what I don’t understand.  We all want to get out of this neighborhood.  We all want to get on that train and head for that clinic mentioned on NHK – or, if there’s nothing there, somewhere else.”

“Nobody has expressed a desire to stay here, or to slow down.”

“Exactly!  So, what makes the culprit so desperate?  And is it a desperation to arrive somewhere or to leave this house?”

“Maybe this house still holds secrets, like Seiji said,” Emiko said.

“I hope not,” Daisuke said.  “I’d like to avoid any more surprises.”

Emiko and Daisuke thought in silence for a moment.  Then he resumed digging.

“Either way, I suppose they got their wish,” Daisuke said.  “I imagine we’ll spend more hours digging now.”

“But you’re digging to a different house.”

“Better safe than sorry,” he said.  “If the third house doesn’t have any food…”

“I’m going to go tell the others about the canned food,” she said.

Daisuke nodded.  “Break the news gently.  You know how Junpei is.  And keep an eye out for anything strange in the house.”

She saluted him.  They laughed together quietly and she wriggled her way back to the hole in the kitchen floor.

“Emiko-chan?” he whispered.

“Mm?”

“Thank you for checking on me.”

She smiled and went back through the hole into the house.  Daisuke kept digging.

At the Sugimotos’ house, Junpei finished taking an inventory of the food that remained.  He looked at the list on the piece of paper.  It was short.  Too short.  He cursed.  There was only enough food for another three days – four if they stretched it.  They had been depending on the food in the second house and hadn’t been rationing too much of the Sugimotos’ food.  He took one last look inside the refrigerator – then his eyes fell on an item he had overlooked in the inventory.  Behind a water pitcher sat two cans of Mr. Kanso Sichuan-style tofu.  He picked a can up and looked at its label.

190g.

“Almost seven ounces,” he said.

And there are two of them, he thought.  More than 13 oz. of food!  If I don’t eat, Akane and the baby could get at least two meals out of these – maybe three, with the way she eats.  That’s a day and a half of nutrition.  But if they found out…

On the other hand, if we combined them and split them seven ways, we’d each get less than two ounces of food.  That would barely contribute to a meal.  Would it make a difference?

Junpei turned the can slowly in his hand and weighed his options.

Voting Time!!! Should Junpei give the food to the group or keep it for Akane? Choose carefully; both decisions will have consequences.

Anyone can vote on Facebook by commenting on the status here.

Patrons can vote on Patreon by clicking here.

Polls close June 7.

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