Chapter One

I fell in love. She was breathtaking, otherworldly, and angelic. Our eyes met and she tilted her head, staring at me curiously.

A sudden burning sensation caused me to look away. I felt my cheek. It was hot. I sighed, smiled, and turned back to her. She was smiling, as well.

This girl intrigued me for many reasons; to begin with, she was by far the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. She was tall, slender, and graceful, yet strong. Her complexion was fair but lightly tanned, which along with a grassy scent she carried and a look of playfulness in her expression indicated that she had a deep affinity with nature as well as a childlike love for play. Her face was round, youthful, and sweet; it seemed to be glowing with a magical radiance, as it was framed by extremely long, wavy golden hair that shined and glistened as though it were spun from sunlight. But above all, I was enraptured by her eyes; they were very large, intelligent, and caring orbs of a deep and vibrant blue that I couldn’t decide more resembled sapphires or the sea.

This girl’s beauty wasn’t the only thing that fascinated me about her, however; she was also very noticeably odd in a great number of ways. She was obviously European, which was somewhat of a rarity as a sight in the city of Tokyo. In addition, her attire stylistically clashed with the clothing of nearly everyone else around her; while most of the people walking past us wore either traditional kimonos or modern outfits reminiscent of the styles of popular anime and manga characters, this girl was wearing an eclectic combination of a rainbow tie-dyed t-shirt, a blue denim overall minidress, and a pair of thick white cotton socks beneath a pair of black leather combat boots. The only thing that I could think of that all of these anachronistic items had in common with each other was that each one was associated with one of the movements of late-twentieth century rock.

But the thing that most fascinated me about this girl was the fact that she was gazing and smiling at me without the slightest hint of fear. This caught me quite off-guard, as I had never seen a stranger look at me without being afraid before. The moment anyone first caught sight of my deathly pale skin, ink-black hair, and intensely violet eyes, they would invariably and immediately flinch and recoil slightly away from me with fear, if not run away outright. But not this girl; for some reason, she was giving me a smile that showed nothing but friendliness and warmth. In the face of hospitality I had never known before, I found that I was a little afraid myself; after all, what was it that made this girl different? Why, when all others looked upon me with dread, did she smile at me as though I were as ordinary as anyone else?

Nonetheless, whatever the reason this girl wasn’t afraid of me, I found that I was immediately immensely attracted to her; not only was she unafraid of me as well as astonishingly beautiful, but if my guesses proved to be correct, she was also a classic rock aesthete. I wondered if I was dreaming, as it was as though someone had taken everything I’d ever wished for and crafted them all together into my ideal girl. If I was dreaming, I prayed with all of my being that I would never wake up.

I wanted to talk to her. However, I was paralyzed with panic. What should I say to her? I thought. Should I speak in Japanese, or cycle through European languages until I encounter one we have in common? What should I talk about? What will I do if something goes wrong? What if I blunder so badly that I drive her away? Every question I asked myself only made me more panicked and anxious, and I felt myself begin to tremble as my face burned as though it were on fire.

However, to my enormous relief, I didn’t have to initiate the beginning of our conversation; the girl stepped up to me and said cheerfully, “Hello.”

I blinked, swallowed, gave my head a small shake, then nervously smiled back as I tremblingly replied, “He-hello…”

The girl giggled, and I felt my blush intensify. “There’s no need to be scared,” the girl said. My mouth opened slightly with surprise; her Japanese was excellent, though I could detect a noticeable British accent in her voice.

Once the girl stopped giggling, she placed her hands on her lap and bowed to me. “It’s an honor to meet you,” she said.

I blinked again. This girl was demonstrating perfect courtesy in introducing herself to me. Smiling back, I placed my hands at my sides and bowed back to her, replying, “It’s an honor to meet you, as well.”

Once we both stood back up, the girl offered me her hand. “I’m Cinderella Peterson,” she said. “What’s your name?”

I blinked, wondering if I had heard her correctly. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I said.

The girl giggled again. “My name is Cinderella Peterson,” she repeated. “What’s yours?”

After gazing astonishedly at Cinderella for a moment, I smiled back before taking her hand and shaking it. “Aaron Axe,” I said, to which her smile brightened.

Once she released my hand, Cinderella clasped her fingers together behind her back and rocked back and forth between her toes and heels. I slid my hands into my pockets as I said, “‘Cinderella’, as in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, right?”

“Yes,” Cinderella replied. “But in actuality, my mother named me after the Disney movie, since it’s her favorite one.”

I nodded. “So your mother’s a big Disney fan, huh?”

“Oh, yes,” Cinderella said. “She told me that if she ever had another daughter, she would name her Aurora Belle; if she had a son, or if I was born a boy, she’d have named him Adam, after the Beast.”

I grinned. “Well, the Beast is the best Disney prince,” I said. However, I raised a brow in puzzlement as I noticed that Cinderella had uttered the phrase, “if she ever had another daughter or a son”. Wondering if the implications were really true, I said, “So… you don’t have a brother or sister?”

Cinderella’s cheerful smile quickly faded. Her eyes closed slightly as she replied sorrowfully, “No. My mother died before she could have her second child.”

I blinked. “Oh,” I said quietly. “I’m… I’m sorry…” I muttered.

Cinderella shrugged. “It’s not your fault,” she said. “She just got very, very sick. I miss her terribly, though.”

I nodded. Wow, I thought; she really is like a Disney princess; she has the beauty, the appearance, the personality, the name, and even the tragic backstory of one. However, though I was deeply excited about this fact, I set it aside as I gave her a sympathetic gaze and said, “I’m very sorry you lost your mother.”

Cinderella nodded and softly smiled. “Thanks.”

I looked around at the street we were standing in; there were vibrantly colored (especially red), neo-traditional towers and buildings all around, with the distinctive curving roofs of archetypical medieval Japanese architecture. Pedestrians were crossing over the roads in large, shifting crowds between shops and restaurants as the occasional tramcar rolled beside them, guided by the steel cables webbed over Tokyo’s streets. Cinderella and I were standing on the stone steps to a particularly large and tall building: the Tokyo Public Library, which was my most preferred haunt aside from my own bedroom in my mother’s apartment. I wondered extensively at why Cinderella had come here; after all, not only did she look quite out of place, but she seemed to have neither tried to acclimate to Japanese culture nor any intention to. I would have guessed that she was simply a tourist that was here for a temporary visit, but she was a fluent speaker of the language and had just come out of the public library, which were highly unusual traits for a for a mere casual sightseer to have.

Curious, I turned back to Cinderella and asked, “I was wondering- why have you come to Tokyo? Are you just here for a visit, or did you move here?”

Cinderella looked away with a thoughtful expression. “Well… a little of both, I suppose.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I plan on living here for a while,” Cinderella said, “though I plan on leaving eventually.”

I nodded. “I see. How long to you plan to stay here?”

Cinderella shrugged. “That depends,” she said.

“On what?” I asked, raising a brow in puzzlement.

“On how soon I can finish what I came to do,” Cinderella replied.

“What have you come to do?” I said.

Cinderella looked up as she considered her answer. After a few moments, she said, “I was called here.”

My eyes widened with surprise. “‘Called here’?” I said confusedly. “What do you mean?”

Cinderella shrugged. “There’s really no better way to say it,” she replied simply. “I’m just meant to be right here at this moment, and I’ll need to be here until I’m needed somewhere else.”

I blinked, silently gazing at her for a few moments. “I don’t understand,” I said.

Cinderella softly laughed. “That’s alright,” she said. “It really doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

I smiled.

After a moment of silence, I said, “Alright then. Maybe this will be easier to answer: what exactly is it that you do?

Cinderella grinned. “Oh! I’m an artist,” she replied.

I nodded. “I see. Can you provide me any details?”

“More specifically,” Cinderella said, “I’m a sketcher and an oil painter. I also play the guitar and the piano.”

I gasped, smiling with pleasant surprise. “Really?!” I said. “do, too!”

Cinderella gasped, as well. “You do?!” she cried elatedly.

I nodded excitedly. “Yeah! I’m also a violinist and game developer!”

Cinderella beamed. “That’s so cool!” she cried. “What subjects do you usually use?”

I looked skyward as I thought about it for a moment. “Um… mostly, uh… ‘Tim Burton-esque‘ things, I suppose.”

Cinderella nodded. “Alright. Like what?”

“Well, uh…” I said, “bare trees, old abandoned houses, victorian and gothic architecture, cemetaries, that sort of thing. Danny Elfman is also my favorite composer and Hideo Kojima is my favorite game designer, and they’re my biggest inspirations when I’m writing music or developing games.”

Cinderella nodded. “I see,” she said. “So, you really like the horror genre, huh?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s not because I want to be scared, though. I just love the atmosphere and the mood when horror is done correctly.” I grinned. “That’s why Tim Burton is my favorite filmmaker, I think; nearly all of his works are horror, yet not many of them are designed to be outright frightening. They’re more like pieces of literary fiction with horror as the frame and backdrop. For instance, Sweeney Todd is a classical tragedy disguised as a rape-and-revenge-esque exploitation film. By the same token, The Nightmare Before Christmas is essentially a retelling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the hero still misunderstands the holiday, but loves it rather than hates it, and thereby examines its themes in ways The Grinch didn’t within the context of a cool, eerie stop motion world.”

Cinderella grinned. “You’re right,” she said. “Tim Burton’s filmmaking style really is quite clever in that way.”

“What are your main inspirations?” I said, leaning forward slightly with eager anticipation.

“Disney is an enormous inspiration to me, in case you haven’t guessed,” Cinderella replied with a coy smile.

“What a surprise,” I laughed.

“I also love works with the same core ideas of magic, optimism, and childlike wonder,” Cinderella continued, her eyes wide with wondrous bliss. “My favorite live action film is The Wizard of Oz, which is the closest thing I’ve seen to an animated Disney film that isn’t animated.” Cinderella laughed as she added, “Of course, the creators of The Wizard of Oz were inspired by Snow White to make it in the first place, so it’s no surprise it ended up being so Disney-like!”

I grinned. “I see. What kind of music do you like?”

“My favorite bands are the Beatles and Coldplay,” Cinderella replied. “There’s just this undercurrent of hope and fun in much of the Beatles’ work, and I’ve never heard music with as much beauty and a sense of wonder as Coldplay’s. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Coldplay were the successors of the Beatles.”

I raised a brow in confusion and surprise. “Really?” I said.

Cinderella nodded. “Mm-hmm,” she said with a soft smile.

“How so?”

“Think of Eleanor Rigby and Viva la Vida,” Cinderella replied. “Can’t you see the common heritage in ideas between them?”

I placed my hand over my chin and looked down, humming in thought. “You know, I think you’re right,” I said after a few moments. “Both songs are moody, orchestral ballads about an unfortunate person’s tragic life and eventual fall.”

Cinderella smirked and pointed at me as she added, “I’d even go so far as to say that, like the Beatles, Coldplay holds the distinction of being the greatest band of their time.”

I smirked back. “Are you sure?” I said, folding my arms. “After all, their contemporaries included Modest Mouse, Paramore, and Boyce Avenue.”

Cinderella tilted her head confusedly. “‘Boyce Avenue’? Who’s that?”

I gaped at her. “You’ve never heard of Boyce Avenue?!” I said astonishedly.

Cinderella shook her head.

I rubbed the back of my head as I said, “Well, they were a rather obscure early twenty first-century band who were mostly known for their covers of other artists’ songs. Their original albums are unsung rock classics, though. They could be a tad melodramatic, but their music is practically just bursting with passion and emotion. Their compositions are also quite beautiful.”

Cinderella smiled and nodded. “I’ll have to look into them, then,” she said.

We were both silent as I nervously darted my gaze in all directions but hers for a few moments. “S-so…” I said as I felt myself begin blushing again, “Do… um… do you think we could m-meet to talk again sometime?”

Cinderella grinned as she nodded. “Of course! I would love to!” she cried. “Where would you like to meet?”

“Uh, I don’t know…” I said, closing my eyes as I grinned embarrassedly. “I mean…”

“Should we meet at a playground?” Cinderella said, which caught me off guard and caused me to immediately open my eyes and give a stunned gaze to her.

“R-really?” I said softly.

Cinderella nodded. “Of course,” she said, beaming cheerfully. “I find that I love to swing while I’m talking. Would you like that?”

After blinking in stunned silence for a moment, I nodded. “Y-yes!” I said. “That sounds fantastic!”

“Wonderful!” Cinderella replied with a small, excited laugh. “Do you know of an especially good place for swinging, Aaron?”

“Well, uh…” I said, looking down thoughtfully. “One that I’ve often visited when I was little was Hayashi Park, which is close to where I live.”

Cinderella nodded. “Alright. Would you like to meet again at Hayashi Park tomorrow, then?”

My mouth opened slightly with surprise. “You… you know where it is?” I said.

Cinderella shook her head. “Nope,” she said, beaming. “I’ll be able to find it, though. I’m very good at navigation.”

I gazed silently at Cinderella for a moment, then nodded. “Y-yeah,” I said with a small smile. “It’s settled then. I’ll meet you tomorrow at Hayashi Park.”

“I look forward to it!” Cinderella cried with an enormous grin. She then leapt towards me and caught me around my neck in a tight embrace.

Aah-!” I said as I surprisedly took a step back to regain my balance.

My arms were still rigidly straight at my sides and I was blushing intensely as Cinderella released me. She then turned around, looked back at me over her shoulder, and waved at me with a friendly smile, singing, “Goodbye, Aaron! I’ll see you tomorrow!” before humming cheerfully as she skipped down the rest of the stairs to the street. I watched her skip with an energetic bounce until she turned one of the corners and vanished from my sight behind a building.

I stood motionlessly on the library’s steps for a few moments, processing what had just happened. I had just encountered an impossibly cute, beautiful, intelligent, and friendly girl who had looked upon me without fear, agreed to go on a date with me, and then hugged me. Could she truly be real? Was she just a figment of my imagination?

I then the remembered the warmth and softness I had felt when her torso pressed against my own, and as I inhaled I detected her still-lingering grassy scent, mingled with an aroma of cream that must have been from her shampoo.

So she was real. Cinderella Peterson was real. And not only that, she seemed to want to be my friend. I thought that she must be too good to be true, but nonetheless all evidence indicated that I was in reality, and that everything that had just occurred really did happen.

My face broke into a wide, elated grin, then I scaled up the rest of the stairs to the library.

Once I had pushed past the glass front doors, I was greeted by one of my favorite and most familiar scents: the smell of brewing coffee, drafting towards me from the small coffee shop in the library’s lobby just before the entrance. After taking a deep breath with my eyes closed to fully enjoy it, I opened them again and looked around at the comforting sight of the light brown wood paneling the walls, the towering and elegantly carved dark walnut shelves lining the walls and standing over the floors, and the globe-like frosted glass lamps that dangled at the end of cables hung from the ceiling. I could navigate and point out the location of everything in this great building blindfolded, and I adored every inch of it.

I went to the coffee shop’s counter and purchased a twenty eight-ounce cup of espresso with milk, chocolate, and caramel. The cashier, a spindly young man wearing a dark brown apron, charged me three hundred eighty yen for it. I paid for my drink with three silver coins, five titanium coins, and three copper coins, all of which were stamped with characters of differing national origin; some with Chinese, some with Arabic, and some with Japanese, as well as one with English and one with Hindi. Once I had my beverage, I made my way to the bookshelves to browse through their contents.

Though I could find most books on the internet on my computer at home, I found that it was still only a pale imitation of the experience of holding a solid, physical tome in my own hands. In addition, you could read modern books for free in libraries that you couldn’t online, so I often came to the library whenever I wanted to see what contemporary authors had been producing recently.

My reading interests were quite diverse; sometimes I read the most recent scientific journals on physics and computer engineering, and other times I flipped through the illustrations of collections of medieval paintings and sculptures. Most of the time, however, I simply went to the comics and speculative fiction sections to catch up on the latest entries of my favorite series.

On this particular trip, however, I found that I didn’t fall into my usual routine of seeking out a door-stopping space opera or a surreal horror manga volume; instead, I found myself pulling out books such as Bridge to TerabithiaChobits, and The Tale of Desperaux. After picking up a few of such books, I suddenly flinched and froze before looking down at them. I realized: everything that I had selected featured a heroine that greatly reminded me of Cinderella.

After making a small, silent chuckle, I placed the books back on their shelves and deliberately began searching for something to take my mind off of Cinderella; eventually I selected the collected works of Edgar Allen Poe, which was a very familiar favorite of mine.

However, I found that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t maintain enough focus to keep my mind on the book; my thoughts rebelliously continued to wander to Cinderella. I closed the book and picked up a copy of Hamlet to attempt to distract myself with that, instead, but my efforts were just as wasted there. After I unsuccessfully tried again with a volume of Sherlock Holmes, I gave up; I stood up, replaced the book, and slid my hands into my pockets as I walked out of the library.

After walking down the street past pachinko parlors, sushi restaurants, gaming stores, brothels, convenience stores, and magazine stands, I reached the tram stop I had arrived from; after depositing a few coins in one of the fare boxes, I went through a steel turnstile and stood with several other passengers on a raised cement platform. Once the small, red, well-maintained train arrived, we all walked into it. I remained standing as I took a hold of one of the circular aluminum handles dangling from a strap bolted to the ceiling; a few moments later, the doors closed and the tram lurched forward as it began moving.

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