Monday, December 31, 2012

goals for 2013 (because everyone else is posting theirs):

  • start acting like Psalm 139:14 is more than just words on paper
  • explore Proverbs 31:10-31; think about what living that might look like
  • make (mental/physical/spiritual/emotional) wellness a priority...somehow
  • practice better self control in the kitchen and on the computer
  • pray and have real quiet times instead of sleeping on the Bible in the morning
  • begin to live life with a sense of confidence independent of what other people think
happy New Year! :)

Monday, December 24, 2012


i'm currently trying to clear up my inbox a bit (there are so many emails, i feel like this is too daunting a task).  as i scroll through Gmail, i keep seeing emails for events i participated in.  i'd been looking forward to some of these events for quite some time; my participation in others took some persuasion from my friends.

looking through all of these just reminds me of how much i did this year.  of how far i stepped out of the awkward little bubble that is my comfort zone.  i did so much more than i thought i was capable of.  it's kind of hard to delete these emails; they represent so much.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

note to self:

this "here i come to save the day" complex needs to be laid to rest.

as much as you feel compelled to have all the answers to your friends' problems, you don't have those answers.  maybe they're in too deep, maybe they're hurting.  sure, you can listen to them, be there for them...but there's a difference between being a good friend and trying to rescue them from all of their problems.

the latter is impossible.  telling yourself otherwise will only leave you more emotionally drained than you can handle.

the only job that you have is to realize that you are no one's savior.  figure out what that means.  cling to that distinction when you find it.  everyone will be better off that way.  including you.

a mile-high rant

one might ask why this simple image makes me furious.  just keep reading.

i am roughly 6 feet tall.  if you've seen me in person, you may not have realized this--i think i slouch a bit (which some people say is a mark of a tall person's insecurity.  in my case, i don't know).  as such, i deal with not being able to find clothes that are long enough for my arms and legs, having complete strangers ask me, "do you play basketball?" as if it's supposed to be a compliment, and yes, feeling like smaller girls will always be "cute" and i'll always be "intimidating."  

no, i have nothing against those of average height or shorter.  but if you've ever been called Bigfoot, Sasquatch, The Green Giant, or "freakishly tall" by people who say they're your friends and they're "just kidding (geez, lighten up)," you start to feel like there's something wrong with you.  like you're a mutant or something.  like you'll never be asked to a formal or get that attention you claim you're strong enough to not need but seek anyway.  all of the pep talks in the world don't fully eradicate the feeling that you're not worth as much as someone who's 5 or so inches shorter.

this seemingly harmless image, which equates "cuteness" with "shortness," is a reminder of all of these negative thoughts that i still fight against.  and no, the smiley face doesn't soften the blow one bit.

*drops mic*

Thursday, November 22, 2012

things i'm (mega-/giga-/hella-)thankful for

i realize this year more than ever that the word "thankful" isn't big enough.  i almost want to put a prefix on it like it's some quantifiable SI unit, but the only thing that would do is provide comic relief and not really get to the heart of the matter.

and i usually don't make lists of things i'm thankful for.  most of the time, they feel enormously cliche.  but i just scrolled through the Happy Thanksgiving posts on my Facebook news feed and thought, "why not?"

non-exhaustive and in no particular order--
  • free music
  • friends who are willing to talk you through a problem (academic or otherwise)
  • federal loans (even though i have to pay them back one day)
  • God's omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience
  • black people
  • teachers, whether it's your job description or not
  • bass (as in music, not as in fish.  although that's pretty good too i'll bet)
  • choreo videos on youtube
  • spoken word
  • Japanese food (well, ethnic food.  well, food)
  • laughter
  • dancehall
  • means of long-distance communication
  • some form of dancing ability (at the very least, having rhythm)
  • long hugs
  • mistakes and failures (in retrospect at least)
  • dubstep
  • late night conversations 
  • going places with people you care about
  • cleansing crying sessions
  • smiles from attractive strangers
  • blankets
  • older and wiser mentors of all kinds
  • post-party debriefing sessions
  • reggaeton
  • natural hair--this includes my current obsession with (well-kept) dreadlocks
  • medical school (fun times and challenges alike)
  • my senior year of college
  • mental breaks
  • the book of Psalms (feeling Psalm 140 right now)
  • prayer warriors
  • late night snacks
  • forgiveness
  • human resiliency
what does your list look like?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

the affirmative action kid? i think not.

Unless you live under a conveniently placed rock, I'm sure you've seen the opinion article about affirmative action that was recently published in The Harvard Crimson.  If not, take a couple of minutes to read it here.  I'll wait.

You're finished?  Great.

I'm not going to address most of this article.  Because a lot of people have done that, including a friend of mine and even the site Jezebel (this one probably counts as fighting fire with an even hotter fire, but that's beside the point).  I'm going to focus on the following line very briefly, because as a black, female medical student, it strikes quite an unsettling chord:
How would you feel if you were assured before going into surgery that your surgeon was the beneficiary of affirmative action in medical school?  I do not see why higher academic institutions should lower their standards for admission.
Quite frankly, I doubt anyone's desire for self-preservation would allow her to entertain that question for even a second if she required immediate surgical attention.  It would be ludicrous of someone to decline the help of a surgeon of color because the presence of affirmative action makes questionable his or her ability to do the job.  The patient would still want that surgeon to stop his bleeding, or excise his tumor, or put in his stent to keep his arteries open.  Even if he or she did still refuse to be treated by that particular physician, it is important to remember that every physician could potentially make a mistake while performing a procedure--even if affirmative action didn't exist.  Opting out of treatment provided by a beneficiary of affirmative action does not magically erase the possibility of error, that uncomfortable reality of the medical field.

Sarah--Miss Siskind, if you like that better--I will be honest with you.  I've never met you.  I know next to nothing about who you are, where you come from, why you chose Harvard, anything of the sort.  And I'm sure you're a nice girl.  But your article made me furious.  After I read it, I probably called you some names and celebrated the bashing you were beginning to receive from all corners of the internet.  I could apologize for those actions and ill-feelings toward you, but I'm not sure how sincere an apology would be, seeing as how the words that you wrote (and that many people seem to agree with) still sting me and many of the people I care about.  All of us--my peers, my classmates, you, I--worked hard to be where we are, and we will go on to become fabulous physicians, lawyers, i-bankers, actresses...whatever we decide.

But I suppose I should thank you.  You've inspired me to lay aside the jokes about how Harvard and Vanderbilt must have picked me to meet a minority quota.  Your article gives me motivation to work hard, just to make sure I'm proving you wrong every second that I'm in medical school.  And I'm sure that others like me feel the same.

The bottom line is this: I deserve to be where I am.  And in a weird, twisted way, Miss Siskind, you've opened my eyes wide to that fact.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

confession is good for the soul, they say...

one of the things that Harvard taught me--and i mean, drilled into my head and wrote over my life in pen--is how to lie.

i tell people "i'm fine" before they can get out the last syllable of "how are you doing."  make light of stress by talking about how i went through a whole bag of pretzels in seconds the night before, or fell asleep in the shower, or something like that.

meanwhile, my real state of being is something like Hurricane Sandy.

i know that what i need is to be honest.  to actually admit how i'm feeling instead of just saying "i'm working on it."  the Harvard mentality of "i'm fine, you're fine, everyone's fine. etc etc until the end of time" has followed me back down south like a dark cloud.  as i sit here, typing this at 2am, listening to music in minor keys and wondering why i couldn't get to sleep earlier, i realize that i need to let myself get rid of those lies.

Friday, October 5, 2012

rock the vote

just got my absentee ballot in the mail yesterday.  this will be my very first time voting.  i'm not going to tell you guys who's got my vote for president (although if you've seen some of my tumblr reblogs it's probably obvious), but i'm excited to make my mark on this election.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

the things my brain comes up with scare me sometimes...

saw a tumblr post about Aokigahara (aka "suicide forest") in Japan.  apparently it's the second most popular site for suicides in the world behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
and i suddenly got 2 ideas.  very strange, possibly a bit gloomy, but ideas nonetheless.
  1. whenever i go to Japan, i should go to Aokigahara, maybe to lay flowers somewhere, maybe just to pay homage to lives taken
  2. it may be interesting to write some sort of fiction work (maybe a short story if it's compact enough) about a man who drives across the U.S. intending to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.  not sure at this point if he actually does at the end.  but maybe i don't need to know that until we actually get there.
not sure why i posted this here, seeing as how i usually leave my darker musings to more private places...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

that awesome moment when you realize you're exactly where you need to be

i'm so glad i came to Vanderbilt.  i'm so glad that God made my choice relatively easy.

there was a point that i was worried about turning down a full scholarship from UConn.  but i think being down here on federal loans with family and familiar spaces nearby is a lot better than being loanless in a new, strange city would have been.

i'm nothing but grateful that i'm here, with these people.  i know, this post isn't really profound or insightful or anything, but i just had to confess my love for Vanderbilt Medical School and the class of 2016 real quick.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

余震 Yoshin (Aftershock)

trust me, i moved on
ran from the epicenter
my heart, ground zero

but i must admit
inside every pitch-black room
i can still feel you

i hate that it's true
but you were a favorite muse
there lies the fault-line

Friday, August 17, 2012

global identity

"I am American mentally with Japanese tendencies/Parisian sensibility..."
Lupe Fiasco, "Gold Watch"

sometimes i still face disappointment at not being able to trace my roots back a certain distance.  my heritage gets lost somewhere in the Middle Passage, and that's hard to come to grips with, especially when you're part of the "most diverse class that Vanderbilt Medical School's ever had" (we've been branded) and everywhere you turn you see someone who has a list of countries of origin ready for recitation.

but i'm realizing more and more each day that i'm actually a bit of a cultural anomaly.  apparently i could pass for Ethiopian, Jamaican, or Trini appearance-wise, depending on who you talk to.  i have a bit of a (potentially superficial) love affair with East Asian culture (especially Japanese food.  nom), and with music in languages i don't understand (Ivy Queen, Buraka Som Sistema, and Utada are probably somewhere among my top played).  and i've been dubbed a "wannabe Caribbean"; the not-so-secret desire to learn Patois, fry plantains, and dance to every riddim under the summer sun probably has something to do with that.

in one sense, all that i am able to claim is a nebulous sense of blackness.

in another sense, i am a multicultural phenomenon without even trying.

(excuse any awkward phrasing and the plethora of parenthetical statements...i was procrastinating last night when i wrote this)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kaleidoscope: Author's Update

This project will pretty much have to be put on hold.

I expected this to happen.  In theory a weekly update sounds feasible.  In practice it's nearly impossible, what with lecture notes to study, bills to pay, and parties to crash.

Add this to the fact that my creative juices have all but dried up again and you have one very sad (and parched) camper.

From now on if I happen to finish a chapter I'll post it on the following Monday, just to give a bit of continuity to the whole thing.  So you'll just have to check back weekly to see if I've got anything new.

In the meantime, feel free to read and critique the 8 chapters that I cranked out.

Apologies for my lack of artistic consistency,

Saturday, August 11, 2012



the steady 
of distant traffic

a/c hum
tv murmurs

male voices in an alley

the groan of
an old 
washing machine

~Roxbury, Boston, MA~

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 8

When Serenity opened her eyes, she felt that she was still caught in some preposterous nightmare.
            Every light in her room was flickering, as if someone were playing with the power switches.  Even the television in the corner was rhythmically flashing on and off of its own volition.  Filling the air was an incessant buzzing combined with a noise that resembled the chirps of hundreds of angry birds.  The whole room felt alive with electricity.
            She happened to look down at herself and noticed blue-white bolts coming from her body.  The tendrils of energy snaked in all directions, their tips orange where they touched other objects.
            Before she could attempt to make sense of what she saw, an image of her dream-father killing her dream-mother thundered through her mind.  She was barely aware of her hands trembling; whether it was from fear or from the Spirit energy coursing through her body was anyone’s guess.
            Through Serenity’s confused terror, she noticed that Botan was standing in the hallway, peeking behind the bedroom door.  She heard Botan yell her name over the chirp-buzz of the electricity but did not respond. 
A scream escaped her lips as fragments of the dream once again assaulted her psyche.
Serenity’s body continued to shake.  She was now staring at her quivering hands without really seeing them, barely breathing, unable to speak, unaware of her surroundings.  She was no longer cognizant of the passage of time; if minutes or even hours had elapsed since she had first shot up in bed, she could not tell.  The only thoughts that permeated her sudden numbness of being were those pertaining to dream-Hijo and dream-Kasumi.  The image of Hijo winking before snapping Kasumi’s neck played repeatedly in her mind.  It was as if she had been strapped down in a chair and forced to watch a film starring her deepest fears.
Between the violent flashes from her dream, Serenity slowly became aware of a curious presence in her mind.  When another afterimage of Hijo and Kasumi tried to tear at her consciousness, a wave of calm began to wash over her.  The unknown mental presence seemed to be fighting off the malignant phantasms, something that Serenity had been unable to do herself.  A voice whispered her name, over and over again, inside her mind.  The voice persisted until the memories of Serenity’s nightmare were drowned out by its gentle but unwavering confidence.
Soon, Serenity’s focus returned.  Her body no longer felt dangerously alive with electricity.  She looked down at her hands again, studying the lines in her palms intently, before taking a glance around the room.  Nothing in the room had been severely damaged, though the television and the lights were now all turned on.
Suddenly, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder.  She looked up to see Amake standing over her and uttered a choked sob, wrapping her arms around his waist.  Her eyes changed to light blue as tears rolled freely down her cheeks.  She barely noticed when Botan joined her on the bed and started to smooth her hair. 
Botan and Amake held her close while the sky began to brighten.  News anchors on the television were just beginning an early morning broadcast.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 7

She dangled her feet lazily as she sat on the park bench, smiling as a Frisbee whizzed over her head.  A pleasant breeze teased her hair and whistled through the young trees.  Smiling, she kicked off her sandals, got up from the bench, and wiggled her toes in the verdant grass.
            She scanned the park for her parents.  After a moment, she noticed a couple by the lake, skipping stones.  The man had his left hand low on the woman’s waist, and his right hand was stretched slightly behind him as he prepared to throw another stone across the water.  She walked closer and called out, “Mommy!  Daddy!” breaking into a run before they even turned around.  She saw the man throw the stone across the lake before facing her; it sank immediately, making wide ripples.
            Then she reached the edge of the lake where her parents were standing and leaned over to catch her breath.  “Serenity, you startled me,” Hijo said warmly.  Kasumi smiled and laughed, stroking her daughter’s cheek.  Then Kasumi reached into her purse and pulled out a wooden cylindrical object, about six inches long. 
            “You left your kaleidoscope when you ran out of the car,” Kasumi said, holding the object out to the eight-year-old.  “I was pretty sure you’d want it, so I kept it for you.” 
She thanked her parents as she accepted the toy, running her fingers over the kanji on the cherry trees painted on the tube.  Then she put the kaleidoscope up to her eye and turned the top portion like Hijo had shown her, giggling as the patterns changed.
            She suddenly wanted to give her mother and father a hug, to tell them she loved them.  She looked up from the kaleidoscope, but Hijo and Kasumi were no longer standing next to her.
            They were on the lake.  Hovering over the water.
            Hijo stood behind Kasumi; his left hand was around her stomach and his right hand was around her neck.  Suddenly, he turned his head toward his daughter and winked.
            Then there was a scream and a loud snap.
            Kasumi’s body went the way of the stone Hijo had tried to skip across the lake.
            Her head hung limply from her neck.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Black Lifestyle": my two cents

this post contains part of reaction to a link that went out on a college email list i'm still lurking on.  for some reason i didn't want to post my opinion there.  and yet i'm posting it on my blog for even MORE people to see.  the things i do don't make sense sometimes.

watch this video and see my response (edited some to make more sense) below.

It's strange to me that the people who replied to this on the list didn't have anything more noteworthy to say than "oh, this is cool."  People are generally so opinionated on other topics but it seems like this one did not strike the same chords, and I'm not sure why.

The first thing that came to mind when I watched this video was "Everything but the Burden," a reading I had to do for an African American Studies class on R&B.  I like that aspects of black culture can be appreciated in Japan, just as Japanese culture is appreciated and embraced by some black people over here (myself included).  But the fact that they reduce "black lifestyle" to "black women look good in these short outfits" or "I got frizzy hair when I was younger" or "I find black artists cool" is troubling.  There's no interest in black history, the struggles of the past and the present, anything of that sort.  Conversely, many of the people I know who are interested in Japanese culture have a much deeper interest than just anime, J-pop, and video games.  Why can't this profound appreciation be reciprocated?  Or if it is reciprocated, why do we never really hear about it?

Maybe I should just be happy that someone thinks highly of black women in some capacity, even if it's fairly superficial.  I don't know.  In any case, as a future doctor I can't condone the statement that tanning beds aren't harmful for the skin.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 6

Eventually Mitsuru and Serenity said their goodbyes to Amake and Mane and left the mall.  Back at Botan’s house, Mitsuru helped Serenity carry her portion of their shopping bags into her room; then they too parted ways.
            Serenity organized her new purchases in her closet, smiling as she thought about the day.  Running into the Tategami brothers had been completely unexpected, but to say it had been a pleasant surprise would be a gross understatement.  As children, Serenity, Kaze, and Amake had been nearly inseparable. 
            She paused halfway between the nearest shopping bag and the closet door.  The red blouse she had grabbed hung loosely from her hands as she reminisced about her childhood friends.  Amusement park trips, after-school visits, fake arguments, inside jokes…How could so much time have passed like this?  She mused, feeling a little guilty about the lack of contact among them in the past ten years.  She was suddenly fairly sure of the reason why Amake was upset.
            A quiet tap on the door broke Serenity out of her nostalgic trance.  She hung up the blouse in her hands and went to open the door.
            Botan stood in the hallway, her usual sweet smile in place.  “Hey there, Sura.  I wanted to ask you something.  I was cleaning up the house earlier, and I found this.”  She held up a simple heart-shaped locket made of gold.  “I’ve never seen it before.  Is it yours?”
            Serenity took the locket from Botan and opened it.  She silently nodded in answer to Botan’s question when she saw the photograph inside.  It was of a woman in a formal white kimono; she was seated, with her hands folded in her lap.  Her hair, a darker shade of auburn than Serenity’s, was arranged in an elaborate traditional style.  A smile just barely touched her rouged lips, yet it lit up her entire face.
            Serenity’s eyes became a deep purple as feelings of love and longing washed over her.  She positioned the open locket so that Botan could see the photograph.  “My mother, Kasumi…she died when I was younger, before you took me in.  I cut up a picture from my parents’ wedding and put it in this locket on the day of her funeral…to remember her by.” 
Serenity could still recall the way her father, Hijo, had looked in the discarded part of the photograph.  He had been standing next to his new bride.  His posture had been stiff, too serious for the occasion.  The couple’s traditional clothing had appeared quite heavy, even in the photograph, but while Kasumi had worn hers with quiet elegance, Hijo had seemed crushed under the weight of his.  Serenity had found her father’s facial expression odd as well; like her mother, he had been smiling, but the smile had been stern, almost forced, and it had not reached his eyes.
            Botan cleared her throat, and Serenity looked up from the locket.  “Is this yours too?”  Botan was now holding up a wooden kaleidoscope.  Serenity recognized the painting on the side of the tube instantly—cherry trees in the fall, robin’s-egg-blue sky, curving blades of grass.  She took the kaleidoscope from Botan, put it up to her eye, and turned the barrel.  The beads inside tumbled slowly, like the percussion in a funeral dirge.  As she lowered the tube, a shadow seemed to pass over her, and the purple faded from her irises.
            She let the noise of the beads die away into silence before replying.  Her eyes shifted away from Botan’s face as she spoke.  “My father gave it to me when I was eight,” she said succinctly, hoping that she would not have to elaborate. 
But there were no further questions from Botan.  The two girls stood as still as statues in the doorway for a few seconds.
            The bright, penetrating sound of the doorbell eventually broke the silence.  Serenity watched the pleasant expression return to Botan’s face as if the dark cloud had never passed over their conversation.  Botan smoothed the front of her kimono and enthusiastically announced, “I’ll get it!” before hurrying to answer the door.  Serenity placed the locket and kaleidoscope on her dresser before following Botan downstairs.

“So what I’m getting here,” Amake asked, “is that you expect ‘I’m sorry’ to erase ten years of neglect?”
He was standing in the den, staring at Serenity from about five feet away.  After Serenity had introduced him to Botan, Botan had left them alone to talk.  Now, Serenity almost wished Botan had stayed downstairs to offer moral support. 
She cleared her throat and forced herself to meet Amake’s smoldering gaze.  “It’s all I have to offer.  Besides, I don’t know why this matters so much to you.  People lose contact all the time.”
“You don’t know why it matters?  We were your best friends, Serenity!”
Serenity was tired of the verbal tennis match.  She frowned at Amake.  The pink in her eyes gave way to red as some of the guilt she’d been feeling was replaced with annoyance.
“You were ten, I was eight.  Did you really expect to be pen pals or something?  And it was a two way street; you could have called me yourself.”
Amake crossed his arms and frowned back at her.  “I would have,” he said coolly.  “But when you disappeared after your mother died, you didn’t exactly leave us a phone number.”
Serenity suddenly remembered packing a backpack with clothes and money and leaving her parents’ house on foot all those years ago.  She opened her mouth to say something in response, but shut it again, nervously picking at a fingernail.
There was a brief moment of wordlessness between them.  Then Amake sighed, his expression softening.  He unfolded his arms and lowered his voice.  “Ren, I don’t want to be just a part of the life you left behind.  I never wanted that, and neither does Kaze.  You understand, right?”
Serenity slowly nodded in affirmation.  Then there was another pause, longer this time.  Finally, Amake broke the silence, and the tension in the air dissipated.  “I guess that’s all I can ask for,” he said.
“Then how about we let this go?  Call a truce?”  Serenity asked.  Amake merely smiled in response. 
He stared out the window at the darkening sky.  “It’s getting late, and I biked here.  Do you mind if I spend the night and leave in the morning?”
Serenity picked up a pillow from the couch and tossed it at Amake’s face.  Direct hit.  “Only if you don’t mind sleeping down here,” she answered with a grin.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 5

Serenity awoke in Botan’s house late in the morning, wearing the same clothing she’d had on the day before.  Ratoshi’s gift, the curious scarlet pendant, was still around her neck.  Rays of sun streamed through the skylight, warming her face and body. 
She lay in bed for a while longer, trying to recall exactly what had happened in Ratoshi’s backyard the night before and how she’d ended up between the sheets of her own bed.  Nothing came to mind.  With a loud yawn, she extended her arms above her head in a deep stretch and eventually got up.  After showering and putting on a button down and a pair of denim shorts, she stood in front of the mirror and teased her hair, reshaping her customary faux hawk and side bangs. Her mind continued to draw a blank where the night before was concerned, no matter how hard she tried to remember.  Her eyes were tinged gray, reflecting the confusion and the dash of fear that were mixing in the pit of her stomach.
            Just as Serenity finished playing with her hair, there was a knock on the door.  “It’s open,” she said, wondering who had decided to pay her a visit.  With a sigh of relief, she noticed in the mirror that the gray in her eyes was beginning to fade to white. 
Turning from the mirror, she smiled as Mitsuru Yoshimara crossed the threshold.  They hugged, and Serenity stepped back to appraise Mitsuru’s outfit, hoping to learn something from her impeccable sense of style.  Today, she wore a colorful, knee-length dress that accentuated her curvaceous figure and wedge heels that seemed to lengthen her already long legs; her light denim jacket gave a casual touch to the ensemble.  Her long purple hair was pulled back into an up-do, drawing attention to her expertly made up face and prominent blue eyes.
            “Suru, you make me feel like I need a makeover,” Serenity whined.
            Mitsuru smiled warmly.  “A little retail therapy will take care of that soon enough.  I propose that we go shopping together today.  But first…” She reached into her purse and took out a brown paper bag, handing it to Serenity.  Inside were a pastry and a small bottle of juice.  “I brought you some breakfast.”
            Mitsuru sat and watched as Serenity ate, giggling at her attempts to keep up conversation around bites of cheese danish.  “So, I heard you had a bit of a rough night last night,” she began. 
Serenity fingered the barcode stamped on the back of her neck for a moment.  “Part of the night is a blur, actually.  The last thing I remember is sparring with Kurama.”  Her hand slid around to where the pendant still hung on its chain.  “I was in the backyard with him and Ratoshi.  But I woke up here.  The space in between is completely blank.”
Mitsuru nodded calmly.  “That’s because you were unconscious.”  She regarded Serenity’s genuine look of surprise and watched the faint gray hue appear in her irises.  “I happened to see Ratoshi and Rumichi before they flew you back home, and they told me that you’d fainted after beating Kurama in a sword fight.  Ratoshi said something about a lot of Spirit energy coming from you and the sword you were holding in the moments leading up to your collapse.”
Serenity took a couple of sips of juice while she silently pondered what Mitsuru had just told her.  After a few seconds, Mitsuru spoke again.  “Ratoshi also mentioned that there was something strange about your demeanor later in the sparring session.”
“Oh?  Can you define ‘strange’?”  asked Serenity.  A splash of brown joined the light gray in her eyes, an indication of her increasing curiosity.
“I’m not quite sure.  I think she said you seemed…fiercer…than usual.”
Serenity finished the last bite of her pastry, drained the remainder of the juice, and stood up, brushing crumbs off her clothes.  “That’s interesting.  I guess I got caught up in the moment.  Our contest did get pretty heated.  In any case, I never thought I could actually beat Kurama, especially with a weapon I’d never practiced with.”
Mitsuru got up and threw the paper bag and juice bottle away.  “Beginner’s luck, maybe?  Or perhaps you’re just naturally talented with a sword.  Who can say?”  She shrugged as she held the door open for her friend.  “In any case, enough thinking about the past.  Let’s focus on the here and now, and the money we’re going to blow in the near future.  Come on, I’ll drive us to the mall.”

A couple of hours later, Serenity sat with Mitsuru in a crowded food court.  Shopping bags of various sizes were piled at their feet.  Mitsuru had finished her lunch and was now fidgeting in her chair, anxious to get up from the table and back into some more stores; across from her, Serenity calmly sipped lemonade.
            “Sorry, Suru…I needed the break.  I never knew shopping could take so much out of a person,” said Serenity.
            “Beauty is a sacrifice, dear.”  Mitsuru replied with a wink.  She started gathering their purchases.  “When I’m through with us we’ll need a wheelbarrow for all this stuff.  Shall we continue taking the mall by storm?”
            Serenity nodded, pushing her chair backward. 
Before she could rise from her seat, a pair of hands covered her eyes from behind.  She squirmed, kicked, and tried to pull the foreign hands from her face. 
While Serenity struggled to free herself, she heard the scrape of Mitsuru’s chair against the floor.  “Would you like me to burn him alive?” she heard Mitsuru ask.  Serenity felt the surrounding air increase in temperature and knew that Mitsuru was preparing to change into her wolf demon form or set the intruder on fire if the need presented itself.
            Suddenly, the man removed his hands from Serenity’s face with a loud sigh.  When he spoke, his voice had a hint of laughter in it.  “Ren, I was only messing with you.  You and your BFF over there are no fun at all.”
            Serenity stood up and turned to face the newcomer, heart still pounding in her chest.  No one had called her Ren since she was eight years old; only people in the tight inner circle of her childhood even knew of the nickname.
She stared intensely at the man towering over her, trying to figure out who he was—or perhaps who he had been.  He wore basketball shorts and an athletic shirt that showed off his tan, well-muscled body.  A detailed lion head had been tattooed on his left bicep.  The gleam in his hazel eyes matched the mischievous smirk on his face.  His steely purple hair was bound in thick dreadlocks that reached the small of his back.  It was this final detail that allowed Serenity to identify him.
            “Oh my gosh…MANE?”  The blue and gold in Serenity’s eyes betrayed her feelings as she hugged the man.  Serenity broke free from the embrace and looked back at Mitsuru, who was scowling at the man.  Just as she was beginning to facilitate introductions, Mane stepped forward.
            “I’ll take care of this myself, Ren,” he said.  “My name’s Kaze.  Kaze Tategami.  My friends call me Mane on account of this stuff growing out of my head.”  He picked up one tight, heavy rope of hair between his thumb and forefinger before offering Mitsuru his hand.  She stared at his outstretched hand for a moment without blinking, and then shook it, allowing her eyes to wander upward to Mane’s face.  “Mitsuru Yoshimara.  I’ll forgo the ‘nice to meet you’ that you’re probably expecting; I was honestly a few seconds shy of burning you to a crisp,” she retorted.
            “I apologize for scaring you, but there was never anything to worry about.”  His mischievous grin widened.  “Besides, I don’t bite…unless it’s absolutely necessary.”  Mitsuru tried to keep a serious expression, but eventually her frown faded; Serenity was pretty sure she saw the beginnings of a grin on her face.
            Before Mane could work any more of his seemingly potent magic with her friend, Serenity stepped in to change the subject.  “Mane, is your brother here with you?”
            Mane pointed past Serenity.  “Amake’s coming to join us now.  He and I were using the virtual reality game in the arcade to spar, and I beat him pretty badly; he was probably off licking his wounds somewhere for a while.”
            “I heard that, Kaze,” said a soft voice from somewhere behind Serenity.  Her eyes widened as she turned around.  The man who stood in front of her beamed in response.  He looked much like his older brother, except that he had a smaller build, his body was less tan, and his hair barely came past his ears; his smile lacked the roguish edge that Mane’s had, but it was not devoid of its own captivating charms.
            Serenity allowed herself to be pulled into yet another embrace.  “Who would’ve thought we’d run into you, after all this time?” Amake muttered, his smile an afterthought on his lips.  Dropping his voice even lower so Mane and Mitsuru couldn’t hear him, he added, “Actually, I’m quite upset with you.”
Serenity pulled out of Amake’s arms slightly and searched his face for any sign of anger.  But his features were calm, and his smile still had not completely faded.  “Upset…?  Why?” she whispered in his ear.  “What did I do?”
            “We can discuss that another time.  Perhaps tonight, if you don’t mind me paying a visit.”
            Serenity nodded.  After a brief pause, Amake released her.  When they turned to face the others, Mitsuru commented on their long, dramatic hug.  Mane chuckled at Mitsuru’s wisecrack while Serenity and Amake glared at both of them in turn. 
A few minutes later, Mane, Mitsuru, Amake, and Serenity left the food court and strolled around the mall together, talking and laughing as if they all had been close friends for ages.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 4

Later, after the sun went down, Serenity slipped outside to Ratoshi’s backyard.  Kurama’s words from earlier that afternoon still echoed in her ears.  “You’ve been interacting with the Spirit World for a while now.  Who knows what kind of powers could be latent inside of you as a result?  I have a feeling that the ability to teleport is only the beginning.”
She stood in the middle of the lawn, staring up at the sky.  It was a clear night, cloudless and full of stars.  Okay, she thought, taking a couple of slow, deep breaths, where to begin…?  She was pretty sure she couldn’t force herself to trip on purpose to see what would happen.  But perhaps she could recreate a situation involving imminent pain.
She walked over to the nearest tree and began to climb, hoping that her idea would work.  She stood on a rather large branch high off the ground and bounced deftly up and down a few times.  Acting quickly so she wouldn’t have time to change her mind, she tossed herself downward, hoping to feel that sense of weightlessness from before…
A few seconds later, she was staring at the imprint she’d made in the soft ground, brushing dirt off her face and the front of her clothing.  “Brilliant idea,” she muttered to herself, wondering how exactly to proceed.
“It’ll come with time,” uttered a voice from above.  Serenity looked up and found Kurama, calmly perched among some sturdy branches right above her head.  Ratoshi Verdesca sat, smirking, beside him, her hand intertwined with his.  Blushing, her eyes pink with embarrassment, Serenity asked, “How long have you two been up there watching me make a fool of myself?” 
Ratoshi’s green eyes twinkled almost maliciously.  “Relax, Funaka…I’ve been watching you make a fool of yourself since the day we met.” 
“Shoo, Halfbreed,” Serenity retorted, rolling her eyes and motioning for Ratoshi to go away.
Kurama only chuckled softly.  Then, without warning, he flung something down at Serenity.  She staggered backward in an effort to avoid the projectile, but seemed to fall short of evading it.  Moments later, she was positioned on a branch not too far away from where Ratoshi and Kurama sat.  Folding her arms and glaring down at the thorny rose Kurama had just used as a dart, Serenity said, “When you told me this would come with time, I didn’t think you were planning on speeding up the process…”
Kurama smiled and jumped down from the lofty branches, still holding Ratoshi’s hand.  They landed lightly on the ground; Serenity followed suit and walked over to them.  “Don’t worry, it wasn’t premeditated.”  When he saw that Serenity’s eyes were tinged red with anger and her sullen expression hadn’t softened, he quickly changed to a lighter topic.  “The real reason why we’re here is that Ratoshi wanted to give you something.”
Ratoshi unwound herself from Kurama, reached into a pocket, and dropped a necklace into Serenity’s hand.  “I was going to give it to you a long time ago,” she said, “but you know how it is.  Things have been pretty hectic for a while now with reunion preparations.”  Serenity held the necklace by its golden chain, letting the scarlet, half moon shaped pendant on the end dangle before her eyes.  It looked like exactly the type of trinket Kurama would have stolen back when he was a thief in the Makai; it glowed magnificently in the moonlight.  As Serenity looked back at her friend and thanked her, Ratoshi motioned for her to put the necklace on, groaning and helping Serenity when she fumbled with the clasp.  The pendant came to rest below her collarbones and immediately grew warm, changing from scarlet to white.  All three of them watched as two wakizashi* appeared, one in each of Serenity’s hands.  The blades steadily glowed a pale blue with Spirit energy.  Serenity admired the swords, too excited to speak, her eyes golden once again.  “I know how much you love swords,” Ratoshi confessed, “so I figured you’d find this gift quite useful.”
Serenity nodded, looking down at the swords in her hands again.  “Thanks, Rato.”  She regarded both of her friends.  “I don’t think watching samurai movies is enough to say I’m a swordsman—er, woman—though.  Anybody want to help me start getting acquainted with these?”
Kurama looked at Ratoshi, whose shoulders hunched forward.  “Right now?  The two of us are tired…we were planning on turning in.”  She yawned as if for emphasis.
Serenity sighed and poked her lower lip out, pleading playfully.  “Come on, indulge me for a second.  Please?”
Ratoshi frowned and stood there for a second, thinking.  “Okay, Funaka, we’ll stay.  But I’m sitting this one out.”  She gave Kurama a peck on the cheek, strolled over to a fallen log, and sat down, crossing her arms.  “I guess you’re up, Fox.”
Kurama shook his head at his girlfriend as Serenity tossed a glowing wakizashi in his direction.  As he caught the sword by the hilt, he suggested some ground rules.  “Let’s make this easy.  Best two out of three kills.”  He stepped back until the distance between them was about twenty feet.  He then crouched into a wide stance, sword pointing straight in front of him.  Serenity felt she was being invited to strike first.  She took a few steps back, ran forward, and pushed off the ground with her sword raised over her head, closing the distance between herself and Kurama in midair.  He deftly blocked each of her subsequent attacks with his sword, his movements almost imperceptible.  When she finally jumped back a couple of yards to catch her breath, he smiled.  “You’re trying too hard.” Serenity heard Ratoshi cackle loudly and glared at her.  She barely had time to snap her head back and shakily parry a powerful blow from her opponent.  They struggled together for a few moments before one of Serenity’s knees lowered to the ground.  Kurama pushed her, and she fell on her back, groaning more in disgust than in pain.  He pointed his sword at her throat.  “Kill,” he muttered under his breath.  Ratoshi applauded with a smirk on her face.
Serenity got up, eyes red with anger and green with determination, lips pulled back in a snarl.  Note to self: NEVER let your guard down.  She took a minute to focus, then began to run toward Kurama.  He met her halfway, and they traded blows back and forth for a couple of minutes.  The sound of steel blades clanging against each other filled the air.
Flipping in the air to dodge a slash from Kurama’s sword, Serenity quickly took a few steps backward and tried to focus on teleporting.  She shut her eyes and jumped straight up as Kurama prepared to swing at her again, silently celebrating when instead of landing in her original position and relinquishing another kill, she landed some distance behind him.  As he turned around to begin another assault, she rushed at him with her sword pointed straight ahead, stopping only a few inches short of impaling him in the chest.  “That’s…a kill,” she said, her breathing ragged.
They separated and took up fighting stances once again.  Nothing, not even a blade of grass, seemed to move as Serenity and Kurama gazed at each other without blinking.  Each was so focused on the other, waiting for the first offensive move to be made, that neither one of them took in their surroundings.  As if on cue, they both lunged forward at the same time, swords meeting between them.  They both jumped backward and ran to attack each other again and again, falling into a certain rhythm; there was no sign that either would falter.
Sweat poured from Serenity’s forehead and neck.   She was concentrating so intensely on getting the winning kill that she didn’t notice that the amount of Spirit energy emanating from her sword—and coursing through her entire body—was steadily increasing.  Suddenly, Kurama jumped back, breaking the subconscious pattern they had set.  He was shielding his eyes as if momentarily blinded.  Now’s my chance!  Her eyes fully green now, she dashed forward, her weapon flashing beside her.  Trying her hardest to mimic the exact motions and mindset from before, she teleported directly behind her opponent and caught him in a tight sleeper hold with the blade of the wakizashi pressed lightly against his neck.  “Kill!” she growled huskily, pushing Kurama away from her.  He lost his balance and ended up in a sitting position on the ground.  Ratoshi ran over to him, helping him stand again. 
“Are you that happy you’ve won, Funaka?” Ratoshi asked, a sneer in her voice.  “You’re glowing.  Literally.”  It was then that Serenity looked down at herself and realized that her body was alight with energy.  The pendant hanging from the chain on her neck was a white-hot flame.  Without warning, as if overcome by what she saw, Serenity began to tremble, sinking to her hands and knees.  Her sword fell from her hands and immediately stopped emanating Spirit energy.  “Shut up…Halfbreed…” she managed before collapsing on the ground.

*wakizashi: a mid-length Japanese sword used by samurai

Monday, July 2, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 3

As Serenity expected, Rumichi left her and Kurama in the dust at the start. For a few seconds, she and Kurama were keeping a similar pace, but in a burst of energy he suddenly left her behind. I’ll get you, Fox… she said to herself, jumping down to the ground for the advantage of relatively level terrain, pumping her legs faster in an effort to close the gap—
Suddenly, Serenity felt herself falling in what seemed like slow motion. “Shoot!” she yelled in surprise. She didn’t even remember tripping over anything, and she refused to believe that her feet had tangled beneath her. She squeezed her eyes shut in preparation for the impact that would surely follow...
The ground never rushed to meet her. Instead, Serenity found herself back among the treetops with nothing more than a shallow scratch near her ankle. Dazed, she tried to assess the situation as she began to pick up speed. The fallen log that marked the finish line was just within her range of vision. Rumichi and Kurama weren’t anywhere in front of her as far as she could tell, and they weren’t close behind either. At least, not yet, she admitted, but what in the world happened down there?
A rustling through the leaves a little ways behind Serenity made her realize how slow she’d been moving. She didn’t know which one of her opponents was chasing her, but it didn’t quite matter. Gotta win this, gotta win this.
Less than ten yards now separated Serenity from a long-sought-after victory over Rumichi. A triumphant cheer was just beginning to form in her throat when a fist struck her left side. Serenity winced as Rumichi’s voice whispered :No holds barred: in her mind again. She hardly noticed the loud “No!” that escaped her as she pushed forward, but she felt a momentary weightlessness of her body. Before she could even wonder what had happened, she crashed to the ground, about a yard past the fallen log. She looked up to see Rumichi jog to her side a mere second later.
Panting, Rumichi put her hands on her knees, reverted back to her human form, and glared at Serenity. “What...the heck...was...that all about?” she wheezed.
Serenity sat up, fingering the barcode tattoo on her wrist thoughtfully. “Michi, I honestly have no idea.” She acknowledged Kurama as he smoothly stepped over the log and walked toward them. “Earlier, I must have tripped over something,” she explained to both of them, watching as Kurama became his usual red-haired self again. “But instead of hitting the ground, I found myself in a tree. What do you guys think happened?”
Kurama pondered this deeply. The answer he eventually came up with was met with surprised expressions from both girls. “Teleportation.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 2

Hurry up, Botan...
Serenity stood on a sturdy tree branch, waiting for Botan to catch up with her.  Serenity knew Botan was down below, running as best she could—jogging, really—around the rocks and branches scattered on the uneven ground.  She realized that it honestly wasn’t fair for them to race when Botan didn’t have her oar to fly on.
She crossed her arms and leaned back against the trunk of the tree, a smirk playing at her lips.  Her high school’s track and field coach had approached her on numerous occasions, praising the “godlike speed” he’d observed during gym period, begging her to join the team and lead them to victory.  But all his bribes and threats amounted to nothing; Serenity preferred to display her innate talent for sprinting on her own schedule.  She prided herself on the fact that, like a rare and elusive wild animal, she had never been tamed.
Serenity spied Botan near the base of the tree, gasping for air.  Still smirking, her eyes now a happy shade of blue, she climbed down from her perch and put an arm around her.  “You’re such a slowpoke,” she whispered, with humor in her voice.  Botan nudged her good-naturedly, and they shared a laugh.  Together, they began to walk the remaining distance to Ratoshi’s house for the reunion; soon, they could hear raucous laughter and party music.
As Botan and Serenity approached, they noticed a tall, skinny figure standing in front of the house.  This was Rumichi, who had been living with Ratoshi for some time.  She had taught Serenity all of the martial arts she knew as well as introduced her to the rest of the Urameshi team.
Her black and blue hair flying behind her, Rumichi ran the rest of the way to greet her friends and escorted them to the porch, where other people were chatting.  Botan, why are you so sweaty?” she asked. 
Botan jerked her thumb toward Serenity.  “With this one, it’s like a never-ending game of tag,” she puffed.
“Speaking of tag, Serenity,” Rumichi said, “Kurama and I want to race in the backyard.  Maybe you can finally beat me.”
“Hmph.  The usual; I should have known," said Serenity.  "Is our dear host Ratoshi not coming this time?”
To answer her question, Rumichi pointed a short distance away, where a lean and lanky brunette was standing on the porch amidst a handful of people.  From the girl’s back grew large wings the color of ebony.  Serenity knew the small crowd was oohing and ahhing over them; she shook her head, smiling.  Ratoshi Verdesca: part Angel, part fox demon…one hundred percent the center of attention.
Rumichi, Serenity, and Kurama all left the porch and walked around to the back of the house.  Serenity whistled in amazement at the size of Ratoshi’s backyard; even though she’d been to this house countless times before, the wooded lawn that stretched behind it always took her by surprise. 
The trio all climbed up the nearest tree, each settling onto a different branch. Kurama transformed into his half-demon* form.  Serenity watched the metamorphosis: Kurama’s hair changed from red to silver, his eyes changed from green to gold, and he acquired silver fox ears and a tail.  Rumichi transformed into her half-demon form as well, gaining features reminiscent of both a wolf and a gryphon.  Her facial features became more angular, and a lion tail grew from her backside; pointed, furry ears became visible through her thick hair. 
Serenity crouched close to the ground, like a runner about to take off from a starting block, and chuckled to herself.  Don’t need special powers, she thought.  These two legs of mine work just fine.  Her eyes glowed green with determination.
Serenity heard Rumichi’s voice through the Mindlink, which allowed them to communicate telepathically across considerable distances.  :First one to the fallen tree at the far end of the yard wins.  No holds barred.:
:Sounds good to me,: she countered.
Kurama counted to three, and the race began.

*the “half-demon” form in this fan-fiction is the demon form in the original anime and manga by Yoshihiro Togashi, and a character's demon form is his or her corresponding animal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Ch. 1

When Serenity woke up from her nightmare, the color red had not yet faded from the insides of her eyelids, and about ten seconds passed before she could breathe normally again.
She was sitting in a big, comfortable easy chair in the den, located at the back of the house that she shared with Botan.  When she’d settled in for a nap thirty minutes before, Botan had been standing nearby, looking out the window at their wide expanse of back yard in silence.  Now Botan was facing her, brow furrowed in a familiar expression of worry.  Serenity stared back at her, trying to keep her face as neutral as possible so her friend would relax. 
Serenity’s poker face didn’t work as well as she thought it would.  Botan spoke quietly, the worry lines still in position.  “You were having a nightmare.”  A statement, not a question.  As if she’d known this information for quite some time and was just now admitting it.
            Serenity’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.  “Botan, I told you never to read my mind.”
            Botan shrugged, and a smile played at her lips.  “Sura*, I didn’t have to.  Your eyes can’t keep a secret.”  She’s definitely right about that, Serenity thought.  She’d always known that her eyes changed colors based on her mood.  Botan had lived with her long enough to decipher most of this ocular code.  “Before you went to sleep, they were white, like they normally are,” Botan continued.  “Right now, they’re gray.  That means you’re afraid of something, doesn’t it?  And what else is there to be afraid of while you’re asleep, if not a nightmare…?”
            Serenity gave Botan a look—brilliant deduction, my dear Watson—got up from the chair, and walked to the window, staring out at nothing in particular.  As she stared, she deftly brushed her fingers over the stark lines of the barcode tattoo on her left wrist.  Serenity had matching ones at the base of her neck and on her lower back.  She had received these marks quite some time before.  Although it was clear that the circumstances under which she'd received them had not been positive ones, she couldn’t for the life of her recall the details of the experience.  Whether this amnesia was convenient or involuntary was anyone’s guess.  
            Eventually Serenity turned from the window, expecting a barrage of questions, but Botan remained silent, respecting the fact that the topic of Serenity’s nightmares was closed for discussion.  It was surprising; usually Botan’s chattiness and her desire to be helpful made Serenity want to throw up her hands, march off to her bedroom, and lock the door.
            After another moment, Botan's face cleared, and she broke into a smile.  Serenity breathed a sigh of relief; a worried expression on Botan’s face was just so unnatural.  “You know, Sura, the team should be gathering for the reunion at Ratoshi’s place just about now,” Botan said.  A welcome change of subject; now it was Serenity’s turn to smile.  Unless a Dark Tournament was imminent, the members and friends of the Urameshi martial arts team were usually scattered across various realms.  But once a year, during the summer, they all gathered together in the abode of Ratoshi Verdesca, Yusuke Urameshi's half-sister, to play games, spar, and swap stories about their various exploits.  In Serenity’s opinion, the occasion nearly rivaled Christmas, New Year’s…possibly even her birthday.  She had probably started counting down the days until the reunion months before, on the morning after she'd turned eighteen.
            Serenity’s eyes changed from gray to gold (denoting excitement, Botan remembered) before she turned away and began to walk from the den.  Before exiting completely, she looked back over her shoulder and mouthed two words: “Race you.”
             Before Botan could say anything in response, Serenity had already run out of the room.

*sura: short for yasuragi, Japanese for “serenity”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kaleidoscope, Introduction

Serenity Funaka was sitting on a bench, smiling as she swung her legs back and forth, feet barely brushing the ground.  It was the perfect day for a park outing with her mother and father—the sky was completely clear, and the grass was practically glowing emerald green in the sunlight.  There were kids her age flying colorful kites near the small pond in the center of the park, teenagers playing baseball, adults casually strolling along the walkways.  It was a picture of ultimate peace, and as a little girl still easily satisfied and easily entertained, she couldn’t ask for anything more.         
Her gaze rested on a man and woman who held hands as they walked aimlessly around the grassy area directly across from her.  When they saw her, they smiled and joined her at the bench, sitting on either side of her.  Mommy…daddy, she thought contentedly, laying her head on the woman’s lap with a smile.  
“Serenity,” her mother said, gently smoothing her auburn hair with a hand that smelled faintly of floral-scented lotion.  “Your father has a gift for you.”  She raised herself off her mother’s lap so she could look up at her father, into his dynamic green eyes.  With a small grin, he reached into the knapsack that he’d been carrying and pulled out a wooden cylindrical object, about six inches long.  He held the object between him and Serenity, at her eye level, so that she could see it better.  As he slowly rotated it, she could see the scene that had been painted expertly around the tube.  Three tall cherry trees, branches decorated with the reds and yellows of autumn, stood against a background of rich green grass and a pale blue sky decorated with small cotton ball clouds.  Funaka had been painted on each tree trunk in stylized kanji.  The artist’s skill was undeniable; Serenity felt she was looking at a photograph attached to the tube, not a painting; even the characters that made up her surname looked like realistic carvings.
 As pretty as Serenity found her father’s gift, she still had no idea what it was; her look of puzzled admiration told him so.  He chuckled softly.  “It’s a kaleidoscope,” he explained.  “Put it up to your eye and turn this part of the tube…like this.”  He demonstrated the process then handed the still-foreign object to his daughter.  She followed his instructions, not knowing what to expect.
“Wow!  Look at the colors,” she said, almost to herself, as she put the kaleidoscope up to her eye and saw the bright pattern of triangles and diamonds.  As she turned the top part of the tube as her father had shown her, she heard a sound like small beads shifting around, and the pattern inside the tube began to change.  She barely noticed that she was squealing in delight, as any eight-year-old girl would be when given something colorful.
 She looked up from her new toy, intending to thank her parents.  But neither of them was there.  She was alone on the bench again, and her immediate surroundings were oddly silent.  A cloud of confusion began to form at the back of her mind.  With her new kaleidoscope in her left hand, Serenity stood and walked around, looking for the kite fliers, the baseball players, the sense of peace that had recently vanished.  To her dismay, she found that the whole park was now deserted.  Even the sun had taken its leave; the sky was now cloudy, gray, ominous even.  There was even a haunted quality to the air.  As if to emphasize this point, a chill started to creep up Serenity’s spine.  By this time she had walked to the center of the park.  Facing the edge of the pond, she shut her eyes, hoping that once she opened them again, her parents would be coming to find her so they could laugh and eat ice cream and skip stones across the surface of the water.
“One…two…three,” she whispered under her breath.   She slowly opened her eyes, like someone who has been awakened from a deep sleep.   Nothing had changed; she was still alone in the gray and the dim.  A stormy sense of confusion and fear was gathering strength in her mind.  Her heart was beating harshly in her chest, as if doing its job was suddenly a great burden.  Her palms were sweaty, even with the chill that was still dancing up and down her spine.  Trying to calm her nerves, Serenity stood in the same position for a while, locking her gaze onto a tree directly ahead.  After about a minute, she decided to follow the example of the other park-goers and make an exit.  Still clutching the kaleidoscope in her left hand, Serenity lifted her right foot off the ground, about to take her first step away from the desolate place—
Cold, unfamiliar arms wrapped themselves around her, one holding her neck in a chokehold, the other tight around her waist.  The difference in temperature between Serenity’s body and these arms was astounding; she wondered if any of the eight winters she’d experienced in her lifetime could even compare to the cold she was now feeling.  She was dimly aware of her father’s gift, the kaleidoscope, leaving her fingers, landing on the grass, rolling before coming to rest a short distance away, the beads inside making a faint sound until their container ceased to move—a pleasant afterthought, trailing off as if the noise were made in error. 
Serenity squirmed silently, in too much of a state of shock to scream for help or even to cry; her captor’s hold was not loosened in the slightest by her efforts.  The unfamiliar arms lifted her off the ground, and a voice—smooth, dark, disturbingly familiar—broke the tense silence, causing her to shiver as she continued her pointless squirming.  As she struggled to keep breathing and her sight blurred, this voice whispered six simple words in her ear:
Serenity, Serenity…your calm has ended.
The once perfect scene faded from gray to black in sickly slow motion.
Afterward, nothingness.  All five senses ceased to exist at the same instant.
Then, without warning, there was a violent flash, the color of fresh blood.