Savannah Dillashaw is many things, including (but not limited to) poet, writer, English teacher, bird-keeper, lucid dreamer, Crystal child, reincarnation of an exiled ninja, leader of an interdimensional harem, and star of many of her own works. She currently spends her free time alternating between pouring her alien spirit out through poetry, and plotting marrying the maddest man she can get her hands on and proceeding with their imminent shadow takeover of the world.
Future in the Wind
“Never look back.”
Those were the words that echoed in the young man’s mind as he stepped out of Nobeyama station, the early December air biting into the small bit of his skin that was exposed to the elements. He wore his one and only kimono, a dark blue, nearly black garment lined with a pattern of intricately woven white leaves and vines that fell to just before his traditional Japanese sandals that clicked as he walked across the pavement and started down the main street of Minamimaki. He carried nothing with him except for his wallet and his cell phone, each of which was sashed against his body by the dull gold obi that held both his kimono, and him, together. It was a small village he strolled through, the sound of his geta giving off hollow wooden clops with every noise providing the sole background noise as he admired the scattering of European-style buildings, around which no people walked. Turning, he took in the station itself, a building with white arches above the door he’d just clacked his way through; topped with a small white belltower with arches in its top boarded up in a matching white. He wondered what the point of a belltower without bells was, tracing the background of the Yatsugatake mountains looming above it with his dull, deep brown gaze before being distracted from his musings by the animesque cow statue that stood as the station’s mascot to the left of the doors. The black and white cow, with its disturbingly pink nose, was the most lively thing left in the little ghost village – and he took a picture of it and the station before turning to snap a second one down the carless main street. Directly before him was a two-storied building of a similar Western style, rising up into a roof raised up into three white triangles lined with three wooden beams each. The beams seemed to form downward pointing arrows, and across the main façade of the building was printed the word PICNIC, which the arrows insisted on indicating for some reason. After centering the strange building and pushing the shutter button on his screen, he decided it was as good a place as any to get something to eat after a long journey. The young man slipped his phone back between his obi and his kimono-clad waist, walking down the main street of the village with little wooden clicks until he reached the building, passing a boarded-up apartment complex to his right and a house on a small hill rising over the road to the left. He entered with a call of “Sorry for intruding!” in unaccented Japanese (in spite of the fact that he was indeed actually an American), looking around the unoccupied space and wondering if this business as well was closed. The inside of the shop, unlike what the exterior seemed to advertise, was done in traditional Japanese style. A tatamied floor laid the foundation for a single wooden table below the window on the right wall that was serving as the space’s primary – and, he quickly realized, only light source. The table was set against the corner of the room lengthwise, perpendicular to the window, with a single wooden chair resting below the window providing what he assumed was a place to eat as he clicked his way across the room and sat down. There was a utensil box pushed against the stone wall below, with salt and pepper shakers beside it, and a menu with a picture of what looked like okonomiyaki on it leaning up against the wooden wall above. Getting his phone back out, the young man took yet another picture, this time of the view from where he sat. He framed half of the table and most of the window, careful to capture the little details of a pair of potted plants perching on the right side of the sill, one of which was sprouting a single pink flower that floated against a background of snowcapped mountains and a field of dead trees – “Oi! Who invited you in here, boy? This is supposed to be my off-day!” The young man, fumbling not to drop his phone as he was forced out of his reverie by an old woman’s crackling voice cracking at him like a whip, shoved his phone away and turned to bow his head nearly to his knees as he nearly shouted his reply. “I’m so terribly sorry! There was no sign on the door that said closed, so I was not aware that this establishment-“ “-Ah, cut the crap, kid. I’ll feed ya. This is a restaurant, ain’t it?” “I believe so, but in the event that it’s not-“ “-Just stay there, okay? I’ll be back.” By the time the young man could even raise his head to take her in, the old woman had disappeared back through the single, shadowed open doorway that he had failed to notice before due to the lack of light filtering in on this sunless day. So, still slightly embarrassed and extremely confused, he turned back to the view of browned winter grass that stretched all the way to the snow-dotted mountains in the distance sitting beneath a silver and grey cloudcovered sky. From where he sat, there were but two green trees to be seen, to the far left of the landscape the window framed. Something about them felt artificial and downright alien when contrasted with the scattered black skeletons of leafless trees that dotted the brown field to where the base of the mountains melded into it in the distance; much like the pink nose of the cow statue before, and the much pinker flower before him now that looked like it was blooming in the snow settled on the tops of the mountains from where he sat. Bothered – one could even say, angered – by the way the sakura shade of the blossom stood out against the greyscale world beyond, he found himself reaching for it to pluck it away from the stem that offered it up as a token of spring in a slumbering world. The young man had just wrapped his fingertips about the thread of a stem that nearly snapped as soon as he touched it, when the woman’s voice returned. “Order up! One house special!” He turned to finally take her in, just as she slammed a tray down in front of him with a porcelain rattle, momentarily distracting him from doing so. It was a small black wooden square of a tray, on which was a white bowl, in which was what looked like okonomiyaki without the eggs or meat in turn. The dish contained a tangle of shredded cabbage that was packed to the very top of it, giving off a strange scent of what could only be described as rotting river vegetation and the leathery smell of an old man’s skin. Not wanting to be rude, yet unable to help himself as the muscles of his face spastically contracted to cover his nose as much as was possible with the upper half of his pout-scowling lips, the young man turned to the woman to attempt to protest. “Excuse me, but I don’t-“ “-Ah, shut it, kid. Ya haven’t even tried it yet,” she snapped back, standing in a white apron that had PICNIC printed across the front of it in black letters, draped over a plain dark green kimono in turn. The woman did indeed look as old as she sounded, with tanned skin streaked with deeply cutting wrinkles that nearly consumed her black pinpricks of eyes, her hair falling down her back all the way to her waist in one massive, tangling silver wave. Her already thin lips were set into an even thinner line, arms crossed over her chest – and, as the young man sat staring perplexedly up at her, she added “The master of this here place came all the way here today to make that, so ye’d best be grateful!” “Ah, yes! Thank you for the food!” he did shout this time, hopefully loud enough for whoever was in charge to hear, before taking the pair of black chopsticks laid across the top of the bowl and taking a tentative bite. He was expecting the taste to match the smell, yet was surprised when the cabbage-like substance practically melted in his mouth. As soon as his teeth pushed together against it, it turned into a jello-like semi-solid and nearly slid down his throat of its own accord; giving off a spiced kimchee flavor on the tongue, and then a sugary aftertaste akin to sweet dango when swallowed. “Wow! This is amazing! What…is this, exactly?” the young man asked, beaming up at the woman whose expression didn’t change by a single wrinkle’s shifting as she replied. “It’s kappa stew. It’s what we’re famous for. Or, at least used to be, back in the Golden Era.” “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted!” he sang, turning back to shove multiple chopstickfulls of the mysterious substance into his mouth and savoring the way they stung slightly and then grew sweet. “Yeah, well…uh…glad ya like it, kid. It’s on the house, he says.” “He? May I meet this rumored master chef?” the young man asked through a mouthful that sounded as mushy as the food before him looked, the old woman scratching her head with a crinkling sigh. “He hasn’t met anyone in a few decades now, and he’s gettin’ on in years himself, so he’s a little more screwy than he useta be. But…” She glanced down at where the young man now had the bowl raised to his face, the last of the kappa stew being sucked into his mouth with loud slurps, simply shaking her head and sighing anew. “…I guess for this kinda enthusiasm, we can make an exception.” “Oh, thank you so much, ma’am!” he replied, glancing up to see that she’d already disappeared into the back. In her absence, he whipped his phone back out of his obi and took a winking selfie where he posed holding the chopsticks while leaning down towards the now empty bowl, captioning it “JUST FOUND MY FOOD FOREVER BAE #delicious #bejealousbitches #japanlife4evs” before posting it on Instagram. He debated adding a filter, going back and toggling between the class of the black and white and the mystery of sepia, when a new voice broke into the midst of his American struggles. “So, you’re the whippersnapper who liked my stew, huh?” After nearly dropping his phone (again), the young man now looked up to see a man who seemed equally old as the woman framed in the doorway. He stood stooped over, legs bent as if he was about to jump, with a large, dark green bag strapped to his back that far overshadowed his skinny, shrunken form. His clothes consisted of a dark green kimono that matched the woman’s, with a withered looking brown obi wrapped around multiple times to keep it from coming loose from about his dwarfish body. The old man stood there smiling at the far younger one, his thick, yellow-looking lips that took up a majority of his deeply wrinkled face upturned in glee, and it took him a few long moments to make his way over to the table where there was only room for one. He took jerking, short steps that flared his kimono out to the sides, almost as if he was attempting to swim instead of walk; and the young man leapt up, holding out a hand to him. “Let me help you sir,” he said in a rush, reaching for where the old man’s arm floated unseen somewhere within the folds of his kimono; but the elder being simply shook his head, bald but for a perfect circle of fluffy black hair that encompassed it. “Nah, nah, sonny, I’m fine.” “Well, may I at least offer you my seat?” the young man asked, waving a hand at the now empty chair, but the elder simply repeated his response. “Nah, nah, that’s quite alright. When you get to be my age, it doesn’t matter much whether you sit or stand anymore. In fact, I prefer floating myself!” The old man broke into a laugh that sounded something between a duck’s quacking and a turtle’s hissing; and the younger simply collapsed back in the chair, somewhat stunned even before the elder spoke up again. “I’m a kappa, ya know!” “I’m…sorry?” the young man murmured, setting the elder into yet another, much longer fit of laughter. “That’s why it’s funny!” he coughed out as his duck-turtle hysterics died down, nearly eye to eye with the young man now that he was sitting anew. “Why d’ya think we call it kappa stew, eh?” The elder gave the young man a few hearty pats on the back, his hand cold even through the thick blue folds of his kimono; and the youth just coughed out a few obligatory notes of laughter to appease him, unsure if he was actually joking or not. “I can see you’re not actually convinced,” the old man said, retracting his hand and rubbing it across the shining bald spot in the middle of his head, humming to himself. “Well, I guess we’ll have to fix that then, won’t we?” Not even giving the young man a chance to reply, the elder grabbed a handful of the black fluff circling his head and tugged. For a moment, the youth opened his mouth as if to shout and stop him, not wanting to see an elder harm themselves because of him. Yet, what came away in the old man’s hand was not a dark tuft of hair, but a tightly compacted clump of the same cabbage-like substance the youth had just swallowed a solid bowlful of – the now familiar scent of spoiling river vegetation and leathery skin hitting him as the elder deposited the chunk of food back in the white bowl before him with a wet little plop. “See? Kappa stew! Bet’cha never seen ya food prepared like that, huh!” The kappa broke back out into quack-hissing laughter, steadying himself with his hands against the bumps in the lower half of his dark green kimono where the youth assumed his knees were as he doubled over in a fit of hysterics that made it seem as if the oversized green bag strapped to his back was crushing his frail-looking form. Unsure of what else to say, the young man asked “Are you okay?” the way any self-respecting Japanese person who was even halfway respectful of others would do in the same situation. “Ah, I’m fine, sonny! Never underestimate a kappa; even if he is an old one in a half-human form he hasn’t used in a couple decades!” He straightened up, still shaking a bit with mirth; and gave a few wet sounding coughs to calm himself, suddenly growing quite sober. “That’s actually the question I should be asking you. The only time someone wanders into this here place, it’s usually because they’ve lost their way somehow, and need some help finding it again. So I make em’ a nice bowl of kappa stew to try to set em’ right. Something tells me with you, though, you’re gonna need a bit more than just a bowl of my best stuff.” “Then what exactly do I need?” the young man mumbled between a mouthful of his second serving of stew, savoring the sweetly spiced taste in spite of seeing where it came from. “Well…” the kappa started, stroking his palm across the shiny palate of his bare skull, pursing his puffy yellow lips for a moment before continuing. “Back in the Golden Age of Japan, just meeting with a youkai like this was more than enough encouragement for people to be able to go back out those doors and find the path that they’d lost anew. But, considering it’s the modern age now – and you’re an American, to boot! – I think ye’d be best off continuing down the road a bit to the highest point of the railroad.” “What’s there, if I may ask?” the young man did indeed ask, after a final loud slurp of stew and clink as he placed his bowl back down. “Something that’s only there for those who are looking for it. And it’ll be there for ya, kiddo. I promise.” The kappa turned, making his way back towards the doorway he first appeared within with his jerking, sideways swishing steps; and, remembering his manners, the young man called out “Thanks for the meal!” just before the elder disappeared with a single backwards glance over his oversized shell, a smile on his puffy, pale lips. The young man made his way back outside, the frozen air slapping his face and the slightest bit of his neck and chest that were exposed to it above the upper folds of his kimono as soon as he did. He glanced down the main street of the town to where it gave way to the mountains in the distance, feeling more ancient than the kappa as he started clicking along, knowing that he had quite the hike ahead of him. He proceeded down the path that he had been given in the form of the road as far as he could; having no other destination, taking pictures as he went. Through the lens of his cell phone, the young man captured a displayed steam engine that was set beside the road at one point – a black, boxy looking car with tall wheels ringed in white that reminded him of something from the American Golden Age as he passed by. He captured the border of the end of the village, where the snow-streaked mountains rising above the road lined with more street signs pointing the way to other places than buildings seemed to call to him louder than ever to keep going. He captured the road where it passed between two browned by winter’s touch fields matching the one that had stretched out behind the kappa’s place; all the traffic on it heading past him back towards the village, yet all the cars of which would assumably turn off down some other path before arriving there. He captured a white building that looked as if it had once been a warehouse of some sort, a pair of silver railroad cars parked railessly to its left, above which stretched a fragment of the mountains that split off into a sunless, silver-grey sky. He captured a red building with a green roof that rose like a mountain up above it, twice as tall as the structure itself, that looked to have been a prosperous restaurant at one time; yet now had one lone car in the parking lot that could have comfortably fit forty. He captured the sign indicating the highest point of the railroad was just up ahead, which specified that distance from sea level as 1,375 meters in both kanji and English characters. And, once he had walked the final 50 meters towards that point (as also indicated by the sign), he captured the tunnel that split open in the concrete wall that ran beside the railroad track and invited him in past two banks of fallen leaves with three dim yellow lights that flickered to life along its right side, a message painted in the style of American graffiti running along its left in red ink that read “Regain all hope forsaken, ye who enter here” in bubbled blocks of kanji. He captured the path that led like a thin black river through a sea of fallen brown leaves around the side of a mountain rising on its right that curved away to the left past a forest of skeletal trees. He captured his first glimpse of the mansion rising four-stories through a particularly dense clumping of leafless branches that seemed particularly desperate to conceal something, and yet to not conceal it completely, the grand white building folding outwards towards him in a V-shape that allowed him a perfect view of its few dozen arched round windows as he pushed his way through the bony branches that tore tiny holes in his kimono to reach the courtyard clear of trees and even fallen leaves that stretched about its base. Yet, what his camera didn’t capture was the moment he pushed open the round-arched double white doors that served as its entrance and stepped inside – the doors squeaking shut with a final bang that echoed throughout the seemingly abandoned space and sealed him inside. Before the young man was a foyer that was carpeted with a plush red rug and peopled by but a pair of high-backed velvet armchairs of the same color with a matching coffee table in between. The space was well-lit thanks to a floor to ceiling window that stretched above the white marble staircase that rose out of the far side of the room, branching off to the right and left in turn beside where a view of the mountains filled the glass. Assuming this building was just as abandoned as all the others he’d passed up to this point, the young man started to cross the room, his geta’s previous clacking now silenced by the plush rug. The air of the space was warm, almost hot, as if someone had just been burning a fire, and he tugged at the folds of his kimono as he breathed in the scent of old books and wood the building seemed to breathe itself. Exhausted by his hike, as well as unsure if this was even the place the kappa meant for him to reach, he collapsed into one of the chairs with a loud sigh that echoed against the gold and diamond chandelier he took in as he tilted his head back before closing his eyes. Part of him wondered who exactly this beautiful place belonged to – yet the vast majority of him was far too exhausted to truly care, and he allowed himself to slip into a light doze as he sat. Yet, as is the case with any good adventure, the young man was not allowed to rest for long. “Now, I can forgive a young American like yourself for going rogue to Japan, but I won’t tolerate this kind of laziness in any follower of mine, regardless of country.” A voice – a familiar voice – broke into the young man’s drifting consciousness and tugged him back towards reality. Yet, it wasn’t enough to rouse him fully, forcing the speaker to kick him in the shins with a hoarse shout of “WAKE UP!” that finally did the trick. The young man nearly jumped out of the plush chair, his body spastically twitching in shock as his eyes flew open to take in the fact that the chair facing him was now occupied by his political idol. “Bernie Sanders?!” he squealed, facing the bespectacled, grandfatherly face that was currently frowning at him with an ecstatic fanboy grin on his own. His first instinct as an American, and a young one at that, was to snatch his cell phone back out of his obi – but, as soon as his fingers found the device, the familiar voice cut him off. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Ian. It won’t show up anyway.” “You know my name?!” the young man squeaked, letting go of his phone to grab his mouth instead to suppress a fanboy scream; the old man across from him simply sighing, shaking his white-hair tufted head. “How could I not know your name? I’m an omnipotent, shape-shifting spirit that’s been stuck here longer than the kappa’s been stuck at that dingy little place down the road.” “So, you’re not really Bernie Sanders, then?” the young man asked, the same dullness of tone that he’d grown so used to using creeping back into his voice – the ancient spirit shaking his head anew. “No. Sorry, kid. I just took this form because it would give me the greatest chance of getting through to you. Also, because you’re an American, and I’ve never gotten to transform into an American figure before.” “Oh. I see,” the young man mumbled, slumping back in his chair to take in where microscopic dust mites waltzed in slow motion about the crystals of the chandelier above in the slowly fading greyscale light. “Now, don’t you be like that. It’s exactly that shitty attitude that the kappa and I set out to fix.” “Why?” the youth murmured, refusing to face the fake political figure. “Because us few youkai and spirits of the land left have to do our best to support the even fewer amount of human beings that still believe in us. And you – in spite of being an American – are one of those beings. This is our way of thanking you.” “Yeah, well, I…feel your pain,” the young man murmured, finally straightening his head to properly face the being before him. “Sometimes it’s that lack of care for the old ways in the people around me that hurts me the most.” He paused, and the spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders conjured a Japanese tea set with a wave of his hand, nodding to the young man to continue as he began pouring them each a cup of green tea, starting with himself. “I mean…being a college student in the modern era is rough, you know? All you have time for is studying and writing papers, and you don’t make a lot of money from your part-time job at Starbucks, and you just kinda have enough to get by and pay your rent and grab some food from the same convenience stores and fast food restaurants that you know are killing you slow and – oh gods.” His voice broke, his face falling into his hands, with something akin to a sob escaping him before he added, “What have I been doing with my life?” “You know, the funny thing is, those are universal problems you’re expressing,” the spirit said, taking a slow sip of tea before continuing. “Those don’t really have much to do with being Japanese, or American, or whatever. So if that’s your only excuse-“ “-But that’s not what gets to me,” the young man cut back in, uncovering his face. “What gets to me is the way this lifestyle manifests here. Instead of going to the little local shrine every day to toss in some spare change and pray, I’m picking my pockets at the Daily Yamazaki for a few extra 50-yen coins so I can maybe afford an onigiri with my 83-yen loaf of sweet bread. Instead of going to Zenkouji for Christmas Eve to but specially blessed omamori for my family back home, I’ll be at Saizeriya studying my ass off for the final I have the next day on Christmas proper. And instead of hanging out with the few friends I have on my one day off from both school and work in the past three months, I’m here. And I don’t even know what that means, or what I’m supposed to do now.” “First,” the spirit started, handing the young man a cup of tea once he’d finished his monologue, “you’re going to drink this and calm down.” “Did the kappa make this too?” the young man asked, taking the shiny black cup between his fingers, and the spirit let out a short laugh in Bernie Sanders’ voice. “No, that’s my own special recipe!” “So, it’s Bernie Sanders tea?” “No, you fool, it’s spirit tea. Just shut up and drink it, or I’ll turn into Trump.” The young man cringed back into the plush back of the chair, murmuring “Oh gods anything but that” before taking a long gulp of the tea. The liquid, in spite of having steam rising off of it, was chilled and sweet; and, suddenly realizing just how thirsty he actually was after his extensive hike, he drank it all in three long gulps, placing the now empty teacup back down with a sigh. “So, now what? Am I supposed to have some kind of revelation about the meaning of my life or existence or whatever?’ “Watch the sarcasm, kid. And no; not for a while, anyway. For now,” the spirit said, standing up, “we’re going to have dinner, if you’d care to join us. Which, considering it’s getting dark and there’s no proper way for mortals to make their way back down the mountain, I’d recommend.” The spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders turned and started striding towards the stairs, the window above which the young man noticed was now letting in a much greyer shade of sunless sunlight compared to even a few minutes before as he leapt up to follow him, the white marble stairs leading the two of them up to the second floor. Here, both sets of stairways looped up to a dining room fit for royalty, where the chandelier sprang to life behind them and gilded the room in golden light that melted into the further sea of red spread throughout another plush carpet and set of high-backed chairs arranged around a long dining table spread with a white cloth. Directly across the room from the stairs was yet another window, offering a view of the mountainside while letting in an even dimmer stream of silver light. Yet, to the left and the right of the window that took up a majority of the wall were two portraits that seemed to spring to life out of the warm golden light. On the left was a gold-framed, blown up version of a picture that meant the world to the young man. In it, he was framed by a Finnish man on his right, and a girl who was a fellow American on his left – the three of them locked in a group embrace in front of an amphibious vehicle with the word KABA printed on the front in blue. On the right was a gold-framed, larger-than-life version of the selfie he’d taken earlier. His eyes flicked back and forth between the two images that filled the spaces on both sides of the window from floor to ceiling, taking in the way that the white-toothed, all-American smile in the right-hand image actually matched the one on the left for the first time in a long time. Yet, he was distracted from his admiration of the two self-portraits by the realization that the spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders was now taking a seat at the table set for four – where two other what he assumed (yet slightly forgot) were spirits were now present. “You! Oh gods, why are YOU here?” he howled in disgust as the spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders was now sitting on the side of the table nearest him, with one that was currently taking the form of Donald Trump directly across from him, with one that looked like Hillary Clinton to the fake Trump’s left across from where the young man would soon be sitting himself. “Do these forms displease you that much?” the spirit that looked like Hillary asked, and the young man simply bobbed his head up and down with a shrill shout of “Yes!” quickly adding “Bernie, you said you wouldn’t bring Trump into this!” “I said I wouldn’t turn into Trump myself; and I didn’t make any promises about either Trump or Hillary,” the fake Bernie commented, casting a glance back over his shoulder at where the young man stood paralyzed by the stairs before waving him over. “Come and sit down, kid.” “Not until you make Mr.Meme and Crooked Hillary Clinkon go away!” the young man yelled, glaring from one to the other of his non-idolized American political figures until the fake Bernie simply sighed and shook his head. “You know it’s not actually them, right?” “Yeah kid; we’re all here to make Ian great again,” the fake Trump spoke up, raising his hands in front of his face on the word “great;” and the young man simply sighed, now shaking his own head and not resisting the urge to facepalm. “Spirit or not, that’s too close to the original for comfort. Please Bernie-who’s-not-actually-Bernie.” “Alright, fine! I thought seeing some more American figures might make you feel a bit more patriotic towards one of your two countries. However, since that’s not the case…” The spirit paused mid-speech for a second, waving a hand to conjure a golden candelabra in the middle of the table to add an additional layer of golden hued light; the two other spirits’ forms flickering as the flames on the tips of the red candles on top of it flickered to life. When they reformed, the one across from the fake Bernie Sanders had now taken the form of the American girl to the young man’s left in the portrait, and the former Hillary Clinton had now become the Finnish man – both of which were smiling at the young man the way they had at the camera in the picture as the spirit that still looked like Bernie Sanders asked “Is this finally to your liking, kid?” The young man stood there, the flickering of the candlelight and the two people from the picture behind where they sat (or at least two spirits who looked like them) who he hadn’t seen in over a year and a half who he never thought he would see again reflecting in his eyes as he breathed “Yes…it is, actually.” With that, the fake Bernie Sanders waved a hand again, filling the table with golden plates filled with an assortment of both American and Japanese food. Cheeseburgers were laid out beside takoyaki, hot dogs were piled beside sticks of dango, French fries were scattered over patties of okonomiyaki, and so on and so forth from one end of the banquet table that could potentially sit 20 people to the other. The four of them passed the various plates around, the golden platters glinting in the gilded illumination the chandelier and candles gave off as the only light now that the twilight had fully faded into oblivion beyond both windows – and, for the first time in a long time, the young man felt truly content. No…happy. He was sure, once again, that this is what happiness felt like. None of the spirits spoke, and neither did he, even as they all eventually picked up chopsticks for the Japanese foods that required them and began to eat. Yet, it was fine like this. Wonderful like this. In fact, the young man was desperately hoping that the fake versions of his two friends wouldn’t say a word – afraid that them speaking would only serve to shatter the magic of the illusion that was currently giving him so much more peace than he’d had in a long time. Maybe more than he’d ever had. For here, nothing ever had to change. Time need not move forward, and tear that picture behind where they sat to shreds. Yet, even here in this place beyond the absolute limits of mortal physics in terms of actual physicality, where any flesh and blood figure could be conjured thanks to spirits who have no flesh and blood at all, there was indeed yet time. Evidenced by the way that, after a certain short little span of existence in which chopsticks clacked against gold platters and eventually clattered to a rest beside, he let out a loud yawn that did, indeed, break some part of the spell. “There’s a spare bedroom we can lend you for the night. Or, more specifically, quite a few; but, there is one in particular that we have already prepared for you.” This time, it was the American girl who spoke up – the young man starting a bit at hearing the spirit do a perfect impression of her voice. His instincts as a Japanese were to decline the offer and find a way home; but the spirit girl read his mind before he could even speak. “You’d never make it back down the mountain now. Come on.” Neither waiting to be dismissed by the others, nor for some form of consent from him, she stood up, her black lace dress falling to just above her knees and the black crystal beaded choker necklace she wore the very same as in that picture glinting in the firelight. He rose out of instinct, following her where she led him down a corridor that branched off from the left side of the room. As she walked, red candles set into golden holders sprung to life along each wall, burning with an unusual brightness that flooded the space with the same amount of brightness that would come from a modern lighting system. “Here we are,” she said, stopping in front of the last door on the right and turning around to face him. She smiled and gave a small Japanese style bow before making to step past him, her hazel eyes glinting amber and orange in the candlelight, and he grabbed her hand just as she was about to brush her way around him. “Wait!” Part of him knew it was only a spirit that looked like one of the best friends he’d ever had at that school. But, considering the being’s aura somehow matched her own a little too well, in spite of just being some ancient Japanese spirit (or maybe exactly because it was one), he couldn’t help asking the question of it he’d been dying to all night, as if it was actually her. “Did you ever find who you were looking for?” The candle flames around them flickered with a faint swishing sound, the hallway growing a few degrees warmer as her eyes widened a fraction that was due to the spirit’s confusion and subsequent momentary transference into the girl’s mind a sea and a continent away to find the answer the young man was seeking; offering a distant smile as she replied in a voice barely more than a whisper. “Not yet…but it won’t be long now.” The next morning, the young man was awoken by a wet tapping on the floor to ceiling window behind the bed he borrowed for the night. He opened his eyes and sat up in a daze, turning to see fat flakes of snow falling on the mountainside that stretched up into the sky before him like a great white wall, and down into the courtyard of the mansion that was surrounded by the black skeletons of trees that were now weighted down with white fluff that was only getting thicker and cascading down in puffy clumps even as he watched. Being the first snowfall of the season that he’d personally witnessed, the innocent side of him was struck with a sense of childish wonder. Yet, as he got out of bed and stretched his arms above his head with a groan, this side was swiftly overwhelmed by the all-too-adult wondering of how exactly he was going to get back down the mountain and all the way back to town in these conditions. Going back down the hallway now illumed by snowy silver light that glinted off the gold candle holders, he was greeted in the dining room dash upper foyer by the spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders. Or, considering any of them could take any form, he assumed it was the same one for the sake of convenience. “Good morning, Ian. I do hope you’re feeling refreshed after your stay with us.” He was standing near the window that the pair of portraits were hanging to the sides of last night, hands clasped behind his back, gazing down into the courtyard as he spoke. In spite of feeling a bit less tired, the young man sighed, answering honestly. “I don’t know, Bernie. I mean…my stay here has been amazing, and you’ve all been so hospitable and kind to me. But…” He trailed off, letting his once more dull brown stare slide from the spirit out to where the snow was falling from where the glass met the ceiling to the floor. “…I just feel like my future’s in the wind, you know?” The spirit that looked like Bernie Sanders turned to face him for the first time then, smiling like an embodiment of the winter with his grandfatherly face framed by snowy white hair. “Is that necessarily a bad thing though, Ian?” “Well, I mean…” the young man began, suddenly cut off by a downward wave of the spirit’s hand that beckoned him over Japanese-style. He walked over to stand beside him, gazing down into the courtyard as the spirit did anew; noticing as he did so, that something had changed. Where before the courtyard of the mansion had been circled by the bones of bare-branched trees suffocated by the snow, there now stood a grove of cherry blossomed trees in full bloom. The young man wasn’t even entirely sure if the skeletons that had been out there until just a few moments ago belonged to cherry trees or not. Yet, such a thing mattered not as there they stood, a few million little sakura starbursts exploding into bloom in a wave of pale pink petals that swept around the periphery of the courtyard. Logically, he knew that such a thing should never be possible at this time of year. Yet, such an occurrence was no more improbable than any other that had taken place over the course of the past not even 24 hours. And, as the glass before them suddenly disappeared, a gust of wind like a sigh of the gods washing through the pale pink sea below and scattering those petals up, up, into the room and all around him in a cold yet refreshing cherry blossom tornado that took all his cares with it as it collapsed about him in a sweet, spring-scented burst, the wind rushing back out the window up the snow covered mountainside and somewhere far away, he realized the spirit was right. A smile on the young man named Ian’s face as, plucking a petal from the front of his kimono, he realized having a future in the wind – as long as it was a wind like that – really wasn’t such a bad thing after all.