Stories

Liar


Hideyoshi Saito was not crazy. But as he rubbed his eyes, he was starting to wonder if perhaps he was going crazy. Where before there'd been a butterfly slowly fanning itself on the cup of a daffodil, there was now a bee dipping its head in. Saito was sure the butterfly had not left to be replaced by the bee.

He had been staring quite closely, thinking about how his wife had wanted to put butterflies on the wall of their baby's room, in case it had been a girl. He had argued that such a thing would be inappropriate if it had been a boy. Not that it mattered either way now. Just thinking about it had made him sick.

He looked around, searching for the butterfly, but it was nowhere to be found. Surely it could not have flown off that quickly. It had simply... changed into the bee, in the literal blink of an eye.

He reached his hand out toward the flower, to pluck it out and examine it for some trick mechanism, when someone called out his name. He straightened and turned around to find his coworker, Yumimura Toshi walking toward him and waving. “Stopping to smell the roses?” Toshi asked with a grinning glance at the flowers.

“They're not roses,” Saito said softly. “They're daffodils.”

“How can you tell?” Toshi wondered, grabbing his tie and loosening it slightly as he bent to look at the flowers for himself. It was the tie that Saito hated. A proper businessman should be wearing a plain tie of a strong color, blue or red. Toshi wore a childish tie, with the grinning face of an anime character polka-dotting it.

“You can tell from the shape. Daffodils have several petals spread in a flat circle, with one central trumpet sprouting from the middle,” Saito explained, knowing that Toshi was not seriously listening, or would not retain the information even if he were. A sudden wave of nausea hit him, just thinking about all the things Toshi did to annoy him.

“Huh,” Toshi said. “These don't look much like that.”

Annoyed at being contradicted, Saito turned to the flowers to point out exactly what he meant. But when he did, he saw that they were not daffodils, but were actually common daisies. He blinked and rubbed his eyes again. “Did they change?” he asked out loud.

With a confused quirk of his head, Toshi grinned at him. “What do you mean?” he asked as if Saito were teasing him.

“They were daffodils,” Saito insisted. “Then they were daisies. I don't understand.” He wondered if, perhaps, he had been walking and not realized it. He looked back down the walkway and saw no daffodils back the way he might have come.

“That's what they've always been,” Toshi said, laughing roughly after as if Saito were playing some sort of unusual joke on him. “Come on, if we stay here, we'll be late back to the office.”

With shock, Saito looked down at his watch and saw it read 12:52. He was indeed already running late. He had a single hour as his lunch break which allowed him the opportunity to come to the park near the office to eat. It was a single bit of relaxation in his day and, perhaps, the one thing that allowed him to tolerate the job at all. That and the stability of knowing work would always be there the next day. But the park was a ten minute walk away and it was eight minutes until he had to be back.

As his boss did not tolerate tardiness, Saito took off running down the paved pathway, back toward work. He had to weave around a few people and, thanks to the warm sun, was covered in sweat after only a few minutes. By the time he reached the crosswalk outside the park, he felt dizzy from the exertion.

He was able to get a moment's rest, however, because traffic was passing through. Unfortunately, this also meant he was losing time to get back to his office. He glanced back down at his watch, saw the minute hand was creeping toward one, and considered darting out into traffic. Then he looked back down at his watch, wide-eyed, because the last time he had looked it was his digital watch, not his mechanical one.

A yelp of surprise escaped his lips, which startled the other people standing at the crosswalk. They gave him curious glances and took subtle steps away from him. He wanted to rip the watch off his wrist and throw it away, but then the walk sign lit up and he was thrust back into the urgent run toward work.

He reached the door just in time. It hit 1 PM just as he was stepping inside. He took a moment to double over and suck in wind, his head swirling with the effort. Droplets of sweat trickled down his chin and splashed on the floor, making him wish he had a handkerchief. After sucking in enough breath to be able to breath relatively steadily, he straightened up and headed toward the men's restroom, where he could at least wash his face.

On the way there, he crossed paths with his boss, an old, stern man who only ever went by the name Mr. Kabamaru. Saito bowed stiffly to his boss, who surprised him by stopping. “You look like you've just run a marathon, Saito,” he said with an unusual smile on his face.

“Yes, Mr. Kabamaru. I was delayed in returning from lunch,” Saito explained haltingly. “I had to run to make it on time.”

Mr. Kabamaru slapped him on the shoulder, an unusual display of camaraderie from the normally uptight man. “That's you, Saito, always the go-getter,” Mr. Kabamaru said with a gregarious chuckle. “But you should lighten up some. Remember, it is not always the fastest that wins the race. So what if you are a few minutes late?”

With that, Mr. Kabamaru stuck his hands in his pockets and walked off before whistling a pop tune to himself. Saito stood, dumbfounded, watching his boss walk away completely unlike his boss. He wondered what had happened to put him in such a pleasant mood. Whatever it was, Saito hoped he would be similarly happy in the future, though he knew that was too much to wish for.

Despite his boss's good cheer, Saito decided not to press his luck by dawdling and hurried on to the bathroom. He dampened some paper towels and dabbed around his collar and face, trying to clean as much of the sticky sweat as he could without getting his shirt wet. It only helped marginally, but that was still better than nothing.

Refreshed at least slightly, Saito trundled up the stairs to his desk. He sank down into his chair and ran a hand through his hair. He took a deep breath and then looked at his wrist again. Sure enough, the watch was still his analog one. Had he simply worn this watch and forgotten? He was sure, when he was in the park, that he had been wearing his digital watch. He felt a wave of sickness pass through him as he wondered if he were going crazy.

But perhaps it was just stress. Too much going on at home lately. He had simply forgotten, he decided. He turned back to his desk and began to get to work.

A few minutes later, Toshi walked up and leaned against the wall of his cubicle, his blue tie dangling in front of Saito's face. “Already back to work?” Toshi asked jovially.

Saito reached up and grabbed the tie in his fist, aiming to jerk Toshi down and yell at him for being annoying. He stopped himself, however, and gaped at the tie. It was just a regular, solid blue tie. “Why so agitated?” Toshi asked, yanking his tie out of Saito's grasp.

Saito stared at him for a moment, then asked, “Did you change your tie?”

Toshi frowned and pursed his lips and looked around, almost as if he were expecting some hidden camera to pop out and surprise him. After assuring himself this was not some elaborate prank, he said, “No, I didn't. Why?”

“Weren't you wearing another one at lunch?” Saito asked. “One with an anime girl on it?”

Toshi frowned at him harder for a moment, then started to laugh. “Hah! An anime girl tie, on me! That would look good, I bet! The things you think of, Saito, they really are something else, aren't they?” He slapped his hand on the side of the cubicle and turned away. “I should get back to work, honestly.”

Saito stared at Toshi as he walked away. Toshi speaking about working? Now Saito was quite perturbed and felt another brief spike of nausea. But Toshi was right; he needed to get to work and could not worry about the strange incongruities he was experiencing.

Except as he started, he began noticing more discrepancies. They were small ones. Were he not so meticulous about his work, he might not have noticed few numbers being off. But they were there. He was the only one who had access to this file, yet he was positive they had been changed from what he had entered before.

Had he changed them and forgotten? It was best to double check, just to make sure. He called to KuroTech, the company file he was working on now. A young, female voice answered the phone; not what he expected.

"Hello, this is Saito. I need to speak with Hiro about the payroll numbers for last week."

"Oh, hello Saito," the woman said. "How have you been?"

Saito hesitated. He did not recognize this woman's voice. Who could she have been? Was he someone he had met before but did not remember? It was best not to embarrass himself by questioning her identity. "Things have been... difficult recently, but I am afraid I do not have time to chat."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear it! I know how rough things can be sometimes," the woman said, utterly ignoring his attempts to bypass smalltalk. "I am guessing the new baby has been giving you trouble, hmm?"

Saito's blood went cold at her words. So she had heard his wife had given birth, but nothing else? He hadn't told anyone what had happened. How could he? He could barely bear it himself.

He found he could not speak for a moment. When he finally cleared his throat and managed to get words out, he said, "I do not wish to talk about that. Please, I need to speak to Hiro about the payroll."

Perhaps it was the graveness in his voice, but the woman finally got serious. "Oh, well, if you want. I don't think he'll be able to help you with payroll, though."

"What do you mean?" Saito asked in frustration. Who was this woman and why was she being so obstinate?

"Well, he's just a salesman, so - "

"What?" Saito wondered aloud, feeling sick again. Hiro had been the manager over there for years.

After a moment of hesitation, the woman said, "He's just a salesman."

In frustration, Saito hung up. He turned back to his spreadsheets and went back to running the numbers, exactly as they were entered. As he continued, he kept seeing larger and larger mistakes. A three man start-up with income of over a million yen in the past month. A moderate restaurant chain with rent costs of only a few hundred yen. None of it made sense. He ran the numbers regardless, laughing at the nonsensical results.

When it finally came time to leave work, he was sicker than he had ever been. He wanted to go into the bathroom and double over a toilet, but he restrained himself. Instead he trundled home. The subway train was a strange black color instead of the comforting silver.

At least it ran on time. That much was the same no matter what else changed.

His apartment key did not work, no matter how many times he tried it. Finally, he had to call up to his wife. He braced himself as another spell shook his body. After several rings, he wondered if she would even pick up at all? Had things changed so that they had never married? Or maybe they had never met at all. Or, he feared, they had met but something had torn them apart. Or she and their baby had both...

She finally picked up and he let out a breath. He explained only that his key stopped working and she said she would be down in a moment to let him in.

He sighed and leaned against the wall of the building. There was one thing that hadn't changed. He and his wife were still together. His entire world could be rebuilt, but as long as his wife was still with him, he could deal with anything at all. They had already dealt with terrible tragedy.

The door opened and his wife held a bundle in her arms. Shock crossed his face as she smiled at him, eyes tired but happy. The baby in her arms murmured in his sleep. As he stood there, frozen, she frowned. "Come on in," she said, holding the door open with one arm.

"The baby..." he muttered, staring at it.

It was there. It was alive. She was smiling at him again, wearily. "He's fine," his wife said softly. "And I'm fine too." She tried to stifle a yawn, but it escape despite her best efforts, causing her to giggle slightly once it passed. "Well, he is sure exhausting me, but it's worth it."

He took a step back, away from her. "No," he whispered to himself. She looked at him in confusion. "No," he repeated, shaking his head. "It died. Our baby died."

Horror exploded onto her face, mixed with anger. "Don't say such things!" she admonished, looking to be on the verge of tears. "Our baby is healthy and fine! He's right here, see!" She angled him so he could see his face. His eyes were closed and his cheeks fat and red.

He couldn't answer her, so he turned and ran. How could the baby be alive? Was this all just a hallucination? Was the world changing around him? If the his child could come back to life, what else might change?

Things were supposed to happen and the past could not change! Was everything just a lie? The world had been a liar?

And why wasn't he happy about it? He should have been overjoyed that his child had survived delivery!

But this was all wrong. It was not what had happened. Could he stand to live in a world that could change at any moment? One where, suddenly, his child might be dead again, or his wife.

He was running out of breath and had to come to a stop. He was in the middle of an empty street, hands on his knees, sucking in air. He wanted to run further, but couldn't. Where could he go when anything could change at any minute? How far would he need to run to get back to his own life.

He hunched over, breathing and thinking heavily, tuning out the world.

Was this not a second chance, he thought? Hadn't he prayed to the gods to bring his son back to life? And, in some way, they had. He ran because he was afraid of things changing, even when they changed for the better! If they decided to take his son away again, well, what time he had with him now was still more than he would have had otherwise.

"Saito!" his wife called to him. He straightened up and turned to look at her, seeing her through tear-blurred eyes. She held their son in her arms. Yes, he decided, even if there was a chance to lose everything again, he would gladly accept it for the certainty of his son now.

He took a step toward her. Then a truck's horn blared and a wave of nausea overwhelmed him. He wasn't sure which hit first.


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