"The storm tonight is thick and heavy. This is good. The snow will make the children easier to track. Run little babies. Run. The smell of fresh souls hangs in the air like the aroma of pig fat on an open flame. And please, please try and save everyone. The game is always a little more fun when they fight."
"Tonight Berkley Heights is average in every single way. This will not be true in the morning when sunlight peers over the ice laden tree tops and the first of the screams start. When the boy with his severed head is found lying in the middle of a street. When the parents begin to count heads and wail as their numbers come up short. When the world hears of what's happened here. No. Berkley Heights will never be average again."
"The time is 8pm. The bloodshed is due to start any minute now. And you dear friend. All this blood will be on your hands and you don't even realize it. You think yourself small. You think yourself inconsequential. But by night's end you will be Queen Composer and it will be your baton that orchestrates this forthcoming symphony of horror. Please stand for your applause."
"You rub your hands together. It's been five minutes since you stepped into the Adam Hill Boxing Hall but your fourteen year old frame still hasn't regained its body heat. You feel milky, wet snot begin to flow down your face. You snort the mucus back up your nose before you're forced to wipe it clean with the sleeve of your jacket."
"The time is 8:15pm. You agreed to meet your friends here at 8:30pm, but this snowstorm has made you grow apprehensive that anyone will show. The snowflakes are as large as any you've ever seen them and the storm has only gotten stronger since you shuffled into the boxing hall. You peer out through the glass display of the boxing hall. Maybe you can see them coming. Only fifteen minutes to go."
"A red 4X4 with a shovel rigged to its front bumper barrels past the gym, clearing snow off the street. The glass softly rumbles against your fingertips as the truck vanishes into the misty night. A sweat drenched man smelling like rotten eggs passes behind you. You gag. You hold your breath until the air is clear to avoid feeling sick and stare off into the gym in hopes of finally spotting a familiar face."
"Three teenage boys furiously skip jump ropes under their feet. A woman in her twenties slugs a speed bag as if she were bashing a gong with her fist. Watching them inspires guilt to rise up inside you for not keeping yourself in better shape. Perhaps this upcoming year you might apply for a membership here and train with your cousin. At least then you wouldn't feel embarrassed at the thought of throwing on a bikini in the summer."
"From the corner of your eye you see your cousin Hana emerge from the locker room. You heart leaps. You wave at her but she's already in the zone and she doesn't see you. Her opponent is already in the ring awaiting her and Hana is already staring a hole through her. She climbs the ring steps and slips under the bottom rope into the ring. Her coach follows her in and whispers something sage-like into her ear."
"Your eyes are drawn back to your cell phone. 8:20PM?! Ten minutes left. Paranoia runs through you. The kind that arrives uninvited before a birthday party when you start worrying if anyone else will show. What are you thinking, Samantha?! They're your friends! And Corey's your boyfriend!"
"Ugh. A year ago and this wouldn't even have been an issue. You'd be home fooling around with Corey. Hana wouldn't have had to cut her training short. And the raging snowstorm wouldn't have looked so damned cold. Everyone would've been free from the guilt of making stupid, stupid little you happy."
"But this wasn't a year ago. This was right now. And right now kinda' sucked, you think with growing melancholy. Your grandmother passed away a year ago and tonight was the anniversary of her death. Deep inside you're a wreck and the only thing keeping you together is the anticipation of seeing your friends. You bite your lip. The pain will help you keep your mind off their tardiness."
"You and your grandmother had been close. She was Takako Matsu though you had taken to calling her Nana. The early years of your life had you fly to Japan to spend summers with her. Your earliest memories are of your excitement aboard a 747 waiting for the doors to open so you could run into her arms. You don't know if you'd ever been held as tenderly by anyone ever again. The memories make your eyes well up with tears."
"Those were your favorite days. Your grandmother would wake you early in the morning so the two of you could get the most out of your time exploring the country. You remember one visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park where the wild Snow Monkeys would climb down from the mountains and rest in the hot springs like pink faced Yakuza. You remember pulling away from your grandmother to get a close look and falling into the springs yourself. The shocked faces of the Snow Monkeys before they leaped out of the water screeching were one of your Grandmother's favorite memories."
"But the trips that most impacted you the most were the trips to temples of Japan. It was there that your grandmother instilled in you your sense of spirituality. You have a firm belief that even in death you and your grandmother share a bond and that this bond must be watered with love and respect if it is to continue to exist. You in particular remember one trip to a cemetery where your grandmother was particularly specific about the way you looked and forced you to change your clothes at least four times before you left."
"The cemetery seemed peculiar at first as it didn't meet your westernized expectations of what a cemetery could look like. But then a sense of reverence swelled up in your throat and you had gripped your grandmother's frail bony hand tightly. Your grandmother walked you in front of two graves whose names you couldn't read and instructed you to bow. You did as you were told."
"Your grandmother wept in front of the graves. As tightly as you had squeezed her hand earlier, she squeezed yours twice as hard. You had never seen your grandmother bawl like this. In fact this was the first time you had seen her cry at all and the act was a shock to you. You had trouble understanding what was wrong. She was speaking quickly in Japanese and you had difficulty in keeping up with her."
"Then she turned to you. She took you by the shoulders and had you stand in front of her. She told you to introduce yourself to the graves and tell the people lying there more about yourself. You were astonished by her request at first but your grandmother stood by quietly waiting for you to speak. You don't remember what you said other than your name and something about being Nana's granddaughter. The entire experience was like being put on a stage in front of an audience that was dead."
"On the train ride home your grandmother explained that the graves you had spoken to were of her parents. She used to come visit them every year on the anniversary of their deaths but in the years before your visits started she stopped going to see them out of the guilt and shame of doing nothing with her life. She was just a lonely widow. She didn't want her parents to see her like that."
"All this was difficult for your eight year old mind to comprehend but now as you wait for your own friends to walk into the gym so you could introduce them to your grandmother in her grave, you understood. It wasn't only a matter of respect but of pride and shame. No one wants to walk in front of their loved ones head down as a loser. Friends are achievements. Love is an achievement. They are showcases of a life well lived and your grandmother feared that she had nothing to show."
"In the year since your grandmother died you've made a host of new and have embarked on a relationship with your first boyfriend, Corey. You intend to introduce these members of your new social circle to your grandmother tonight in the hopes that she is proud of the life you are living."
"You look once more at your cell phone. 8:30PM... they're late... shit..."