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THE DISAPPEARING OF HARUTO
It was six in the morning on March fifth when they said that Haruto was missing.
I remember because I was in the kitchen, and I saw Fay drop the frying pan and burn her hand when she heard the police at the door telling Mom and Dad the news. She was cooking eggs on the stove, white hair lightly floating around her thin shoulders. Her hand tilted the frying pan, and the door opened, and the words were spoken, and I knew in an odd, indefinable way, that the world would never be the same again.
Mom plunged Fay’s hand into some cold water, but I didn’t think that it helped very much, because she was crying. I hadn’t really realized yet what had happened. All I knew was that something had startled Fay, and it had had to do with the police at our door.
"Is Dad in jail?"
"No, no, quiet down."
Mom was in a hurry as usual, and so she didn’t have time to talk. But I was curious, so I stepped forward, prepared to press on. But just as my foot hit the floor, Fay looked at me with big shocked gray eyes, like a deer in headlights.
I breathed in sharply. Haruto . . . was missing? It didn’t fit. I walked over to the couch in our back room, and pulled threads out of one of the cushions. One thread after another. Slow and simple. Why was Haruto missing? Had he been kidnapped? I had seen a news story about a kidnapping a couple months ago. It had been a boy, in ninth grade like Haruto, though the boy had looked different. Dad had been fine with me watching it, but Mom made me turn it off.
After maybe fifteen minutes of plucking at couch strings, I lay back and stared at the light bulb, trying to imagine it to be a sun. That was what Haruto had told us to do when he had moved in next door. Fay had been twelve or so, I only a couple of years younger. We had been glad to see our old neighbor, a grumpy man with an ugly looking bulldog leave. We were even more excited when we saw our new neighbors.
The first one to arrive wasn’t that impressive--just a red-faced blond man with a scraggly beard. His wife, a stocky tired-looking Asian woman wasn’t that interesting either. But when we saw that those two had a kid Fay’s age, a chubby giant of a boy, blond with oval black eyes, Fay and I smiled.
Our block had no one our age, and Mom never let us play too far outside. It seemed just perfect for a ten-year-old to show up next door. Fay said he looked stupid, though, and I sort of had to agree. His eyes had a half-tired look to them, and he was a little bit fat.
The day after they moved in, we saw him sitting on the sidewalk, drawing a scraggly picture of a tree in a sketchbook. Fay walked over to him with far more daring than I, and asked bluntly what he was doing, drawing an ugly-looking tree like that.
"It’s a magical tree," he said with perfect belief.
"No, it isn’t!"
That was me, stubborn as always. The boy rubbed his nose with a fat hand, and grabbed Fay’s fingers.
"I’m Haruto. And it is a very magical tree."
That was how things started.
Haruto explained the tree, and it turned out to be one of the less strange things about him. He said that the tree used to be human, but it was so evil that it twisted into an ugly looking tree. Fay said that she thought it was just a hideous tree, but Haruto shook his head and that was that.
"Humans can’t become trees!"
Fay was very stubborn on the issue. But Haruto said that we only thought that. He then pulled out a mythology book, and pointed out a story where a girl turns into a tree. He said that the world was very big. The tree, Haruto said, and all of the transformations, were part of another world that touched our own.
He reached out with one hand, and lightly touched a curl of Fay’s hair. He seemed almost entranced by it, like a toddler chasing dandelion pods.
"The other world is the world of Faerie. It’s a beautiful world, but also a terrible one. And I can show you it."
"Fine then. I want to see it!"
Fay was very insistent on proof, and Haruto tried hard. He brought her round everywhere, to all of the spots of our small town, and showed her all of the pretty things.
"These are Faerie things. See?"
He showed us the little scatterings of pine needles, the shiny glint of glass among pebbles. He showed us the most beautiful things, things that I had seen before all around me, but never noticed. I was entranced. Fay wasn’t.
"It’s all regular. You’re just a big fat liar."
Haruto was very dismayed at this. His face turned just a little bit red, and he kicked at the ground for a couple seconds, then looked up. His blond brows were knitting.
"I-I can show you a secret place, a place only I know about."
"But not now. "
Fay spun around and ran back home. I stood for a couple of awkward seconds, watching the stricken Haruto, and then left as well. I thought just as Fay did, that Haruto was a big, fat liar. That he would never come to show us. But the next morning, when the dew was sitting on the grass, and the sky was gray with the morning, he tossed pebbles at our windows until he woke us up, and then Haruto beckoned us out the door.
He had a scarlet cape on, and his hand was clutched about a leather-bound notebook.
Fay was curious beyond all imagination.
"This is the Chronicle of Faerie. I’ve got all sorts of true stories in here, about everything!"
He pulled us through the alleys and crosswalks, shops and corners of our town, until we stood in a grassy field some miles away from home.
"I don’t want to go any further."
I found this whole experience very foolish. But Haruto looked at me like I was silly, and pulled me into the grass with Fay. We ran forward, the dew soaking our ankles, the soft wind rustling our hair. Haruto raced ahead of us, mimicking an airplane. And then, suddenly, there was a strange hush.
We stood silent, looking around. We had run from the field into a forest. It was deathly-quiet for a second as we crouched, looking around. Green leaves rustled in the wind. A squirrel raced around the earth. Haruto smiled, big black eyes sparkling.
"This is where you can truly start to see Faerie."
He opened the Chronicle of Faerie.
"Here was where the Dark Warrior first caused trouble."
"The Dark Warrior? Who’s he?"
Haruto told us all about Faerie. It had once been ruled by a cruel and monstrous man, who drank big bottles of beer, called the Dark Warrior. He and his minion, the Black Witch, had been driven from Faerie some four months ago. Now the Dark Warrior and the Black Witch lived only in the cities of the world, and Faerie was safe.
"For now," Haruto said in an ominous tone.
He lead us further into the forest. The trees grew deeper. Vines swam between branches. I started to get scared. Fay’s hand in mine shook just a little bit. And then there was light.
We were standing on a mossy cliff, at the peak of a waterfall. It splattered in a white streak over various shining rocks, emptying out into a sparkling lake. A deer stood below us, drinking in the water. Haruto leaned over the edge, reaching into the water. He caught some, and gulped it into his mouth. He told us that falling water was safe to drink. The waterfall was called the Sparkling Glory, according to Haruto. The fairies, Haruto said, were often persecuted. They had to learn how to fly so that they could escape their attackers. They would practice by jumping off this cliff as babies. If their wings came out, they survived. But if they didn’t, then they were unworthy of life, and drowned in the deep.
"That’s not fair. Those poor dying fairies."
Fay wasn’t being stubborn anymore. She was actually feeling sorry for them. Haruto just looked at her, though.
"If they don’t learn to fly, then they die anyway. It’s just too painful for them to live."
We ran back singing, only to meet Mom and Dad’s furious worry when we got home. We wondered about Haruto for a minute or so, but he had said that his parents didn’t care, so it was fine.
We spent our whole summer like that. Every day we’d meet Haruto outside, and he would take us to the different places of Faerie. He’d point out little things that Fay and I missed. He’d send us on epic quests to repel the Dark Warrior and the Black Witch. On the last day of summer, right before school started, we all went to Sparkling Glory. Haruto and Fay sat on the edge of the cliff, feet dangling over the edge. There wasn’t enough room for me. Haruto and Fay kept their hands intertwined as the sun began to set, and held on tighter as it exploded across the lake in an inferno of red and pink and gold. I thought with a thrill that this was true wonder, that I would give anything to do this again. Haruto gave Fay a gold bracelet that he said used to belong to the Black Witch. He said that she became too evil for it, and maybe Fay could make it good. Fay’s face was red, and I didn’t think that it was from the sky.
School was gray and unhappy. School was evil. School was something we didn’t want to go to. But we were a little happier because Haruto was at our school now, so it couldn’t be all bad. Fay was in seventh with Haruto, in the same classroom with him. I was in a younger grade, so I didn’t even see him very often. But I remember one scene rather clearly. It was a couple days after school started. Haruto was holding the Chronicle of Faerie, and his face was very pale. His eyes were a sort of shiny black. Dieter, a skinny red-haired boy in seventh, was laughing very hard.
"You believe in fairies? Ha! Fairy! I bet you’re a fairy!"
Haruto’s mouth quivered a little bit.
"Maybe I am! Maybe the fairies left me here with stupid people like you!"
Dieter laughed even harder, and suddenly the rest of the class was laughing as well. Haruto just sat down and started drawing in the Chronicle of Faerie. Fay only explained to me later what ‘fairy’ meant. I don’t think Haruto was thinking of the same fairy as Dieter.
The day after that, Fay didn’t sit with Haruto at lunch. He crouched alone, eyes focused only on his story. In the middle of lunch the next week, Dieter got up, and walking past Haruto, he fake-slipped. Somehow his lunch tray flipped over, and its contents flew towards Haruto. Haruto curled forwards, hiding the Chronicle of Faerie from harm, even as yellow egg dripped down his back.
We met at Haruto’s house after school every day from then on, but I never saw Fay anywhere near Haruto at school.
I remember a night in January. It was very cold, and the sidewalk was covered in snow. I was reading in the backroom, reading about Narnia. The house next door suddenly exploded into argument. Shouting. Someone was swearing. The door opened suddenly, and I saw a small form standing there, hands in tight fists. A voice was shouting at him.
"You little--stealing my bracelet!"
Another voice, deep and thick.
"If you ever do that again, you little piece of--, you’re never coming home!"
The door slammed, and the figure stood there. And then collapsed against the door. I didn’t hear any crying, or see anything like it. Just the figure staring up at the sky, watching the stars with hollow black eyes.
By February, Dieter called Haruto the Fairy-Boy, and so did everyone else. I even heard the teacher doing it. I don’t think Dieter minded. He just sort of smiled like he always did, big and dopey.
Summer came, hot and thick, and the ground was dry with dust. Fay was tall and filled with a strong attitude of grown-up-edness. She treated Faerie with faint amusement, like a college student supervising a kindergarten game. Haruto never complained. He just raced along, big face wide with joy at even the slightest hint of pleasure from Fay. His big black eyes traced her white hair with a kind of adoration. I trailed behind them both like a tired toddler.
School arrived with the brush of leaves, and the world was spicy and harsh. The school Spelling Bee came, and Haruto got first place. He was very pleased, and he kept staring at Fay with big dumb eyes. Dieter got second, and he looked like he was going to cry. He had studied for weeks for the competition. Fay stared at the ground, ignoring them both.
There was a dead cat in Haruto’s locker the next day. Haruto opened it and immediately started crying, like a water faucet. Dieter laughed and said he was a baby. Fay looked down at the ground.
In December, a notice appeared in the newspaper.
‘Goldberg Forest to be Turned into a Local Shopping Mall.’
Dieter left a newspaper clipping on Haruto’s science desk, and Haruto threw it away. He grabbed his Chronicle and wrote in it. The next day after school we all went to the forest, Goldberg Forest.
"Will they get rid of Sparkling Glory?"
I was very worried about that.
"No. Of course not. The Fay protect that place so no one except us can see it."
Fay snorted, and Haruto looked at her, his mouth half-open. She muttered something resembling an apology, and the moment passed unmentioned. But not unnoticed.
In May, one of Fay’s friends, Nicole, asked her if she really hung out with the fairy boy. Fay said that of course she didn’t. I don’t think she knew that Haruto was standing in the cafeteria entrance, and saw the whole thing. Another girl, Anna, asked her again later, and she said it again. And again, Haruto just happened to be in the corner. And finally Dieter asked her in front of everyone, where Haruto was definitely there. And Fay stared at the ground, and kicked the floor, and said that she didn’t hang out with Haruto in a very small voice.
"See that, fairy-boy? I knew girlfriends didn’t work out for you."
Haruto walked out of the room, not looking at Fay, and I heard sniffling in the bathroom.
School ended. Summer came again. We didn’t come to see Haruto, but finally he walked up to our door and knocked on it, and asked if we wanted to go to Faerie. Fay’s face was stony and adult.
"I can’t believe you still believe in stuff like fairies. What are you, six?"
Haruto’s mouth worked a little bit, and his eyes were wide. I wanted to say that I still believed, but I was a little too scared of Fay. And besides, I wasn’t sure. Haruto’s lips pushed together, and he stumbled out. He buzzed on the door again the next day, with a pretty necklace for Fay. She looked a little embarrassed, and said that she didn’t want it. But he was so desperate for her to like it that eventually she just said that it was nice of him.
I didn’t see Haruto for a couple of days, but the next time I saw him, he had a really bad black eye and a cut on his forehead was crusting over. They had delayed work on Goldberg Forest again, so we went there one last time, as summer ended. Fay was almost apologetic. I knew she didn’t want to be there. I knew she felt guilty about what she said at school. Even worse, she felt guilty that she didn’t believe, that she thought Haruto was crazy for believing.
We stared at the sunset, but Fay wanted to leave, so we left before it really got started. I turned to look, to catch a glimpse of its disappearing moment, but it wasn’t the same all alone.
School. High school for them. I didn’t really know what was going on with Dieter and Haruto and Fay. I went to a basketball game in October. I saw Dieter leaning over to Haruto, whispering something. He was looking at Fay.
Haruto turned, and punched him, one giant hand smashing into Dieter’s skinny red face. He floored him with that one hit.
I was in the high school library after school the next day, waiting for Fay to show up. Haruto was rummaging through the trash can. He pulled out the Chronicle of Faerie. His hands trembled. Curse words were scribbled across the cover. Haruto looked inside. The pages were ripped apart, and defaced. Haruto turned to the last few pages, the blank ones, his face in shadow. His fingers trembled, and he threw the book back in the trash and walked out. I walked over and pulled out the book. Across all the pages that had been blank, in a sharpie, was written ‘Why don’t you just die, fairy-boy?’
Late night in the winter time. Shouting in Haruto’s house. The door opened again, and Haruto stood there, stalwart. His Dad’s voice.
"You shouldn’t have been born!"
A big glass bottle of beer flew through the door, smashing on the ground. Bits of glass slashed across Haruto’s legs. The door closed again, and Haruto stumbled off. He curled up against the side of the house, and stared up at the sky. It was cloudy. You couldn’t see the stars.
March fourth. Dieter was standing in the school cafeteria. I was taking a class at the high school, so I got to stay there for lunch. It was cold in the cafeteria. The lights had a gray-green glow. Haruto was huddled at his one lonely lunch table in the middle of the room. Dieter was ambling over to him, surrounded by his goons.
"Hey, fairy boy."
Haruto looked up, eyes dull.
"What do you want, Dieter?"
"Fay? Fay? You in here?"
Fay looked up, confused. Dieter’s eyes were sharp and cold.
"Fay, why do you still wear that bracelet if you don’t like Haruto?"
Fay started to reply, then said nothing. Dieter smirked.
"Do you believe in fairies too?"
"What about Santa Clause? Haruto and you are just perfect for each other. "
"No! I don’t!"
"Then why are you still wearing the stupid bracelet?"
Fay’s hands trembled, but she unlocked the bracelet and walked over to the trash. She held the bracelet over the trash can for a second, as if hesitating over the top of a chasm. And then she dropped it. Haruto’s face was pale. I think he was starting to cry, but it was as if he hadn’t even realized it yet. Dieter grinned, and looked straight at Haruto.
"Why don’t you just die, fairy boy?"
"Y-you--you’re just jealous because you can’t--"
"Of course not. I’m just not crazy like you. No one even wants you here. No one likes you. Why don’t you just go join your stupid little fairies, and die like the stupid little fairy boy you are."
"What do you think, Haruto? What do you want to ask yourself?"
Dieter just laughed and sauntered off. Fay looked towards Haruto, but he looked away, hard. He stared down at his napkin, and he scribbled on it with a pen. Then he crumpled up the napkin and threw it in the trash. He looked like paper when he passed me, fragile and easy to rip. On the napkin, he had written ‘Why am I not dead yet?’
And then the next day he disappeared.
They had a memorial service at school. Fay stood with all of the girls, crying hard. Dieter laughed a little bit, and Fay continued looking down, like a stinking worm. The police eventually declared Haruto dead, even though they never found the body.
Fay accepted it eventually. Rather quickly, if I had to say. But I waited by the gate every morning for Haruto. I almost expected him to come. He would have been happy to know that Goldberg Forest was never turned into a shopping mall.
People still tell stories about the fairy boy, now, two years later. They probably will for decades more. They have theories about where he went. He got kidnapped. He took sleeping pills and crawled under an abandoned house. His parents killed him.
I think I know the truth.
I think that Haruto ran after school. He ran to Sparkling Glory. He stood over the edge, and he looked at the shining water. He stared up at the blue sky. And then he jumped forward, hanging over the edge for an instant like a pendulum at its zenith. At that moment, he waited for the result. For his wings to sprout and prove him worthy, for him to fly far, far away beyond the sunset, into the depths of Faerie, where he could hide forever from the Dark Warrior and the Black Witch. Or for the moment of failure, when nothing happened, when his wings didn’t fall and he fell down, down, down, into the depths of the lake. When his bones cracked on the water, and he struggled to stay up for a moment or two, before he sank down. Before he choked in the thick liquid of the lake, and rose, and sank, and sank again. Before his dreams were crushed forever in the blackness of reality, and his body lay, worthless, uncared-for, in the cold sands of the bottom of the lake.
I hope that in that moment of indecision, wavering between flight and fall, that Haruto caught the wind and floated off, to wherever the dreams of children go.
I really, really hope that.