Inspired by Persona 4, with a little artistic licence taken. Were the main characters the only people to encounter the Midnight Channel?
“Hey, have you heard about the Midnight Channel?”
I put down my book and sighed. School hadn’t even started yet and already Mizuki was babbling on about another of her stupid rumours.
“Of course I’ve heard about it, Mizuki. You were talking about it just last week. A magical TV channel that broadcasts every time it’s raining at midnight. Honestly, of all the stupid rumours you’ve come up with, this one is the worst.”
Mizuki pouted at me, her twin pigtails and stuck out tongue making her look more like a twelve year old than a teenager in her second year of high school.
“You missed out the best part,” she moaned. “When you watch the Midnight Channel, you get to see the face of your true love. I bet mine’s Takehito-kun. He’s dreamy.”
I sighed. Takehito was the most popular boy in the school. Practically every girl in first and second year had a crush on him, and probably some of the third years and teachers besides. I doubted he even knew Mizuki existed.
“Look, Mizuki, I don’t have time to bother with stupid rumours. It’s going to be finals in a few weeks, and I really need to revise this stuff.” I tried to indicate that the conversation was over by going back to my book, but Mizuki wasn’t having it.
“You don’t even need to revise to get top marks, Kaori. You should kick back and relax sometimes, you know.”
I’d heard it all a hundred times before, but luckily I was saved from having to rehash this same old debate by the timely arrival of our homeroom teacher. Mizuki dashed back to her desk, but not before pulling one last face at me. How mature.
It was all very well for someone like Mizuki, who coasted through life without ever really worrying about much, to berate me for working too hard. She didn’t have her parents riding her hard every school year, always insisting that their only daughter should unfailingly score top marks in every subject. At some point before I was even born – or so it felt – they had decided that I should go to Tokyo and study to become a doctor or a lawyer. Personally, I wasn’t even sure that this was what I wanted, but on the rare occasions that I broached this, they made me feel so guilty for failing to be a dutiful daughter that I had no choice but to apologise and shut up about the whole matter. So instead, I worked hard, went to school, cram school, study sessions, and did everything I was supposed to. And by now, I’d been living this way so long that I wasn’t I could even imagine anything else. Boys? Parties? Staying out late? No, not for me.
“Well then, Kaori, we’ll leave you to it.” Mum and Dad never spent much time with me any more. It’s not that I would have relished the ideas of spending the evening hours with them, but being left alone to study came with its own bleak loneliness. Most nights I would put the TV or radio on for the semblance of company; they didn’t approve of this, but if I waited until they were settled elsewhere and kept the sound turned down, they rarely noticed my one tiny act of rebellion. And what a pathetic act. Whilst Mizuki and my other classmates were sneaking out of their houses to hang out at the mall sharing purloined cigarettes and trading kisses with boys, the best I could do was have some background noise whilst I studied for finals.
My plan was to get my Literature essay out of the way tonight – half an hour or so on the required reading, make a few notes, and then string together a few hundred words. At least, that was the idea. But as I made my way through the passage I had to read, the rhythmic drone of the TV in the background, the gentle drumming of rain outside, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. I shook my head once, twice, tried to find the paragraph I had been reading, tried this time to concentrate on what it said so that I could finally move on. Must…not…fall…as..leep…
I woke, bleary-eyed, unsure for a moment where or when I was. I didn’t remember going to bed, and as I lifted my head, I realised why that was – I had fallen asleep at the coffee table, atop a pile of papers. My legs were cramped from kneeling, my back and neck were uncomfortably twisted, and my right arm – an impromptu pillow – had gone to sleep. At some point, the main light in the room had been switched off, but the TV was still on, casting an eerie blue-white glow over everything.
What time was it, anyway? I checked the digital clock on the sideboard. 11:59 already? I hadn’t even started on my essay. Oh well, no use now – I might as well brush my teeth and get into bed. But before I could galvanise my tired, aching body into action, it happened. Midnight.
Just a minute ago, there had been some stupid late night quiz show on the TV. Now, there was only static. It was midnight, it was raining, and it didn’t matter how much the rational part of my brain had scoffed at it during the day – I knew this was the Midnight Channel.
A picture was forming, slowly, fuzzily. Was it a person? I couldn’t quite tell. I should have tried to turn the TV off, should have left the room – anything except what I actually did. I leant forward, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. And as I got closer, the image got clearer, gaining sharpness and colour, until I might as well have been looking in a mirror. The face on the TV wasn’t that of my mythical true love. It was me.
Except it wasn’t – not quite. The eyes – those weren’t my eyes. They were cruel eyes, sharp, wild, and the brightest yellow. Those alien eyes stared deeply into my own, and my mirror – no, my shadow self – smiled.
“Aren’t you tired of it all, Kaori? All that studying and being a good little girl for Mummy and Daddy? Don’t you wish you could just be like the other girls and do whatever you want? Don’t you wish you could tell them all to go to hell and be the person you’ve always wanted to be?”
“I- I-” I didn’t think that, did I? Then why did those words sound eerily familiar? Had those very sentiments crossed my mind once before? Were they buried deep in my heart, where no one else could ever find them?
“Come on. Let’s have some fun.” My shadow self reached towards me. I hadn’t realised how close I was to the TV, but suddenly I was touching the screen. Except there was no screen – no hard, plastic membrane, at least, but rather a shimmering, permeable membrane. I could feel my hand pressing into it, pressing through it somehow. What was this? Was I dreaming?
And then I was falling – falling through the TV screen, falling deep into another world. And I knew this couldn’t be a dream, because no matter how far I fell, I wasn’t waking up.