Hostile Environments: Landlocked by Somewhere in the Middle



The last time that Kagome Higurashi remembered being truly happy was the day she nearly drowned. It was an ever present, lingering memory, equal parts painful and joyous. No matter how she tried to block the memory from the forefront of her mind, it always managed to filter through her resolve like water peaking through unwanted cracks in the walls of a dam. She could feel herself even now, nearly 300 years separate from that moment in time, slipping back into the skin of a lonely, scared 8-year-old girl…

Her father was a surgeon, and by all accounts a damn good one at that. He was rarely ever home, dedicated to becoming the best general surgeon in all of Japan and to making a better life for his family. He had come from a humble home of shrine keepers, generations of Higurashis who seldom lived off more than the generous tithes of the faithful. He had sworn to himself many years before her birth that he would dare to dream bigger than the Goshinboku tree that sat squarely in the centre of their yard. Through him, Kagome learnt at a young age that success required sacrifice, often including the sacrifice of spending time away from those you loved. She rarely saw her father, given his tedious work hours. When he was home, she would often be shuttled away into another room by her mother with admonishments like “Can’t you see Otousan is tired, Kagome?” or “Now is a time for rest not play, silly girl”. Her father rarely cared, countering her mother’s efforts with a wave of his hand and a beckoning to Kagome to join him. Even now she smiled thinking of all the ways he tried to make time for her.

When his schedule allowed it, they would all pile together in the car, her, Mama, Papa and eventually little Souta, and make their way to Shirahama beach. Papa loved to surf and he shared his love for the ocean with Kagome. When they arrived at the beach on that fateful day, there was an unnatural calmness to the water that Kagome seldom remembered seeing in Shirahama. Usually, the water would cascade onto itself in rippling waves, roaring as it crested sky high, littered with tiny bodies on surf boards daring to subjugate the mighty ocean. On that day, there was a quiet hush across the beach, broken only by the breeze gently blowing through the trees and the pained squawks of the birds as they soared by. Kagome had stared into the silent waters feeling for the first time the true vastness of the ocean before her. As she looked out into those eerily calm waters, she felt a strike of fear in her heart as quick and precise as a bolt of lightning. She could not shake the feeling that something in those waters was laying in wait, perfectly calculating the best time to strike.

It was an irrational fear, Mama told her when she refused to go into the water. Ever obstinate, Kagome found a million reasons to stay on the shores; the water looked cold, the sun was too hot, the fish would bite her, she wanted to play with Souta. In retrospect, Kagome realised that some of her mother’s clipped tones and insistence that Kagome not “waste a perfectly good day at the beach” probably had to do with her needing a well-deserved break from being a full-time stay-at-home mother of two young children (with a third on the way). Eventually, her father managed to coax her into the water.

“What can you possibly be afraid of little one? You know that once we’re together we’ll always be okay, don’t you?” he had said gently, unfolding her arms from across her chest and wiping at the welling tears in her eyes. She had nodded, immediately feeling better and safe once she realised that he would be with her in the water.

“Chin up, my jewel. Us Higurashis, we face our fears head on, don’t you know? We stare down the big bads and tell them they won’t win! You hear that fishies! You will not nibble on my daughter today!” her father yelled at the unresponsive waters, causing her to erupt in a fit of giggles.

The tension had melted in her chest from there. She remembered taking another look at the uncharacteristically calm waters and wondering to herself how Papa would surf if there were no waves? Then, there was a tug in her chest and a marked pull towards the ocean that she knew she could not have imagined. She heard it before she saw it; the distinct crashing of waves. The ocean had come alive just to please them. Her father rejoiced from the shore, kissing her mother chastely on the lips and gently caressing her stomach before reaching for his sleek, candy apple surfboard. He stooped by Souta, who was playing in the sand without a care in the world, and Kagome heard her father promise to teach him how to surf the moment he could walk more than three steps without falling down. Then, he took her hand and led her just after the shore, where the water reached no taller than her waist.

“No further than that for Kagome, Kouta!” came Mama’s panicked cry from the shore. Her father gave a rumbling laugh at Kagome’s automatic pout and eye roll. Her mother often worried about everything and had a distinct fear of the ocean. “The ocean has a mind of its own, Kagome. We are but drops of water under its control,” she would frequently remind Kagome of this until the saying echoed between her ears each time she saw a wave. Somewhere in the pit of her stomach, Kagome knew her mother was right; it wasn’t safe further out from where she stood. But she couldn’t admit that, the Higurashi blood in her demanded that she fought against the will of all others.

“You know she’s right, my jewel. The water can play tricks on the mind. You stay here. I need you to score my waves! How else would I get better if not for your most honest feedback?” her father had grinned at her before paddling further out into the foaming blue waters.

She screamed in glee as she wated her father glide through the cresting waters, his surfboard glittering like a ruby in the sunlight.

“Ten out of ten ‘tousan!” she giggled, splashing around in absolute delight.

He was performing, just for her, pushing himself to create more and more daring and impressive feats with his board, narrowly missing being swept away by the crashing waves.

“Ten million points, ‘tousan!” she squealed as he grinned at her. She looked at the catching of the sea, and suspected that the next wave would be huge. She cupped her hands over her mouth and shouted, “Big one incoming!”.

Her father seemed to take it as challenge, she could see him calculating the best way to attack the growing wave. He started paddling further out, his body shrinking against the mass of the ocean. Kagome looked harder at the incoming wave and felt another twinge of fear in her chest. This wave was different; it moved like a serpent, sliding purposefully through the water, picking up momentum and rearing its ugly head, perching to its true height in a striking display of its wrath. Kagome felt her stomach drop as the wave grew taller and taller.

“I think this one’s too big, ‘tousan! Come back!” she yelled.

Her father didn’t seem to hear her, furiously paddling towards the wave. Her breath hitched in her throat as she saw him slide across the waters and begin riding the massive wave. There was a tickle at her ankle, a playful tug at her feet that sent icy cold water through her veins. Her eyes darted down and she jumped, fearful of the fish. She hated the thought of the fish nibbling at her feet. It scared her to think they wanted to eat her. Her eyes scanned the area around her feet, but she found nothing but the crystal clear waters. She heard the roar of the ocean and her eyes shifted back to the horizon where her father and the wave had last been. When her eyes settled, she realised both were gone. She waited for what felt like minutes, her eyes nervously shifting across the horizon in search of a shock of black hair or candy apple surfboard against the shimmering blue waters of Shirahama. Maybe he was playing a trick on her? Hiding in the water and waiting for the right moment to jump out and scare her with a boo. Kagome forced a nervous giggle at the thought, the unnatural sound dying on her lips against the crashing of the waves in the distance. Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. He had been under way too long. There was no sight of him.

“Otousan?” she called out, quietly at first, then the sound ripped from her throat with a scream as she raked her eyes frantically across the waters in search of her father. The ocean seemed to stare back at her, blank and unrevealing as it reverted back to its earlier unnatural calm. She had the distinct feeling that it was taunting her somehow. It was automatic, what happened next, as she made her way further from the safety of the shore, feverishly calling for her father. She knew then what she needed to do. Her father needed her help, even though she was scared. Higurashis faced their fears head on after all, didn’t they? She vaguely remembered her mother saying her name, begging her to come back, demanding that she go no further. But the waves decided to resume their war cries, and the sound of their crashing drowned out everything except Kagome’s desire to find her father. She needed to make sure he was okay. Once they were together, he would be safe. She remembered her heart pounding in her chest as her head descended under the waters, the salt burning her eyes as she tried to sight the red sheen of her father’s surfboard under the cloak of the ocean. The current tickled at her body, drawing her further out to shore. She gasped up to the surface, treading water until she felt it. A force like a claw gripping at her ankle, dragging her violently out to the sea. At first, she let it take her, hoping against all odds and despite her fear that the ocean would be a friend to her like it usually was. Hoping it would somehow lead her to her father. Her stomach dropped as she felt a crashing wave topple her and flip her around until she couldn’t tell which way was up or down. She fought futilely against the power of the current. She remembered the voice then, that deep rumbling voice that left her cold in her bones. The voice that haunted her dreams for years to come, dripping with want and power. “Come…to…me…”

Fear gripped her heart, squeezing until she gasped. The last thing she remembered was the scalding burn of the ocean water as it filled her lungs.

When Kagome came to, she barely heard the voice of the lifeguard asking her if she was okay or how many fingers he held in front of her face. There was just a knot in her stomach that felt like a pit and the sound of that horrible voice calling to her over and over again. When she finally got her bearings, she did not notice the crowd of people surrounding her, or the ambulance or the police officers slowly pouring into Shirahama beach. All she saw was her mother, standing a few feet away from her, with reddened eyes affixed to the broken pieces of a candy apple surfboard that lay on the shore. She remembered Souta’s screeching baby voice bawling and begging for his father. That sound haunted her dreams too. Her father’s body was never found. The search for him went on for three days before he was finally presumed dead. That was the last day Kagome ever swam in the ocean.


Author’s Note:

This story has been written and written several times over the last few years. I first published this on in 2015, nearly ten years ago at the age of seventeen. I was much different back then and at many times felt like my writing and experience far underserved the story I yearned to write. I stopped updating it in the hopes that I would finish it and release the entire thing in one go. As fate would have it, I lost all the progress I had made. I recently decided it was time to finish this story. I owe it to myself, to my young mind that crafted this world that deserves to be told. Out of respect for my previous work, I have left the original version of this story up on my profile which can be viewed under the title “Hostile”. Please note while the substance of the chapters already published may maintain similar elements, the story itself being told now is very different from what was originally posted. I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me. Please review and let me know your thoughts. Xoxo-SITM


INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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