Brilliant Transformation! ~The Sparkling Magical Girl~
“There’s something I have to tell you, Aya.”
Hikari climbed up the merry-go-round, spinning it with a kick of her foot. The park was abandoned, and there were no cars passing nearby.
Her best friend had the right to know. With luck, she could even join her. Hikari had rehearsed well for this.
Aya pushed up her glasses. It was her habit when perplexed.
“I’m not sure why you have to drag me out of bed for this, Hikari.”
She was unamused. Hikari couldn’t blame her. But…
“It’s precisely why I had to! Look, you can’t tell anyone about this, okay?”
Aya met her gaze, strong and true. Her best friend, indeed. “Okay.”
“I’m a magical girl.”
“What? What does that even mean?”
Hikari blinked. “You don’t know? Like those anime for little girls?”
“You know that we don’t have a TV.” Aya’s parents were those sort of weird, super-strict types. “What do you mean by ‘magical girl’?”
“Then it’s easier to show you.” Hikari kicked another one foot against the ground, increasing the speed of her rotation. Out of her pocket, she took a silver star charm, clinking as it swung.
“Sparkling!” She raised the charm, which bathed the area in white light.
An invisible pair of hands twisted and arranged her short hair into dainty little braids. Her t-shirt and shorts dissolved in a swath of light, replaced by a tide of glitters that resolved into silvery threads, intertwining and forming a beautiful dress. Her feet stepped into slippers brighter and stronger than steel. The charm, floating and spinning in the air, formed into a baton that she caught in the air and twirled before striking a pose.
“The bane of darkness, Argenta Lumina!”
Aya stood in front of her, dumbstruck. Her merry-go-round came to a halt. Hikari had timed it for maximum theatrical effect. Now Aya would admire her splendor, and ask for a Sigil of Lumina as well.
They would fight the darkness together.
“So, how do I look?”
But Aya was still standing. Standing too still. Hikari jumped down the merry-go-round and took Aya’s face in her glittering hands.
“Hey, were you so dazzled by my brilliance that you couldn’t reply?”
A moment later, and Hikari realized the horror of what she had done.
Aya’s eyes, if they could still be called that, were formless, smoking-white lumps. Their liquified form leaked out of her cooked eye-sockets, sizzling her cheeks as they did. Her mouth slackened and her tongue emerged lolling.
She was dead.
With a yelp, Hikari let go as Aya’s corpse tumbled into a haphazard, kneeling position. Her unseeing face still stared at her in an outraged, accusing manner.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” little Victrix said, scuttling around Hikari’s feet on all fours. “No normal human can look at a Lumina transformation and emerge with their soul intact!”
Small children must be held firmly
One day, I bothered to look at the escalator notice sign.
This was immediately followed by taking his hand and clamping it around mine tightly.
He, well, treated it as one of my many quirks.
Until I pointed him to the sign after riding the escalator again.
“Oh,” he said, the first of many, each profounder than the last.
I smiled and gave his hand a squeeze.
Now we’re always in a competition to take each other’s hand first, whenever we’re riding the escalator.
Live orchestras of translucent desire
In the town square, a crowd started to gather.
The young woman sat on the fountain’s edge, her long legs dangling awkwardly as she shifted around, adjusting her instrument’s strap. Her dirty blonde hair was roughly cropped, and her strange, boyish clothes were weathered from traveling.
She smelled. She knew that. But it gave her something more in common with the children in rags, who sat by the closest. Their eyes were the most reverent of all.
The tall, wiry man stood by her side at a respectful distance. The only blade that was visible on him was short and curved, its ivory hilt gilded with flowing lines from a country far, far away. The woman knew he had deadlier blades hidden, but she had not seen all of them either.
She plucked the six strings one by one, making minor adjustments in their tuning. The crowd didn’t faze her. There were far more important things to worry about, such as a roof on her head, and food for the horses.
The young woman nodded to the man, who dipped his chin. She began with a single chord. The steel strings vibrated, washing the air with surprising warmth. People trembled as if struck lightly, the sound alien and novel and wonderful to their ears. No other bard had ever carried the bell-shaped instrument the woman played, its head bigger than her own.
She began singing. Her voice was brittle at first, the initial quaver almost shocking her out of her reverie, but it quickly reforged itself. People started to close their eyes, to focus on the sweet mixture of song and string.
What six strings and a girl’s voice had wrought, live orchestras of translucent desire. Those who understood, nodded gently to themselves, bravely holding back tears just as the unseemly musician did.
She sang of one thing, and one thing only: going home.
It’s always better if you start early
8:45 PM. She should be arriving any moment, Mai thought.
The convenience store she worked in didn’t have much in the way of customers, for a larger one had opened up shop within the block just a year ago. That was fine by her—the pay was still decent, and she didn’t look forward to long lines of people keeping her occupied in the cash register.
If anything, her part-time job as a cashier was a distraction from home. A willing distraction to escape the clutches of her good-for-nothing brother. He was older than her by a good two years, and should have been in college to boot. But day and night he sat in the living room, hogging the only TV in the house to play his stupid games!
The brush of the doors opening and the sound of chimes clinking alerted Mai to her regular customer. An OL in her mid-twenties, she wore her hair in a tight bun and had the same mollified expression every night. The woman made a beeline to the alcoholic drinks section and took out a can of chu-hi from the cooler.
The can made a muffled thunk as the OL laid it on the counter, pushing the bill forward in her other hand. Sometimes she bought two. One particularly bad night, which Mai had committed to memory, three.
Mai greeted her with a smile, as always. The woman didn’t even look up. She never looked up.
Mai didn’t bother asking for a points card, even if it was required. She knew that this particular customer had none, and had no plans of getting one. So she just scanned the can, took the bill, and deposited the change. It was a routine for them.
The OL grabbed both can and change and hauled out of the store. The sound of her pulling the tab resounded in Mai’s ears, and she couldn’t tell why.
She spent the rest of her shift thinking about it.
* * *
7:15 AM. She should be arriving any moment, Mai thought.
The OL practically barged in through the door, sending the wind chimes complaining in a fury. She went to the cooler, as always, but picked a can of energy drink instead.
It was a Saturday morning. Saturday mornings were special, Mai decided on her own. It was during—and only during—that time when the OL didn’t look stressed or harassed and instead looked like a cheerful human being.
Careful not to make eye contact, Mai looked at the woman’s face. She was smiling, but not at her—just the can she was buying.
Mai calmly completed the transaction, and bowed at the woman, who left with a spring in her step.
One of these days, she thought, I’m going to ask her about it.
* * *
So she did, the next Saturday morning.
“An energy drink again,” Mai said as she scanned the can. “You’re such a good girl every weekend. Why?”
She stared up at the woman’s face, which had formed into a bemused smile. “Oh! It’s because I’m jogging,” the woman replied.
Nike jacket, white t-shirt, and comfortable shorts. Her hair was even tied into a neat ponytail. Of course she was jogging, Mai thought. She nearly kicked herself for the dumb question.
There weren’t any other customers, so she decided to ask again. “Well, I catch you every weeknight buying chu-hi. Looking like a zombie every time. It’s, I dunno, hard to reconcile the you yesterday and today?”
The woman sighed so hard that her entire soul seemed to escape through her mouth. “I forget that you see me almost everyday. It’s just work. I didn’t go to college just to be assed to make coffee for my superiors, you know.” She hissed. “I could never go home early when they’re expecting me to make their late-night coffee.”
Then, catching herself, she covered her mouth. “I’m sorry for shooting my mouth off!”
Mai bowed profusely. “No! It’s all my fault! I was only curious! Seeing that I always see you in my shift!” She pushed the energy drink forward, for the woman to retrieve it.
“I’m Sally,” the woman said, regaining her composure. “And thanks. It isn’t everyday that someone takes an interest in my miserable OL life.”
“Mai,” Mai replied. It was all she could do not to stutter. “I’m just a part-timer. High school student.”
“Ain’t that cute?” Sally smiled. “Well, see you.” She turned to leave.
Mai couldn’t believe herself. She actually raised her voice. But since the cat was already out of the bag…
“My shift is ending in an hour! If you happen to still be free at that time, could we meet at the park later? I’ll bring a can of your favorite chu-hi.”
If the prospect of drinking in the morning ever perturbed Sally, she gave no sign of it. “Later, then.”
* * *
Mai’s left hand trembled, clutching the plastic bag that held two cans she had bought. Sally said she would be coming. Or at least that’s what she sounded like.
She kept her eyes trained on the stone path. Despite the pleasant, inviting smell of dew, it was a small park, and few people actually stayed in it. The benches were all empty…
Wait. Not one, it seemed. Shadowed from view by a fertile young tree, Mai could see a pair of long legs crossed on the bench. She quieted her advance, but quickly realized the futility of it as her cans clinked together anyway.
“You made me wait!” Sally’s voice rang cheerfully, despite not having seen her yet. “Penalty!”
Mai appeared from behind the tree, lifting her plastic bag. “Sorry. The next guy took his time.”
“It’s fine, really,” Sally said, stretching her elbows as Mai sat next to her, putting the bag between them. “So, what’s up?”
Mai shrugged, examining a thin, unbroken line of ants on the soil next to her shoes. “I guess I curious. About why people have so different sides. And how one of them could be so sad.”
“Sad? When you put it that way…” Sally laid a hand on her chin. “It’s not really sad. Just something I cope up with. Chu-hi helps, of course.”
“I don’t understand,” Mai shook her head. “Maybe because I’m still a student. But I have my problems, too. My parents are working overseas, and my older brother’s a NEET. I’m part-timing so that I won’t have to deal with my stupid household life.”
Sally looked at her, despite the fact that Mai had turned away her head and was now blushing profusely. “Don’t you have something you want to do when you grow up?”
Mai brushed off the tears in her eyes. “I don’t really know… maybe I’ll just become a cashier forever…”
“You’ll be fine!” That cheerfulness again, trying to reassure her. Mai knew that it wasn’t faked. That Sally, despite their differences, was genuinely concerned about her. “Let’s drink our cans before they get warm!”
Mai put on a brave face and fished a can out of the plastic bag. But something was wrong.
“Hey! This isn’t my drink!”
Sally brandished the energy drink in Mai’s face. “Thanks! I can never get enough of this!” She promptly popped the tab and drank it down.
“But I’m still underage!” Mai said, staring at the can of chu-hi she was supposed to give to Sally.
“You need it more than I do, and it’s always better if you start early.” Sally winked.
Trembling in exasperation, Mai gingerly sipped her illegal drink.
“Bleh! Why does it taste like medicine?”
Sally wagged a finger. “It’s lemon-flavored. The medicine taste is the alcohol, which… you’ll quickly get used to!”
Despite her protests, Mai still drank the entire can.
“Thanks, Sally,” she said, covering her mouth. Her breath smelled thoroughly unwholesome, and her body felt uncooperative. “We’re friends now, aren’t we?”
Sally smiled and rolled her eyes. “I guess?”
Mai tried to stand up, but slumped on Sally’s arm instead. She tried getting up, but found herself snuggling into her friend’s arm instead.
“Whoa there,” Sally said, quickly guiding Mai’s body into a comfortable posture. “I didn’t know you’re such a lightweight!”
“This is all your fault,” Mai muttered. She was smiling despite everything.
“Don’t drink anymore chu-hi, okay? It’s bad for your health…”
Sally shook her head, although Mai’s lecture amused her. Yes, how very amusing.
“Nonsense. I won’t be able to see you on weekdays, then,” she whispered, letting Mai sleep on her lap.
You Can’t Smoke
It stung my nose, and made me want to sneeze.
She took a step back, a concession. She angled her face away as she blew out tufts of smoke. They were strangely fluffy, despite their toxicity.
“You should really stop that,” I said.
“Can’t help it,” she replied, not yet looking at me. “I sort of picked it up at my last job. It’s something you do to survive.”
I shut my mouth. I was incapable of such things—her job, coping up with the stress, coping up with such an additional burden in my lungs. Maybe, I idly thought, this was the reason why we haven’t even kissed yet.
“Won’t you let me try one?” I offered.
Now she looked at me. It wasn’t pleasant. “I’m doing this so that you won’t.”
“So you know how bad it is.”
“Yeah.” I traced the smoke trails with my eye. They were so beautiful when she blew them.
“You’re gonna die before me, aren’t you?”
She grabbed my arm. Her thumb clipped her middle finger securely. “In your shape? Don’t count on it.”
I raised my arm, peering at it like an alien object. “I can get better.”
This time, she blew her smoke right into my face. “That’s what I said, dear. When I started smoking.”
Strange brains ferment sex like pickles
Rei shifted her eyes around, assessing everyone who passed by as potential threats. She couldn’t help it—her job made her especially antsy for this kind of stuff.
If she had been more lucky, she would’ve been in charge of the building’s security. If that happened, then she wouldn’t have to perform this disgraceful task.
The line moved again. Rei dragged her feet, every fiber of her being protesting against the action. Why am I here? I don’t belong here!
But it wasn’t a case of belonging. That was irrelevant. Yuri asked her to line up and buy a copy of the doujinshi. Rei lined up, and Rei would buy that comic, no matter if it was porn, much less porn of her beloved friend’s manga. That was irrelevant.
She glowered at the young man behind her. Panic showed through the mask he wore.
“Why are you here?” Rei asked, not bothering to conceal the murderous tone in her voice.
“To buy the doujin,” the man replied, addressing his shoes.
The man nodded faintly.
“I’m not buying it for myself. I’m buying it for a friend,” Rei said. A useless clarification, but she felt like she had to make it clear.
The man nodded again, and Rei paid her no more attention.
Twenty-five minutes later, the source of her misery came.
“Yuri!” She snapped her hand out, reaching for the one shining face amidst a sea of faceless people. Yuri had been all around the place, chatting up with acquaintances, and buying all sorts of doujinshi. She approached Rei, carrying three canvas bags in each hand, all filled with her haul.
Hopefully, only half of them will be porn. And Yuri was supposed to be the virgin.
“Enjoying yourself, Rei?” Yuri asked. She was smiling that pleasant smile of hers, but Rei couldn’t help but think she was enjoying her ordeal.
She frowned. “I don’t know about that. Are there copies left? I don’t want to wait in vain for two hours, Yuri.” The last sentence came off as uncharacteristically pleading.
Yuri stood beside her. “There’s still lots. I think we’ll be able to get one.”
“I still can’t fathom why you’d want to read R-18 doujinshi of your own manga,” Rei whispered. Yuri kept a library of doujinshi in her own studio.
“Simple! To remind me how much people enjoy my work,” Yuri said.
Rei shrugged. Strange brains ferment sex like pickles. There was no telling what really went inside Yuri’s brain, with that sort of thing. “Yeah, enjoy. I’ll never understand it.”
Yuri gave her friend a solemn look. “Thank you for doing this, Rei.”
It was impossible for Rei not to blush. “H-how do you not feel the heat, Yuri? It’s impossible for me.” It didn’t help that Rei was wearing a particularly thick beanie. She really did not want to get caught buying R-18 stuff. Yuri was clothed for a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll.
“Hmm…” Yuri looked away, seemingly lost in thought. “I’ve been going as early as I could remember. I just got used to it.”
“And you always bought stuff?” It was clear what Rei meant.
“My father ordered me to get the non-ero ones for him, when I was still underage.”
Yuri didn’t get along with her father. Rei felt obliged to be silent for a minute.
“This is going to be a regular thing for me, isn’t it?” she asked later.
Yuri smiled, a bit more sincerely than her last. “Only if you really want to tag along.”
Rei sighed. “Just don’t force me to read them.”
And, as it turned out, they did get a copy.
The first thing I noticed about him wasn’t his face, or even his clothes.
It was the axe.
That was when I wondered, are axes all the rage now? I sure didn’t see anyone else carrying one on the way here.
“You’re late,” I said. And he looked so fetching in the photo…
He grunted in acknowledgement. “Sorry.”
I didn’t think he sounded very apologetic.
A few moments later and we were already seated, waiting for our food. I thought about ordering wine, but I was afraid of looking like a fool in front of my date.
The axe sat on the draped table, against all common sense. I bit down the urge to scream.
He stared at me, the way a patient hunter regards his prey.
“What’s it for?” I asked weakly, my voice nothing more than a squeak. I inched a trembling finger at the axe.
“Oh, this?” His face twisted into sudden, repulsive glee. “It’s for correcting mistakes.”
Chop. My finger separated from my hand, rolling across the velvet table and disappearing off the edge.
He brandished the axe heartily, blood smeared on the edge. My blood.
An entire army of pain, a thousand strong, funneled into my bloody little stump, leaking blood. I couldn’t scream. It would disturb everyone. I’m not that kind of woman.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He blinked. “Mistake number two.”
The next blow split my head open.
I opened my mouth to protest, but thought better not to.
With a satisfied grunt, he left the axe buried on top of my head.
Call me weird, but there was much less pain this time. I stopped feeling my severed finger, too. I felt light-headed, even if the axe was a little on the heavy side.
I didn’t attract his ire anymore. When the food arrived, we ate heartily. He wasn’t that bad, I guess. Just a little eccentric, but kinder than my past boyfriends.
I wouldn’t mind getting murdered by him, I thought.
“Let’s meet again,” I said to him, after he walked me to my train station.
“Just call me,” he said. He raised his hand.
Before I knew it, the axe was back in his hand.
Before I knew it, I was falling on the pavement, my jostled brain matter sloshing around as I realized that I was dying, or already dead.
Which one, I thought, was true?
A policeman picked up my body a full hour later.
Boys’ Tears Are the Worst
From outside the window, I spy him at the corner of my eye, hanging his head in the hopes of appearing dignified. His hands are balled into fists, wracked in helpless spasms.
I approach him as silently as I could, effortlessly sliding through the open window. Men are precarious like that. Boys, even more so. They’re too afraid to cry. And when they do,when they really have to, it’s the most pathetic sight in the world.
I hear him sniff before I see the hint of tears rolling down his stubborn face. I try to make it easier for him. Try.
“Hey,” I say softly, blunting my hard-edged voice. I lift the object I’m carrying to my chest. A small trickle of blood runs down my gloves, making audible dripping sounds in the cramped room. The headphones around his neck are uncommonly silent.
“I know she was a total bitch, but she still was your girlfriend, right? You liked her.” I try not to be an ass about it. I took the contract without compunction, but it isn’t like I actually hated her myself or anything.
I can tell that he’s yearning to put his hands up to wipe the tears from his eyes. But male pride won’t allow him to. His choked, stifled sobs sound like they came from his six year-old self.
I finger an empty eye socket idly, waiting for him to say something. Her hair was still wet with a shampoo brand too trendy for me to pinpoint. I lift up a few strands to my nose. No reaction. I massage my trophy’s face without thought. Still no reaction.
We just stand there awkwardly for the better part of the hour. I hate it when boys cry.
How the angel drowned my spark
I stood up from my seat. “What the hell?”
I could feel everyone’s awestruck stares behind me. Stares that had been directed at me up until this very humiliating loss. People whispered behind my back, and my mind filtered out their mocking words.
“That was fun,” she said, patiently sitting on the bench we shared. “You’re very good.”
My head swam. I was in the arcade for a fighting game tournament. It had been over for two hours, and most of the players packed up to go drinking or whatnot. My frustration from my quarterfinals loss kept me in the arcade, hogging the game in the hopes that I could extract a reason as to how or why I lost.
I had racked up more than a dozen wins already, when this girl challenged me. She looked like a different species, what with her dainty Sunday dress and gentle demeanor. An angel like her had no place in a dingy arcade filled with fools like me.
It took us five rounds to finally declare a winner. Yet something was very wrong with how she won.
“Fun? ‘Very good’?” I echoed the words, tasting their now-corrupted meaning in my mouth. “You were toying with me, you—”
I halted, watching my language. “You’re much better than I am. Yet you played badly on purpose. If you were half-serious, I’d never have brought your lifebar down to half. You only needed three rounds to beat me.”
The AI match started as we talked. The girl stared at me, ignoring her fighter being beaten to a pulp by the computer.
“Then you wouldn’t have any fun,” she said. “Isn’t that how games are supposed to be?”
She idly touched the tip of her joystick with her index finger, flicking it up and down. Her fighter jumped and crouched in place, and ate an uppercut. I brushed my unkempt hair from my eyes, looking back at her innocent gaze.
“Fun? This wasn’t fun at all. Don’t you realize what you’ve done? I’d be less angry if you beat me at your full strength. This way, you’re just condescending me, as if I’m that bad that you have to stoop down to my level.”
She blinked twice, averting her eyes. “Is that so…? I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.”
“KO!” Her character lay unmoving on the ground. “Perfect!”
She spared her loss with a cursory glance before looking back at me. “My brother plays in tournaments. I’m just sneaking in a few games when he’s not around. I’ve been looking for him, but he’s nowhere to be found. And I, um, forgot my cellphone at home.”
That was how the angel drowned my spark. Girls don’t usually play fighting games competitively. I did, and it took me years of practice to play at my current level. I was proud of myself, but this no-name girl didn’t even approach the game with the seriousness it deserved. She didn’t even belong here, for starters.
“What’s your brother’s name?” I asked, hesitantly. Looking back, I saw that some of the bystanders were closing in, tokens in their hands, their bullish faces telling us to leave if we weren’t going to play anymore.
I pulled her hand and took her out of the arcade. The atmosphere in there gets choking at times. Too much brusque tension, and there’s the occasional creepy stare I get from boys unaccustomed to seeing a girl beat their asses in such games.
“Byrd99,” she said, almost too softly for me to hear. “That’s what my brother calls himself.”
She lowered her gaze down at her hand, hoping me to do something with mine still clamped tightly over hers. I slowly let go.
“Oliver, huh? You’re in luck. I have his number right here.” I took out my phone and dialed his number. I beat Oliver in the second round, but I didn’t tell his sister about that.
“Camille?” the sullen voice greeted me without as much as a proper hello. “Did you call me to gloat?”
“Stupid. Your sister’s here. She’s been looking for you. Come back to the arcade now. And you’ve got some explaining to do.”
Weeaboo Word Diarrhea
“In God we trust.”
“What does this mean? Could the killer be a foreigner, sempai?” I asked the teenage detective Hachiroku Nagisa.
Hachiroku-sempai adjusted the rim of her glasses, regarding me from the side. “You jump to conclusions too quickly. The truth is, this phrase has lost its meaning in recent decades. With the advancement of secularism and atheism, the term ‘God’ has changed and reinvented its meaning. The ‘God’ in the phrase may not necessarily mean the anthropomorphic Western deity taught to us in school. The kami in Shintoism could be recognized as “God”, too, even if there are thousands of them.”
As expected of Hachiroku-sempai. “And the atheists?”
Sempai smiled knowingly. “Atheists, no matter how secular they could be, will still cling to some esoteric beliefs. One could call Lady Luck as their ‘God’, or fictional characters purporting themselves to be. Suzumiya Haruhi, of the popular light novel series is widely speculated as a ‘God’, in the context of her own story. Yet fans have jokingly, playfully called upon her name as if she were a real, omnipotent being existing in this universe.
“So in short, ‘God’ could mean anything. Best we acquire more new information before we formulate the case, Kanako-chan.” She twirled her pen in her hand and retracted the point, punctuating her conclusion.
Something wasn’t right. I held up the green, rectangular piece of paper to my eyes. “Isn’t this what they call a ‘dollar’, sempai? American currency?”
My sempai blinked out of her self-satisfied reverie. “Oh. It could be a foreigner, then.”