As I woke the next morning, there was a moment where I almost felt like I did before. But it soon passed with strange itches and a painful ‘rigidness’ that made me turn bright red and swarm around the covers like a blob eager to go back into its cocoon until it changed into something else. My salvation was just a few feet from me but Mayu wasn't there and I knew I would hate myself if I altered her mind to believe I’d always been Kyoko.
I shuffled over with my bedsheets around this strange, boyish body. I felt concerned by the pain of the ‘rigidness’. I hoped that was normal. I tried to take my mind off it by looking around this new closet I’d inherited. After a good bit of searching, I stumbled upon a boy’s school uniform like the one in the artwork.
I wondered why I was wearing something else and not the uniform noted in the art. I wore the skintight outfit in the castle reality and my clothing hadn’t reset to what I was wearing when I…first became Kyoko…when I turned back from the skintight. I figured it was something I’d have to ask Mayu about.
After a few minutes of walking around, the rigid sensations receded, and I could put my mind on other matters. Mom greeted me in the hallway. I always woke up early but apparently this was a surprise for Kiyoshi to do. Mom told me to go wake my sister because she had early sports practice.
That was something we hadn’t gleaned about this reality last night. I wasn’t sure how keen Mayu would be for sports so early in the morning. But I made my way over to her room. I found her curled up with her covers and hugging her pillow gently. I roused her with a little poke in the shoulder, like always.
She sighed and slowly looked up at me. Her eyes widened at me and then slowly relaxed. She noted, “Hoped…a little…that it would just all be a dream when I woke up.” I could sympathize with her. Naturally, my sister was curious about what it was like to sleep as a boy. I told her it didn’t really feel much different than normal but left out the most embarrassing details.
I introduced my quandary about my clothing being different from the image. She had no clue but did say that was the first time she noticed it. She figured it would be a good question for the black-haired woman. Then, I had to present her with the unfortunate news of early sports practice.
Mayu grumbled and leaned back. “Can’t I just use my artwork and get out of it? If I’m a kung-fu master then I won’t need to go to classes.” She was willing to wait until after we talked to Aioli though. I was a little anxious about what kind of boy her paper would turn me into and whether I would be brothers with Mayu or something else.
I expressed my feelings. She nodded and noted, “But if we’re both holding the paper then things will be fine.” Then, a frown spread on her face and she softly admitted, “I heard you last night a little. Kyoko…I wish I could do more for you. I wish I knew what to do. But I promise I’ll do my best to be with you along the way.”
I felt glad for that and her help since the morning was hectic. I wasn’t sure what the procedure was for a boy at a girl’s school. I assumed it was a secret like in some melodramas. Fortunately, all the items were laid out for me with some written notes that looked like they’d been done by someone emulating my handwriting.
After appliances were applied and I was happy with the wig, I looked in the mirror. I looked rather how I expected to look in the mirror. Sure, the form of my chest was detached from my body and I felt uncomfortably-padded all over, but it was reassuring to see myself look close to normal.
Me in drag didn’t widen the eyes of our parents. I didn’t have time to dwell on the strangeness of this all. I checked to make sure all four papers were in my bag. I ate what breakfast I could, then we left the house.
Being out in the cool, clear morning with the sun trickling over the horizon made me aware. Not only of myself but of that subtle richness that had spread to the colors of the world since the last change. Everything was immersed in anime style. It was subtler in people and I hadn’t seen much difference around the house. But looking outside, I felt like I was looking at the incredible paper artwork stretched around an entire world.
The morning, with people milling about in their anime textures, brought out self-conscious fear and concern. I was a boy. I knew that with every motion of my body. And yet at the same time I was trying to present an image of a girl to the world. I felt like the additions were as obvious as wearing a ridiculous costume. My legs quivered with each step away from the front porch.
I shivered despite the fact I felt quite warm in my outfit. I felt conscious of all the differences with my body. I felt scared parts of me would burst out and people would recoil in horror. I wanted to run back inside and look at the picture of my girl self. My mind was calmed by the soft scent of lavender perfume, which I’d found in the closet and applied.
I tried to breathe as I walked. With all the things I had around me, I was liable to pass out if I didn’t breathe. My stomach gurgled from the abbreviated breakfast but soon settled down. Passing the houses slowly, we caught sight of Aioli tending to a small tree.
She had a branch clipper in her hands. Carefully, she snipped here and there and gathered up the fallen branches into a pile. She dusted her hands, smiled at us, and asked, “What can I do for you two?”
Mayu and I looked at each other. Mayu tried, “Do you remember what we talked about last night when we came to visit you?” The woman gently brushed the trunk of her tree and said, “Naturally. The important parts at least.”
We posed our question to her. She reflected on it, with her hand gently caressing the bark of the trunk. “The images provide connections with the reality of mind and the reality of form. Your mental image of a red-haired girl version of you becomes fact. Or any of a myriad of thoughts you share, no matter their shape.”
She rested her hand on a branch and followed it to where it split into more branches. “But when the papers are used by more than one person, the images are introduced to new constants in the variables. More constants lead to less predictability and more unintended effects.” Her hands followed the branches as the divergences increased.
I didn’t like the way that sounded but it seemed to fit. Mayu scratched her neck and sighed. “Would that mean we could wind up further and further away from where we started because of…going together?”
The woman shrugged. “Could be. But by keeping each other constant, you at least know a little about where you’ll end up.” Mayu and I grimaced together. I straightened my skirt out. Mayu asked her, “And where do we end up? What do we do?” The woman’s eyes softened as she said, “You might be worse off… But I will say to trust in each other. Have a nice morning.” It wasn’t much to go on, but we thanked her for her words.
I was also thankful that Mayu walked at my pace. I kept pausing to smooth my clothes, but she stayed right with me. She held my hand when it trembled. She waited when I put my feet together at the curb and took a few breaths. I was glad to have Mayu, even if she didn’t remember me as a girl how I wished.
Leaving the quiet of our neighborhood was jarring. So many people crossed here and there. They could see me revealed. I was sure they would see through this awful disguise. I kept my head down and tried not to meet their gazes. I feared someone would point at me. I couldn’t wait for when this would be over but I tried to keep as strong as possible.
I held my school bag in front of my skirt, fearful that something would go rigid again and make me pass out. I liked boys but being one did not appeal to me. I loathed it. I wished I could find some reason to take out the schoolgirl paper, even in public, but I worried about the variables Aioli mentioned.
When we finally made it to the train station, it was absolutely crowded with a crush of business people and students. Despite my best efforts, I bumped into so many people. My padding and everything was mashed, pushed, and pressed. I was used to the crush, but each touch felt new and strange.
One lingering look from a girl in a school uniform set me on edge. I worried she was seeing something in my disguise. I feared she found me out. But, if she did, she gave no sign. If not for Mayu, I was sure I would’ve screamed and collapsed. With her, I pushed through the crowd and we made our way onto the train.
Mayu held my hand the whole way. She asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. Despite my doubts, I nodded to her and said, “I want to make sure nothing messes up your paper. I’ll be okay. It’s not a big deal.” I doubted my words, but I put on a little smile to reassure her.
I told myself I would look back on this and laugh. I would be glad for the experience as a boy and for the rest. But I wanted it to be done.
However, I also knew that being ‘done’ meant that the world I’d always known would be gone, possibly forever.
With that in mind, I tried to relax and enjoy what would be my last ride to school on the train. The morning air made the closeness of the train car feel bearable. For a moment, I could feel the appliances and additions to my body slipping away. I was just me again with my sister on the train. I felt a moment of peace.
The peace lasted until I glimpsed myself in the window. The image was distorted, showing every flaw. I felt hideous. But I took a deep breath and turned away. I told myself it would be okay. I reached into my bag and felt for all four papers. Touching them was comforting.
The way to school had never felt so long. When we got there, I had to use the restroom. The same restroom where Mayu…and I… changed yesterday. I shut my eyes. I wished I could lock the door. Every sound I made sped up my heart. When I was done and everything was back in place, I told Mayu, “We need to try it now. I can’t take much more of this.”
Mayu nodded. We were alone for the moment. It was as good a time as any. I fished out Mayu’s papers and looked at each with them turned away from her. She took a breath and closed her eyes. I asked her, “How about the kung-fu one?” She shrugged and said, “Sounds good.” As I slid the paper out of its sleeve, a girl suddenly pushed open the door to the bathroom. It was the full-figured girl from yesterday with red-and-green ribbons in her hair. She laughed to someone out of sight.
I tried to put the paper away, but she passed by us and reached over. Before I could say anything, she had it in her hands. Mayu blinked her eyes open in confusion and turned. The girl held the paper in her hands and rotated it. “What’s this? Cool art…”
I didn’t hear what she said next. Mayu responded first. She bowed her eyes and reached a hand out for the image. But her eyes seemed caught on the image, trapped, and watching it inescapably. I reached out too, but a moment slower than Mayu. I was sure I touched paper. But, at the same instant, I felt like I was falling.
Then the world burst with sunlight. We were outside on a brown, gravel road. There were dense, deep green trees all around. They seemed so tall…
No…I was small. I was a young boy…I was turning ten years old in three days. I had this strange sense of my name.
It was Yuji Fujimura, but I still knew my name was Kyoko Fujiwara.
I wore a long, moss-green tunic and loose-fitting, silvery pants. Next to me stood a man with Mayu’s eyes.
My brother, Katsu. And my sister, Mayu.
I knew he was seventeen since last month. He was muscular all over, but I knew he was flexible and fast. He wore a flowing white top with black pants. The design looked Chinese, but I knew this wasn’t China. It wasn’t the same outfit from the image. But it was the same man from the image.
Beside me, a young boy in a red-and-green patterned outfit started screaming. I remembered him as a boy named Kenji. He lived next to us. He trembled and let the paper fall to the ground. I wore a satchel which was several sizes too big for me, but I put the paper back in its sleeve. The other three papers were already inside a pocket of the satchel. I remembered they’d been painted by a mystical woman who lived in town. She had long, black hair.
I felt strange. I could remember being Kyoko, but I could also remember being Yuji. Memories of both crossed freely in my mind. My brother Katsu had special fighting powers. He protected our small village from thieves since he was a little boy. His powers came from this land.
There was a special land nearby that was only open to those with the talent to sense its boundaries. It made resources richer but also kindled chaos. I felt a pang of sadness that our parents had long ago passed away from this world.
My memories were confusing. I didn’t feel bad about being a boy, but I also felt an edge of anxiety. I felt like I was two people in the same head. I wanted to hug my sister and spar with my brother, even though I knew he always won.
The screaming boy got louder. I tried to shush him up, but he flailed with me and screamed out questions in his hysteria that I couldn’t answer. Finally, he passed out on the ground.
Katsu…Mayu felt around her…his outfit. He was really tall next to me. She blushed and asked me, “Kyoko?” I answered him but told her about the conflicting memories and notions in my head. She mused over the name Katsu and absorbed my information as he picked up the unconscious boy with ease and set him on his broad shoulders.
Suddenly, I heard a voice echo out of the trees. A branch snapped. Before I could turn, hands surrounded me. They toppled and pushed me into a tree. Everything was a blur.
I thought I saw Mayu fighting but it didn’t look like she was doing very well. I tried to throw my hands but I got whipped around onto a rough, tall tree root.
When I was able to stagger to my feet, I looked back towards the road. There was no one in sight. Mayu, the other boy, and the attackers were gone. I also realized, as I checked myself, that my satchel with all four papers was gone as well.