Vo l . 7 N o . 1
FICTION Ben DuPree
I Found You
I leave Fujikawaguchiko on foot in the late afternoon. The town is quiet and the people keep to themselves, so no one notices me, the girl walking first on sidewalks, then in leaf-strewn gutters. Roads are empty save a few cars and tourist busses on the day’s last runs. The air is cold, gusting up the sleeves of my jacket and picking the heat from my exposed nose and lips. Mount Fuji stretches to impossible heights on my left, snowcapped and judging. My phone’s map says the walk takes two hours, but I already feel a weight in my legs with each step. Life moves forward and back. Behind me the asphalt runs to town, where I have a room in a hotel owned by my Aunt, a job, and a way back to family in Tokyo. But ahead is the amber sun, and beyond a tangle of branches and a sea of trees: Aokigahara forest, my anonymous future lost among souls sunk into the wood’s volcanic soil. I walk until my feet scream pain. I am almost there. The last person I see is a hunched older man locking up a market that sells mementos to visitors of the Fugaku Wind Cave. I float by unseen. The sun is nearly gone and I am becoming a memory. Darkness creeps around the edges of my vision and mind. The trees along the highway are crooked and menacing, like they resent my potential intrusion. A sign at the wood’s edge urges its readers to think on their families and loved ones. I move until it is out of sight and I find an entry away from light, away from view. I tie string around a tree and loop the other end around my wrist. I fear I will not be able to go through with my plan, and this thin rope will lead me back if I want to return. I push on into the wood. # A massive torii shrine gate towers above me, but I cannot remember how I came to be standing before it. The side supports and single cross-beam are as wide as ancient trees, and all are wrapped with rope and diamond-shaped paper pendants.
On the other side of the gate I see the village. It is a thing of shadows and confusion, existing in a place that does not exist. Buildings do not belong here because they have never been here. Yet I face low homes of a rustic style, wood with thatched roofs, which stretch an unseen length ahead. I call out, but my voice is hollow on the air. Then, as if in response, paper lanterns flicker to life with an orange glow and light the approach to the gate and beyond. The chill begins to lift, and the night feels like it belongs to a gentle summer. “You’re also here,” a voice says. A man my age somehow stands before me as the village emerges from darkness. He wears the inexpensive suit of a Tokyo salaryman. “What is this place?” I ask. “I just arrived myself.” His voice is distant, like it is carried by the wind. “I’m Nozomi Iwata,” I say. He squints and appears to be straining against his memory. “Hikaru Honda,” he finally says. I stare at the torii gate. “This is sacred and old, but looks more the way to a village than a shrine,” I say. “Who lives here?” “Let’s find out.” We pass through the gate. # 2 I see my mother and father running a noodle counter inside Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. Their hands are crossed with kitchen burns and their faces are tinted with distraction; they do not hear me over the cooking din and a small, rabbit-ear television broadcasting the day’s Yokohama Baystars game. I see a younger version of myself. Hair is matted to starchy sweat on my forehead. Steam dots my school books and curls their pages on a shelf behind me. I do not attend cram school or apply to college because the expectation is that I will work in the family kitchen. I see the bus that takes me from Tokyo five years later. Snow flurries as we get closer to Mount Fuji, but it does not stick to the windows or the road. My Aunt sips coffee and awaits me outside Fujikawaguchiko station. She runs a hotel overlooking Lake Kawaguchi where I will tend bar. “What do you remember?” Honda asks.