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Allumage ( アルマージュ, French: "Ignition") is a short story by Lynn Okamoto published as part of the Flip-Flap short story collection.

Synopsis

Kumiko's lifelong dream is to become a Hollywood actress, but ever since leaving Japan to work in Los Angeles, California, she's only been cast in stuntman roles. Shortly before returning home for her brother's wedding, she receives the call she's been waiting for: her agent tells her an actress for a movie suffered a severe facial injury and couldn't take part, and Kumiko's to be her replacement. Kumiko tells him she'll give him an answer when she returns, and he jokingly warns her not to get an injury to her face or body during the coming week.

Upon returning home, Kumiko finds herself exasperated by her brother, a fireman who's become a huge slob during her absence. Rather than stay in his mess of an apartment, she books a hotel room nearby. Her brother tells her he'll arrive to save her if there's a fire at the hotel, to which she angrily retorts that he shouldn't say such unlucky things.

That night, Kumiko reminisces about how she and her brother used to be, recalling the time when they were children, and he saved her from drowning, and wishing he could be as cool now as he used to be back then. She's woken up some time later on in the night by an alarm and is forced to evacuate the building when she learns there's a fire in the other building that makes up the hotel. Kumiko laments her brother's unlucky words, and soon after thinking about those words hears a cry for help from the burning building through an open window. Two children, a girl, and a boy are caught on an outside balcony on the 9th floor, too panicked to listen to the emergency official trying to direct them to safety.

Shocking everyone, Kumiko asks for a couple of gas masks and effortlessly leaps to the burning building thanks to her stuntman training. She almost falls but snags the railing with her foot, then pulls herself up onto the balcony. After giving the children two of the gas masks, the boy runs to help his mother, whom Kumiko notes is already dead from suffocation. While leading the children out of the room and through the hallways, Kumiko discovers the fire is roaring through the stairwell. With the elevators shut down for the emergency and the stairs ablaze, trapping them on that floor, which is filling with smoke more and more every minute. She borrows the boy's cell phone to call for help, and it's her brother who responds. Due to the intensity of the fire, the rescue team can't reach her and the children's current location, so her brother instructs her to wait a few minutes while he looks at the hotel plans to find an escape route for her. While waiting for the callback, the little boy begins to cry, and his little sister comforts him. Kumiko orders him to stop crying since he's the older brother, telling him he reminds her of her idiot brother just from looking at him.

When her brother calls her back, he tells her to get on the 10th floor, above theirs. The tenth floor is a restaurant, and its kitchen has a dumbwaiter elevator that isn't run by the same generator as the main lifts. The dumbwaiter is just big enough for the children to fit inside, but since Kumiko is too big to fit inside, she'll have to wait longer for rescue. She devises a plan to get herself and the children up to the tenth floor using torn curtains and a shoehorn as a rope ladder, and Kumiko goes up first since the shoehorn isn't robust enough to hold her weight and the children's as well. Unfortunately, the shoehorn breaks while she's trying to climb, making her fall and hit her jaw on the balcony below, surely breaking her jaw. She flashes back to her agent's warning to avoid a facial injury. Despite the pain, she makes a better anchor for the ladder out of a broken desk lamp pole and climbs to the tenth floor. While there, she opens an emergency ladder in the ceiling so the children can climb safely. As they make their way through the burning restaurant, Kumiko loses her grip on the cell phone and cannot contact her brother anymore. Infuriated but still determined not to give up, she leads the children to the restaurant's kitchen, but the dumbwaiter's metal latch is too hot to open. Making things worse is that the kitchen's appliances are beginning to catch fire and explode around them. With her agent's words of warning to not get her face or her body injured, she forces the dumbwaiter open, severely burning her hands, and helps the children into it. She tells the little boy that since he's the big brother, he has to look after his sister's safety since she can't help them from this point onward. She then apologizes for lying, telling him they'll never meet again before closing the door and sending the children to safety. She then sits down on the floor and cries over her certain death before spotting a nearby window. Despite her pulling herself to the outside of the window, the flames still lick at her skin and make it hard for her to hold on.
Covf

Alternate cover featuring Kumiko, from the German translation of Flip-Flap by Tokyopop.

A helicopter with her brother inside pulls up a distance away from the window, and her brother tells her to jump and that he'll catch her. The pilot insists that's a terrible idea since the distance is too far for anyone to jump. With tears in her eyes, a smiling Kumiko leaps from the window toward her brother and the helicopter despite the enormous distance between them.

The next scene is of two teenagers in a cemetery. The two are the brother and sister grown up, and the boy offers his thanks to the grave, saying that it's only because of the deceased that he and his sister could have a happy life and that they'll live very long for their sake. An older woman, whom the boy calls "Mom," asks if they've completed their condolences. The woman revealed to be Kumiko, insists she not calls him their mom and also calls him a brat, saying she's still in her twenties. She goes on to say that if their birth mother, whose grave they're visiting, hadn't opened the door to the balcony, both children would have died with her then and that they should pay her her proper respects.

The narration continues from the boy's point of view, describing how Kumiko adopted them both after their mother's death. He notes that she never married, possibly due to taking care of them. After the incident at the hotel, Kumiko was offered a lot of roles in film and has since become a successful actress. However, he notes she's very dissatisfied since the roles are almost always for action movies. Kumiko's brother drives up with his wife and child and greets her as "virgin mother," prompting her to yell at him. Seeing the scars from her opening the burning dumbwaiter latch, the boy hugs her and says "It's okay, I'm giving myself to you," much to Kumiko's irritated consternation. The story ends with her calling him a brat and asking if he's messing with her or not.

Trivia

  • It isn't clear whether it's a translation error or Kumiko not remembering the proper number, but Japan's emergency number for fire and ambulance is 119. Calling 911 in Japan redirects to the 110 number, which is only for emergencies that require the police.
  • The characters in the story resemble other characters in other works of Okamoto, though this is surely mostly due to his art style. Kumiko might have been an inspiration to Neko due to their similar appearance, especially when Neko has her hair in a ponytail. When he's older, the little boy physically resembles Kouta and is also the older brother in a pair of children with differing sexes.
  • Like in Elfen Lied, there are lingering feelings of love for a boy from a girl in her childhood. This time, instead of cousins, it's Kumiko who, as a child, wished to be her brother's bride and, when she's older, briefly laments that he isn't marrying her instead of his soon-to-be wife. In Japanese culture, such declarations of love from sisters to brothers aren't standard and are never taken seriously even when they occur, being laughingly brushed aside by parents and siblings alike as childish and innocent.

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