I was an 18 year-old high school student, a senior, riding the city bus to school.
Terrible things happen on the high school grounds, in the locker rooms, in the yard. Terrible things happen everywhere. The best strategy was always to ignore them. Getting involved, even reporting could get you in trouble. When the teachers gave detention to both students in a fight, I wanted to scream. There was always someone in the wrong. A bully and a bullied. An instigator and someone trying to stand their ground. The best strategy was to be neither.
So I wasn't. I acted normal. I got good grades, kept a low profile, and was mainly ignored. I kept my head out of dating and drama and any substantial friendships. I kept a coolheaded, calm persona. Nothing bothered me because I had nothing to be bothered about.
But every day was a trial. I came home tired, touch starved, and angry. I was so angry, at myself, at my school, at the useless systems in place.
I stopped getting angry, after a while. I had no anger left. I had used it up, squandered it. Exhaustion took its place.
Riding the bus to school, the malaise became clear to me: I was unhappy. I wasn't just having a bad day or a bad week--I was miserable. I needed a change. Everything needed to change.
Like a finger curling on a monkey's paw, another city bus slammed into mine. I wasn't looking up so I hadn't noticed it coming. Flung from my seat, my neighbour and I tumbled into the aisle. Most of the other riders were thrown to the ground. A woman in front of me smacked into a bright yellow pole and left a blood smear. Panic and screaming rang out.
Then the second bus hit. I don't know how to describe that feeling of knowing what was going to happen. I was on the floor. Someone was on top of me. It was hard to breathe. I inhaled wetly. I could no longer register the frantic cries or the alarm. I just wanted it to stop.
And it did. Something exploded. I had an instant to take in that it was coming from inside the bus before the wave of fire erased me.
I could no longer feel or see. I drifted in darkness. This was how I died.
???: Another rebound? I was about to get off shift....
A stern voice stirred me. I felt bodied once again, opening my eyes to a white tile lobby. It was like a giant fancy bathroom, or an airport. Not that I had ever flown. In front of me was a clean wooden desk. A woman stood behind it, wearing pointed glasses and a business suit. Behind her was a massive black screen with two columns. One was labelled arrivals, while the other said departures. Despite the expansive size, each side had only one entry occupying the tiniest space in the upper left corner of the respective columns.
I squinted but couldn't read what either had to say.
RYAN: What is this.
I missed the inflection to make it a question. I tried again, but couldn't put any energy into my voice.
???: No time to chat.
???: You are dead.
???: You were supposed to go somewhere else, but you're here.
???: Summoning mishap. This world is like a magnet.
???: Anyways, you get a power or whatever, "Gachapon Menu".
???: Use it wisely, try to survive, blah blah blah. There's a million of you, so it doesn't matter. Okay, shift's over, goodbye!
The ground had become an incline. I was sliding down towards a central point. The tiles had vanished into smooth white. I was falling faster, faster than I thought possible. I had to close my eyes against the unbearable force of the wind. Even in this situation, I couldn't scream. I just held myself.
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