SoulForge

        

Chapter 1

I sit with my legs crossed, carelessly spinning my pen between the fingers of my right hand.  I want to lay my head down on my desk and rest, but sadly the obnoxious droning of the lanky, middle-aged teacher at the front of the classroom is preventing me from doing so.  My desk sits in the back corner of the room, a position from which I can see everything that everyone is doing.  Some students towards the front of the class are feverishly writing down notes on the history lesson while most everyone else feigns doing the same, only to occasionally exchange whispers or text messages.  Thinking of this, I lay my pen down and lower my hands beneath my desk.  Looking at the plain, black watch on my left hand, I press the button on it labeled HoloPad and a small, holographic screen pops up, hovering an inch or so above the face of the watch.  I look at the left side of the screen, where a zero is flashing next to the Messages button.  I’m hardly surprised, but I let out a slightly disappointed sigh.  It’s a shame that conversation requires two people; I’m a bit lacking in the ‘friends’ department.

        I glance towards the top right corner of my HoloPad where the time is displayed.  It reads 3:23 PM, January third, 2027, and a small notification beneath it reminds me that it is “Two weeks until Union Day.”  Union Day.  I have mixed feelings about this particular holiday, but mostly I wish that it didn’t exist.  Seven years ago, civil disputes in Japan caused the southern half of the country, reaching almost all the way to Tokyo, to secede.  Japan naturally resisted this, but with the United States backing the secession, they had no choice but to concede.  The newly christened South Japan was all set to begin anew, but before any kind of government could be established the U.S. showed its true motives and annexed the small country, making it an official territory.  The anniversary of this day was established as a holiday, Union Day, by the new government.  The Americans began building the territory as it saw fit, establishing the large metropolitan capitol of Blackwell City in the heart of South Japan.  The capitol was filled to the brim with Americans; mostly government employees, like my father, and their families moved there to settle the new area.  To round it all out, the U.S. appointed a governor to head the Territorial Government.  

The territory is now a melting pot of Eastern and Western ideals, and this has proven to be problematic at best.  The native Japanese are rightly furious, but against the Territorial Government they wouldn’t stand a chance if they tried to fight for their freedom.  We are always told that the many restrictions and regulations implemented by the TG are for the betterment of South Japan, and maybe to an extent they are correct.  An exceptional language program was created to greatly diminish the language barrier between the natives and the immigrants such as myself.  Additionally, the TG has remained entirely stable for the duration of its existence.  I’m still not sure where I stand on the subject, but to be honest I don’t think it matters.  Things are the way they are, and that’s that.

As I finish my line of thought, a loud bell rings and the students begin to scramble out of their desks and into the hall.  I close my HoloPad, throw my backpack over my shoulder, and follow suit.  The hallways of Blackwell High School are large and extravagant, and at times I feel more like I’m walking through a museum than a school.  The walls are adorned with pictures and objects detailing the short history of South Japan; they stand as a constant reminder to students of the generosity and perseverance of the Territorial Government.  Or so I’m told.  As I continue walking, a small, chubby boy next to me trips over the foot of a burly senior and all of the books in his hand fly out as he falls to the floor.  Everyone in the area starts to laugh, and I briefly consider stopping to help the boy gather his belongings.  I quickly decide against it; I’d rather not have any kind of attention on me.  As someone who would rather just stay out of peoples’ way, I really lucked out when it came to characteristics: I’m an average looking guy, my dark red-brown hair is never styled in any bizarre manner, I’m of average height – I suppose I’m just so utterly average that no one really takes notice of me.  The only thing above average about me at all is my intelligence, but I hide that to avoid any undue notice.

        I stroll out of the hallway and down the steps of the front entrance of the school.  As I emerge, I hear a voice calling out from behind me.

        “Blake!  Wait up, will you?”

        The voice belongs to William Morris, a tall, blonde boy who is one of the few friends I have at this school.  He jogs out of the entrance and catches up to me on the walkway leading away from the school.

        “Hey Will,” I respond quietly.

        He slaps his hand on my shoulder and smiles before pointing to a shop a few blocks down the street.  “There’s a new music store opening today, and Martin, Hina, and I are gonna go check it out.  Why don’t you come with us?”

        I consider his proposal, but I don’t know Martin very well, and I only know Hina from her reputation of being ridiculously happy all the time.  I’m not really comfortable around people I don’t know personally, so I make up an excuse.  “Thanks, but I’ve got some homework to catch up on.”

        Will wrinkles his brow a little at my unimaginative reason before shrugging it off with a carefree attitude.  “Oh well, not much you can do about that, I guess.  Maybe another time.”  He gives my shoulder another slap before walking off to catch up with the rest of his group.

        I turn and head in the opposite direction of Will, walking about two blocks before I come across a large cluster of warehouses surrounded by a chain link fence.  The signs on the fence show all kinds of warnings about trespassing on government property, but everyone knows that the warehouses have been empty for years, and going through this area was the quickest way back to my apartment.  I take a slight running start and jump onto the fence, climbing to the top before dropping over to the other side.  I start a brisk jog through the warehouses, and as I have many times before, I wonder what their original purpose was.  There have been several rumors about this, ranging from some that are believable to others that are downright stupid.  Just as I’m thinking of how many times I’ve heard the ridiculous story that the warehouses were containers for alien life forms, I somehow manage to trip over my own feet and crash into the pavement.

        I’m lucky that I’m the only one who uses this place as a shortcut; it would have been extremely embarrassing if anyone had seen me fall like that.  Picking myself up, I stop and lean against the cracked wall of one of the warehouses to catch my breath.  My hands are a little scuffed up, but there’s no serious harm done.  After a few moments, I feel a slight stirring in my chest.  It sends chills all through my body, and I stand there for a moment quivering like an idiot.  Deciding that it is hunger getting the better of me, I take one more deep breath and continue my jog home.

        I quickly approach the other end of the area and scale the fence, hopping over onto an empty street.  I follow the street for a couple of blocks until I reach the road that my apartment complex is on in an upscale area of town.  My father, as well as all other major government employees, was given an expensive apartment as incentive for moving to South Japan.  He hardly uses it though; he spends most of his time at work and spends weeks away from home at a time.  I walk through the front door of the complex and into the lavish lobby.  A golden fountain in the center of the room bubbles softly as the clerks disinterestedly type away at their computers.  I walk across the room and into an elevator, one of three, and press the button for floor nine.  To my horror, the owners seem to have fixed the speakers in the elevator and smooth jazz music is pouring out of them.  As a bell signals that I have reached my destination, I exit and walk out onto a long balcony.  Walking past three doors on my right, I approach a fourth door labeled with my last name, Foster, and swipe my key card through the slot next to the handle.  

As the door slides open, I lazily walk into the house and toss my backpack to the floor before flopping onto the couch.  Days for me have been boring lately, like an endless stream of repetition.  I suppose I like repetition because it keeps things predictable, but recently I’ve been thinking of just how meaningless my day to day life is.  Every day I wake up, go to school, come home, and watch television or play video games until I decide to go to sleep.  Sure, I have the occasional conversation with Will, and from time to time I will take him up on one of his offers to hang out, but that hardly does anything to make my overall life more interesting.  Even my old hobbies such as writing or drawing don’t make an appearance in my daily routine anymore.  I can’t help but feel like I want a change, even something small, just to help shake things up a little.  But there again, change isn’t always good.  Just ask the residents of South Japan.  

Giving my brief existential crisis a rest, I force myself to stand up.  I take off my jacket and toss it onto a coat hook before heading to the kitchen to fix some coffee, hoping that caffeine will shake me from this grumpy mood.  I’m disheartened to find a serious lack of coffee grounds in the bag, and, with slight annoyance, I opt for hot chocolate instead.  As I turn on the eye of the stove, I think I hear a slight tapping from the front of the apartment.  Thinking nothing of it, I busy myself pouring water into a pot and putting the pot onto the stove.  I hear the tapping again, but this time it is slightly louder.  Someone is definitely knocking on my door.  This has never happened before; no one ever comes to see me.  Confused, and convinced that someone has the wrong address, I walk to the door and slide it open.  Standing on the other side of the door is a young girl, likely just around my own age, wearing baggy jeans and an ugly red shirt that would have fit three of her.  She is very pretty, her long brown hair falls gently around her small face, and she stares at me emptily with her deep blue eyes.  Just as I’m about to ask her who she is and what she is doing here, I see a flicker of some kind of emotion register on her face before she collapses to the ground in a heap.

Chapter 2

        It was two hours before she finally regained consciousness.  Her eyes blinked open softly and she carefully rose to a seated position on the couch that I had laid her on.  I had been waiting in the kitchen, and upon seeing her wake up I walked into the living room and sat down in the chair adjacent to the couch.  She now stares at me blankly, as if waiting for me to say something.  In truth, I had been hoping she would be the first to talk; I’ve always been terrible at talking to any girl, let alone one who waltzes up to my front door and passes out like a ragdoll.  Realizing that she has no intentions of speaking first, I push out the first words that come to mind:

        “You passed out.”  Well I’m hardly going to win any awards for creativity.  “Are you alright?”

        She continues staring vacantly, but finally lowers her head and responds softly.  “Yes, thank you.”  Her voice is distant, as if she is constantly in deep thought.

        “Can you tell me your name?”

        She furrows her brow, as if trying extremely hard to remember, but gives up with a sigh.  “I… I don’t know…”  She looks back up at me.  “Where are we?”

        “When you collapsed, I brought you into my apartment,” I said carefully, trying my hardest not to sound creepy.

        “Yes, but where?  Where is your apartment?” she persists.

        “Oh, we’re in Blackwell City, South Japan.”

        She gives me another deeply pensive look.  “South Japan… that’s… a country?”

        I hang my head somberly, realizing what’s going on.  “It looks like you may have amnesia.   Can you remember anything at all?”

        She looks down at the floor again, focusing as hard as she can.  “It’s like… I know general things, but any specific details are just… not there.”  Seeing the confused look on my face, she tries to elaborate.  “I can tell you what a country is, but I can’t name a single one.  I know what music is, but I can’t think of any songs.  It’s just…”  She lowers her head further.  She looks more confused than sad, but I can see tears welling in her eyes.

        “I see,” is all I can think to say.  I start to reach my hand out to comfort her, but I hesitate and draw my hand back.  Instead, I try to change the subject to something else.  “Do you know how you got here?”

        The girl wipes her eyes and brings her gaze back up to mine.  “A little.  I remember… it was dark.  And I was cold.  I found these clothes and put them on,” she pauses and looks down at her ridiculously oversized clothes.  If she needed clothes badly enough that she would just take these that she found lying around, perhaps she was living on the streets.  “and then… I could only think of two images.  It’s like… they are the only things I know, even though I didn’t know what they were.”

        “And what were they?” I pried.

        “The first was this apartment.  I thought… maybe I had some connection to it.  And the second was…” she paused briefly, as if confirming with herself.  “The second was you.”

        This took me aback.  I had never seen this girl before in my life, at least not that I knew of.  How would an amnesiac remember nothing except a person they had never met before?  Not wanting to upset her, I maintained a serious composure and tried to make it look as though I was not startled at all.  I stand up and am amazed at the next thing that comes out of my mouth.  “Well, seeing as you can’t remember anything, maybe it would be best for you to stay here until you memory returns.  It sounds like you don’t have anywhere else to go, and I have extra room.”  Why did I just say that?  I sweat bullets whenever I talk to a girl, and now I’m asking one to stay with me?  I must be losing my mind.

        “I think you’re right.  Are you sure that you don’t mind?”

        I open my mouth to try and backtrack by saying that maybe it would be better if I found somewhere else for her to stay, but all that comes out is “Of course I don’t mind.”