Life at a university takes a dark turn for one of its students.
| Ever since her first day of college, Nao Akiyama had considered it a personal goal to start every morning with a smile. An angelic goal to say the least, but also one that was often difficult to pull off. On the days when she'd awaken to the sunlight gently warming her skin, or the pleasant sound of birds chirping outside her window, a smile was well within reach. Unfortunately, those days were few and far between.
“Nao!” Came the call that, for the past several weeks, had never ceased to end a peaceful nights sleep. “Come on, Nao! I know you can hear me!”
Nao awoke with a loud moan, one she knew would carry across her dorm and reach the voice currently nagging her out of bed. The voice went silent as she slowly sat up to face the day. Two bloodshot eyes opened to the sight of a small room cloaked in darkness. Ignoring the incessant pounding on her door a few feet away, she turned over to the bed's opposite side and faced a closed window. A slow pull on the curtains flooded the room with sunlight. She rubbed her eyes to help them adjust to the sudden change.
One look at a lively college campus got her blood pumping. “Crap!” She bellowed, falling backwards off her bed and onto a carpet littered in clothes and textbooks. Now wide awake, she scrambled back to her feet. It took several minutes to get dressed in whatever she could find and make her way to the door, but that time did nothing to stop the hard beating inside her chest. “I overslept!” She yelled as she swung open the door leading into the hallway.
“Again,” added the girl waiting against the hall's opposite wall. The short, brown-haired girl shot her a sympathetic smile. “This is the third time this week, Miss Akiyama.”
Textbooks held tight against her chest, Nao tried her best to match her friend's smile. “He sent you to get me, didn't he?” Her friend answered with a single nod. Nao looked down at her feet. “How...uh, how mad did he sound?”
“I'll put it this way,” her friend said as she stepped forward, wrapping one arm around Nao's slouched shoulders, “If I were you, I'd probably be running right now.” Nao's slouch deepened alongside a loud sigh. She hadn't even been awake for five minutes, and her smile had already faded from her lips. “Uh...Nao,” her friend said lightly.
“Yeah,” Nao replied, lost in her own depression.
“That was a hint. I'd seriously start running...like, right now.”
“Oh!” Free of her friend's grip, Nao shook herself to regain her composure and took off down the hall at a swift sprint. “Thanks for that, Kame!” She yelled to her friend, “This is the last time you'll have to wake me up, I promise!”
Sporting a new, slightly forced smile, she started towards the staircase at the end of the hall. She made short work of the empty hall, her shoes pressing down hard on the tile floor with every step. No time to waste, she took the steps two at a time, nearly tripping over her own feet near the bottom. Two large, red-bricked buildings made up most of the campus grounds, separated by an expertly well-kept grass field. Alongside countless stone walkways that served to guide the students around campus, the grass area was also decorated with various planted bushes and small trees. Only one tree, located in the field’s exact center, was anything to look at during this time of year. On her way passed, Nao ran her hand over one of the tree's distinctive cherry-colored leaves.
Sitting cross-legged underneath this beautiful tree, a young man picked his head up from the book in his hands. “Running late again, Miss Akiyama?” The man called out as she ran by, offering a playful grin in the process.
Nao blocked out the man's comment as she cleared the remainder of the grass field. Practically throwing herself into the double-doors that led inside the campus' main building, she was met with a number of similar knowing smiles from the students walking the halls. She did her best to ignore most of them, and played off those she couldn't with a simple nod.
At the end of the first hallway, she took a sharp right, her shoes sliding on the tile floor under her. The hall around her was lined with identical doors on either side, each marked with a number engraved in white on the window. When she neared the appropriate door, she was forced to stop and lean against the wall in order to catch her breath. Wiping a few beads of sweat from her forehead, she quickly ran a nervous hand through her hair. Her fake smile returned as she opened the door in front of her.
A room of garbled voices went silent as she walked inside. A full classroom of twenty-some students turned to face her simultaneously. Avoiding their gaze the best she could, she swallowed a sizable lump in her throat. It took everything she had to face the front of the room, and even more to look the man standing there in the eyes.
Dressed in a long, white lab coat, and sporting a full head of clearly graying hair, the old man turned a pair of tired eyes directly towards her. “Well,” the man said, pushing up a rather thick pair of glasses, “Good afternoon, Miss Akiyama. How nice of you to finally join us.” The man's coarse voice held a fair amount of frustration in its tone, but also came off as a tad playful.
Nao offered a deep bow before she spoke. “Sorry I'm late, Professor. I just..I didn't get much sleep last night...and then my alarm clock didn't go off when it should have...and—”
“Yes, yes,” the old man said to cut her off, “I've heard it all before, Miss Akiyama. Just take your seat and try your best to keep up. You'll have to stay after class so I can go over everything you've missed, of course.”
Another bow was Nao's chosen response, during which she could hear a few faint snickers escape some of her fellow classmates. “Of course, Professor.”
About halfway to her desk, her professor spoke up again. “Actually,” he said, causing her to turn and face him, “While you're up, you might as well make yourself useful.” Nao set her books down and approached the front desk. A single sheet of paper was handed over to her. “I need around forty copies of this for the test tomorrow. I trust you at least know the school's layout by now?”
Nao accepted the paper with both hands, two wide eyes looking it over in clear shock. “There's a test tomorrow?” She asked sincerely. Peering over the top of the paper, she just caught wind of her professor's eyes before turning for the door. A harsh shiver traveled down her spine as she exited the classroom in a hurried walk. “I'll be right back!”
She couldn't close the door behind her fast enough. Muffled laughter from inside the classroom followed her down the hall. During her walk, the thought of desperately studying the paper in her hands crossed her mind, but a long-held sigh quickly pushed the idea away. 'Why even bother?' She asked herself, 'I've missed so many classes, odds are I wouldn't even know what I was looking at.'
The hall around her was devoid of a single classmate or teacher, leaving the soft hum of the fluorescent lights above to fill the silence as she walked. A few minutes spent alone left her with plenty of time to think. Whether or not that was a good thing, she couldn't really decide.
Thinking about what had just happened made her fists clench shut, crumpling the paper in her hands into a useless ball. Truthfully, she didn't blame her professor for treating her the way he did. In the couple months she'd been signed up for his class, she'd only managed to show up on time a few days out of every week, and even then she'd often nod off and miss the entire class. She was far from the best student, and certainly not one a teacher could rely on, which made her choice to become this class' assistant all the more ridiculous. She'd entered college with such high hopes, and doomed herself almost immediately. Her professor had every right to make fun of her.
There was no way she'd be faking that smile today.
A four-way cross in the hall stopped her in her tracks. For a moment, she stood in the overwhelming silence, trying her best to remember exactly which way she should be going. After finally making a decision, she took a single step in the right direction, and instantly fell to her knees in the middle of the hall.
A sharp pain, equal parts sudden and familiar, traveled the length of her body, eventually finding its home in the very pit of her stomach. Eyes held shut and arms against her stomach, she made a vain attempt to stand. Back on her knees within a second, the pain doubled in intensity as soon as she hit the floor. She bit down hard on her tongue to keep herself from crying out. Most of her body felt like it was on fire, and although she couldn't open her eyes, she could still feel the stream of tears falling down her cheeks.
A thick, iron-like taste filled her mouth as she tried once more to get to her feet. Through a series of extremely slow steps, she was able to prop herself up against a nearby wall. Her eyes opened after a short respite, their vision blurred from the tears still forming. Memory alone led her to a restroom a few steps down the hall. She had to remove one arm from her stomach to open the door, which sent a sudden jolt of pain scrambling down her legs, which threatened to give out on her countless times during her walk across the room.
She could barely make out her reflection in the mirror along the front of the room. Praying she was alone, she leaned into the sink in front of her. Over the next few minutes, heavy breathing slowly morphed into a series of deep gags. The pain in her stomach had reached its peak, now to the point where every breath felt like being stabbed in the lungs. However, as terrible as it was, she knew the worst was yet to come.
No longer content with staying in her stomach, the source of the pain rose to her throat and forced her mouth open. She closed her eyes for what happened next, but that didn't stop the image of it being clear in her mind. As it had once a day for the past two months, a thick stream of pure-black bile poured out of her mouth. Unlike regular vomit, this bile came out in a manner similar to saliva. Most of it refused to come up, and what little did took several minutes of self-imposed gagging. In the meantime, both the skin lining her throat and the inside of her mouth experienced a pain like nothing she could describe. What lasted no more than five minutes felt to her like five hours. Eventually, all of what she could vomit out had left her throat.
She turned on the sink before opening her eyes. The sound of running water helped calm her a bit, but not nearly enough to sooth her rapid heartbeat. Through blurred vision she watched the water from the spigot mix with what she'd thrown up. The now black water vanished down the drain before her eyes. Nowadays, that sight was one of the few things that could genuinely make her smile.
A/N: This is the prologue to a much longer story. Whether you loved or hated this, I'd love to hear why, and thank you for reading.