Moon: 4/8 Waning
“What?” Naoki Kashima stared at his mother. “Counseling?”
“Yes. They’re a new office and are trying to get clients, so the prices are good. You’ve been behaving oddly lately, so I thought it might be a good idea.”
“I set up the appointment yesterday.” She handed him a piece of paper with directions on it. “You’ll need to go right after school.”
Yukio snickered beside him, failing to hide it behind a cough. Naoki could understand the humor well enough. When he’d come home Tuesday and talked about potentially joining soccer their parents had just about freaked. It wasn’t that they disapproved, they’d been trying to get him to join a sport for years, but for him to consider it without any extra prodding just wasn’t like him. Apparently it had been enough of a jolt for his mom to think he needed counseling.
Seriously no pleasing some people. Of course, it probably didn’t help that she didn’t like it when he hung out after school with Isamu. Not like he had this week.
“Don’t you think this is a bit weird?”
“I looked into it. They’re a little experimental, but fully approved.”
“They actually run some tests and try to tie in neuroscience with behavior and what you’re saying. Their website says they’re trying to fully connect the science and the thought. I think it sounds incredible.”
“So I’m a guinea pig?” Again.
“Naoki. This is an opportunity. You should try taking them once in a while.”
“Sign yourself up.”
“Naoki,” his father suddenly snapped from behind his phone. “Don’t speak to your mother that way.”
“What? I don’t want to go.”
His mother puffed up like a blowfish. Or an angry pixie. “You will go and you will be open and honest with the doctors there. It’s just this sort of behavior that has me worried. You changed so suddenly.”
“I’m sorry I have opinions.” Three sets of eyes widened. Oops. Had he said that aloud? Maybe Dante had taught him too much about sarcasm and poking fun at people.
“You never did before,” his mother finally gurgled out. Fair enough, but was it such a bad thing he had them now? He was fifteen. “And to so suddenly behave differently. You just came home different. What are we supposed to think?”
“Supposed to think?” Wait. What did they think?
“Well,” his parents exchanged concerned glances, “you don’t generally spend time with the most respectable crowd. We’re worried,” his mother took a deep breath, “we’re worried you’ve gotten involved in something serious.”
“Wait? You think Naoki is doing something illegal?”
Thank you, Yukio. Not sure the humored tone is really helpful though.
“I mean, would he? He doesn’t exactly have the energy for that.”
Never thank a younger brother until they choke. That was clearly the message here.
“That’s why we’re worried, sweetie. He’s been behaving so oddly.”
“I’m still here.”
“Obviously,” his father grumbled. Had his parents always shown this much favoritism? Or had he just not cared?
“Naoki, we’re just worried, so please. I just want to know you’re talking to someone about it, and that you’re not getting hurt.”
How could he talk about it? No good conversation could come out of started with: well, the world ended. No way. He didn’t want to talk to his friend about it, or his parents, and definitely not a stranger.
He really wanted to talk to Dante about it. About what had happened and how to continue living a more normal. Or at least, a life that didn’t end in people calling you crazy.
He sighed, glancing at the directions. “Alright. I’ll go, but it’s up to me how much I say, alright?”
His mother looked relieved. “I can accept that. After all, you’ll be the one meeting them. Just, try to be honest and give them the benefit of the doubt. I know it’s odd to talk to strangers.”
Probably why you didn’t sign yourself up, but whatever. Who knew? It could prove interesting at least. Maybe there really was something wrong with him. Goodness knows he would never have signed himself up.
Yukio looked at his phone. “We have to go.”
Naoki glanced at the clock on the wall. No kidding.
In the end, both boys charged out of the house together.
Naoki felt a whole new sense of doubt when he stared at the building his mother’s directions had led him to. It was one of those high rises with multiple companies in it and, apparently, this one took about half of it. That was pretty impressive, but they were involved in something medical, which it had sounded like they were, wouldn’t they be better served by attaching to a hospital? Still, he had to admit that their rather central Shinjuku location was convenient.
Now to find out if they were worth anything.
Inside the building, turn to the left, a door on your right. He opened the door to a rather standard waiting room. The only real difference was that instead of a counter there was just a secretary desk on one side. He went up.
“Do you have an appointment?” the bored looking women behind it asked.
“Yeah. Naoki Kashima.”
She slid some paperwork his way. “Just fill this out.”
“Right.” He grabbed it and looked around the waiting room. Just one other person in there, staring at the tv with a bit of drool coming down his face.
That seemed odd.
Naoki sat just a couple of seats away from the man.
The paperwork was standard enough. Any allergies? Had he been sick recently? Previous issues? What medication was he on? And then a couple of mental health questions about panic attacks and the like. Basically, a whole lot of no on his end. He turned it into the secretary and sat down just one seat away from the drooling man.
He couldn’t quite explain how, but the man smelled bizarre to him, like he wasn’t there? No. That wasn’t quite right. He just felt really weird. Naoki couldn’t describe it. Maybe, like something was missing that should be there? Like how every human gave off a scent and somehow this man didn’t. It set the back of his neck itching.
A woman wearing all white came out. “Taro Tanaka.”
Really? Wasn’t that like, the default fake name of everyone? Was that really his name?
Sure enough, the man stood and shuffled towards her. He looked like he barely had the energy to stand.
“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Tanaka.”
The man groaned, following her inside.
That couldn’t be right. Naoki knew well enough to trust that instinct too, and began looking around the office more carefully.
Some pretty landscapes on the wall. Neat rows of chairs. A television on either wall. A decent desk for the secretary, maybe even real wood. Two doors. One to enter the office and another to enter the facility proper. There was probably a fire escape in there somewhere too.
The walls were a noncommittal beige. The ceiling the same color. The lights your standard built in rectangle affair, and the lighting itself appeared to be LED to his eyes. He wasn’t an expert, but they were actually really bright.
It was a different woman, also wearing all white. He walked up to her.
“Are you ready for your appointment?”
He shrugged. “We’ll find out.”
She gave a pretend smile. Gross. Oh well, he supposed it was part of her job. He motioned for her to lead on.
The smile stay plastered on her face as she led him through the door and into the irritatingly lit highway. Like a hotel all rooms were equal distance and the carpet an annoying pattern. The only obvious oddity was that none of the rooms were labeled. He glanced behind them. Not even the one they had come through.
“What’s the plan?” he asked in the eerily long walk. “I didn’t get many details.”
“Today we will simply perform a few basic tests and introductions. After that we will inform you if you fit into our group. If you don’t, we will refer you to a more traditional counseling service.”
“Okay. This really is experimental then?”
“Yes.” Her voice was clipped, and so Naoki decided not to keep asking questions.
Even as the walk went from abnormally long, to freakily so. He carefully counted all the doors and repeated all the turns. It gave him something to do, and made him feel safer. He didn’t like not knowing how to get out of a place.
Still, who designed an office like this? And why? It seemed specifically designed to get people lost.
She finally opened a door that didn’t lead to more hallway. A pair of comfortable chairs and a small table. No window. Wouldn’t a window make people feel more comfortable?
“If you’ll take a seat, Doctor Kishitani will be with you soon.”
“He has reviewed your paperwork.”
Naoki slowly sat down in one of the chairs. This room was smaller than Loki’s, and possibly darker. “How long?”
That was a useless answer. She left before he could even open his mouth for something more specific. He sighed. This whole thing felt very wrong. It set him on end. He reached a hand behind around his neck, gently massaging the bump that had appeared since that day in the hospital.
It felt sensitive, but distinctly different from anything else. Smooth and vaguely pulsating. Placing his hand against it made him feel calmer. Slow and steady, the flow of a hidden power.
He closed his eyes, losing himself in the sensation.
A knock on the door woke him up.
A moment later a man in a nice button down shirt opened the door. “Naoki Kashima?”
“Yes. How are you?” He came forward, smiling gently.
“I see.” He bowed, sitting down a moment later. “Well, I suppose this is a somewhat strange scenario. Should I start with a full explanation of our facility?”
“I like to know who I’m talking to.”
“Well, I am Doctor Kishitani. I am a trained psychologist and counselor, not as inherent a combination as you might think, but one we strive for as we attempt to reconcile studies of the brain with examinations of human behavior.”
“So we’re guinea pigs?”
“We are attempting to aid people with a comprehensive method. A mix of counseling and psychological profiling.”
“And you take anyone?”
“No. We’re emphasizing young adults who fit within our expected range. Your mother saw our advertisement and called. After asking her a few questions we determined that you likely fit our profile.”
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m hoping we’re looking for you.” He smiled. “Now, your mother sounded concerned about a sudden change of behavior.”
“Can you think of anything that might have happened?”
He shrugged. “Just had a thought.”
“What sort of thought?”
“Care about what?”
“Anything? Never did before.”
“What made you think this?”
Doctor Kishitani sighed. “Something a little more solid would be nice. Did something happen to make you think like that?”
“Nope.” It wasn’t that he didn’t want to lie, he just really didn’t want to talk about it.
“This is just an introduction. The more we learn now the easier, but next time is when we’ll be applying the medical techniques.”
“Why don’t you talk to me then?”
“Nothing to say.”
“You certainly don’t seem as rough as your mother made it sound.”
“I’m pretty calm.”
“Can you say what incident made her worry?”
“Not really. Think it had to do with me wanting to join soccer.”
“Soccer? What do you normally do?”
“Just hang out with my friend.”
“Yeah. One friend. Two. Kind of.”
“Kind of like this.” Naoki was getting sick of the stare and the lack of natural light. The whole thing just felt like being stuck in a lab.
“Ah, there it is.”
“Can I go home?”
“We will not hold you against your will at any point. If you want to leave, just let me know.”
“I want to leave.”
“I’ll call the nurse back.” Doctor Kishitani pressed an intercom button.
“Is she really a nurse?”
“Yes actually. We have both nurses and standard counselors working here as well.”
Naoki nodded. That made sense at least. He stood up. A moment later the nurse knocked on the door.
“I’ll be calling your home to set up the next appointment.”
“Go for it,” Naoki grumbled. He was still a little curious about the medical side, but there was no way he could talk about everything that had happened.
Still, he had to figure out a way to stop his parents from freaking out, but he wasn’t about to deny everything he’d learned.
Fighting demons might have been easier.