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Demon Child


The author of Demon Child, Fuyumi Ono is a Japanese novelist best known for writing The Twelve Kingdoms, which was adapted into a popular anime series. She is married to Yukito Ayatsuji, the author of the horror novel Another.

Demon Child


Snow drifted from the sky.

The large and heavy snowflakes fell as if they would never stop. To look up at the sky was to see a canvas of white with countless dull, gray shadows painted upon it. His line of sight followed the snow sweeping across his entire field of vision into the sky, and before he knew it, all he saw was the white of the sky.

He watched as a snowflake drifted lightly onto his shoulder. It was a big, thick snowflake that looked like a crystal made of cotton. Snowflakes fell continuously onto his shoulders, arms and his bright red palms. They immediately melted into the transparent color of water.

His white breath really showed how piercingly frigid it was. He turned his small child’s slender neck and the white of his breath followed his movements and hung in the air, making him feel even colder.

He had already stood there for an hour. His little hands and exposed knees were all red like a completely ripened fruit, and he had lost all feeling in them. No matter how he rubbed or covered them, he only felt the cold seep into his bones. So he was like this, feeling nothing as he stared uncertainly into the air.

This was the yard on the northern side. A storehouse that was no longer in use stood in the corner of the narrow yard. A crack in the earthen wall made the air even colder. The three sides of the courtyard were the main building, the storehouse, and where the wall contained the yard. However, at this frigid and windless time, there was nothing he could use in this place to shelter him from the cold. There wasn’t even anything in the yard you could call a tree. For a time in the summer, the irises would bloom, but right now, the ground was only scattered with the white snow.

“What a stubborn child.” His grandmother had moved from the Kansai region when she had gotten married, but when she spoke, she still carried a thick accent.

“He could at least cry a little. Even a little bit would let people know that he feels bad.”

“Mother, you don’t actually have to be so harsh.”

“It’s because you dote on him so much that he’s become so stubborn.”


“Today’s young parents only know how to please their children. It’s better if the children receive some strict discipline.”

“But mother, what if he gets a cold…”

“He won’t get a cold from a little bit of snow. —You listen to me. Unless he sincerely apologizes, he’s not allowed back inside.”

He just stood there.

In fact, all this had originally happened because of a small matter; someone had dripped water onto the floorboards under the sink and hadn’t wiped it up. His younger brother blamed him and he denied that he’d done it. By his thinking, it was because he didn’t remember doing such a thing that he felt secure enough to say that he didn’t do it. His grandmother often warned him that telling lies was the worst thing he could do, so he didn’t want to lie and say that he had done such a thing.

“Just be honest and apologize, and the matter would be over.” Grandmother had said it very severely, so he could only explain again that he hadn’t done it. “Why are you so stubborn?”

His grandmother always said this about him, so his young mind decided that he was indeed stubborn. Even though he wasn’t too clear on what exactly “stubborn” meant, he had his own way of explaining it: because I’m a “stubborn” child, grandmother doesn’t like me.

He hadn’t cried because he was confused. His grandmother wanted him to apologize, but if he had given in and done so, wouldn’t he have become the kind of lying child that his grandmother hated so much? He didn’t know what the right thing to do was. He felt very anxious.

The hallway extended horizontally in front of him. Beyond the hallway’s glass window was the paper door of the kitchen. Through the half piece of glass installed in the paper door, he could see his grandmother and his mother arguing in the kitchen.

The two of them arguing made him feel very sad. Usually, in the end his mother would admit she was wrong, and then she would have no choice but to quickly clean the bathroom. He knew that his mother would eventually hide in the bathroom and secretly weep.

—Is mommy crying again?

He thought about this as he stood uncertainly. His feet felt a little numb. He moved all his weight onto one foot and felt a dull pain in his knee. He could not feel the tips of his feet, but he still forced himself to try to move a little more. As a result, he immediately felt and retreated from a sharp, cold pain. He could feel the snow melting on his knees, melting into an icy water that trickled down his calf.

When he sighed heavily the way children do, a puff of wind suddenly brushed the back of his neck. It wasn’t a cold, empty draft but a very warm breeze. He looked around because he thought that someone had felt sorry for him and opened a door for his sake.

However, after he looked all around him, he found that all the windows were still shut tightly. The window facing the opposite room was covered in a thin fog because of the warm air inside.

He tilted his head suspiciously and looked around once more. The warm air still didn’t stop blowing onto him.

He looked towards the side of the storehouse and immediately blinked his eyes in surprise. A white object extended from the small crevice between the storehouse and the wall. It looked like a person’s arm, a completely bare arm, white and full, reaching out from the crevice behind the storehouse, but he couldn’t see to whom the arm belonged. He thought, could they be hiding behind the storehouse?

He felt like that was unthinkable. The space in the crevice between the storehouse and the wall was too small. Yesterday, his brother had cried the whole day because he couldn’t get the baseball that had rolled into the narrow crack. Even with his or his brother’s small bodies, they couldn’t fit anything in the crevice but their arms. That arm looked like it belonged to an adult, yet how were they able to fit into that space?

The forearm portion of the arm was swaying as if it were stirring water. He realized that the hand was beckoning to him, and then he took a step toward it. It was very strange that although his knees were numb from the cold, they didn’t make any dry, rough sounds.

He didn’t feel the least bit frightened, because he realized that the warm air was blowing from that direction. He was really very cold and he also didn’t know what he should do, so he obediently walked over towards the arm.

The snow had already completely coated the ground, almost covering all of his little footprints, eventually leaving no trace of him. The white sky resembled faded ink, the color gradually changing.

The white of the short winter day gradually turned into the color of night.

Chapter 1


Right when Hirose walked through the gates of the schoolyard, he saw a group of students in front of the entrance to the school, all wearing their monochromatic school uniforms and full of the clamor that one only finds at high schools. It might be better to say that this clamor had the particular feeling of a long vacation’s end. The wind carried a faint indication of the sea, as well as the chirping of the cicadas.

The uniforms of the students were gray and white. Their bright sky gray ties had a certain refreshing feeling about them. Though from the students’ standpoint, they might make the heat nearly unbearable. Some of the students who had loosened their collars for the sake of keeping cooler, were caught by a teacher standing beside the gate and lectured at.

Seeing this, Hirose couldn’t help but smile, but then realized that his collar was slack as well. He hurriedly clamped his briefcase under his arm and retied his necktie. A sliver of a wry smile came to his face.

When he had attended this high school, their uniforms didn’t have ties. They weren’t used until the second year after he had graduated. They’d originally worn a stuffy open-necked shirt with black students’ trousers as their summer uniform, before it changed into the present look. That style was more suited for the serious teachers. The fact that he was now one of those serious teachers—or rather that he was training to be a teacher—was a bit funny.

He entered the school through the faculty entrance with the other teachers. Passing some familiar faces, he greeted them with nods as he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a sketch of the school to verify the layout of the building. He looked around for the special classroom.

– – – – –

Hirose had graduated from this private high school over three years ago. According to the hensachi, this was a high-class boy’s school. That, in addition to its long history, was why it was considered a prestigious school. Besides the fact that a high percentage of its graduating students were admitted to famous universities, there was little else worth mentioning. Though it wasn’t a particularly interesting high school, it wasn’t one that was particularly disliked either.

This school had only a high school division, which was a bit unusual compared to other prestigious schools of this sort, and there were only six classes in each grade. Also, each class was made up of only about 40 students. It could be considered a relatively small school compared to other city schools. When Hirose attended this school, it had been an ancient brick building in the center of the city. However, because of recent trends, the school had already moved outside of the city. This had happened the year after Hirose had graduated three years ago.

It wasn’t until he began to make arrangements to train as a teacher that Hirose had stepped foot in his alma mater for the first time since graduation. Though had he actually wanted to return, he could have done so at any time. But for some reason or another, he had felt a bit nervous.

When he had gone to school here, this place was his own territory. This was where his life had happened. This was a place that was very nearly an extension of his home. However, once he graduated, it became someone else’s place. He had become an outsider, an invader. Not to mention that in Hirose’s situation, the entire school had moved after his graduation, and the uniforms had changed completely. For him now, there wasn’t much of a difference between his alma mater and a school that was completely new to him.

He had previously seen the new school mid-construction. It was close to the sea and all around there was barren land extending into the distance. In the midst of this, it had the backdrop of a calm sea, and a group of buildings were rising up which looked like some sort of pavilion. A wide road passed straight through the center of the flat earth, and more and more large apartment complexes were being built in the vicinity of the school. He still remembered that when those buildings and the school were in the middle of construction, they created a curious shape. It seemed to him like a tanker or an aircraft carrier was floating on the surface of the water.

And now, construction on the apartment buildings had been completed, and houses had been erected and arranged closely on the once-bare farmland. It all formed a large scale new town. The route of the private railway had also been extended, and there was an expanding bustling street in front of the brand-new train station. However, to Hirose it was still an unfamiliar area.

Absolutely nothing here fit in with the sentimental feelings he had attached to the words “alma mater.” There were no brick buildings to speak of, nor were there trees on the grounds filled with even more of a gloomy feeling than the school building. Even applying the word “history” to describe it seemed a bit too trite, and using the word “tradition” seemed a little too improper and didn’t carry with it any meaning.

The school was extremely large and bright. The trees that stood between the school buildings created weak shadows. The lawn that was designed in geometric shapes within the grounds radiated a dense green hue, but because it had been managed too cleanly, it was instead missing the impression of thriving vegetation. The trees lining the sides of the walkway from the main gate to the courtyard should be cherry trees. From looking at the thickness of their trunks, they were probably moved here from the old school in the city, but after being planted at regular intervals and deliberately pruned, the feeling he received was completely different from what it had been.

Of course, he didn’t feel any strong emotions from returning to his alma mater, but instead a yearning for something he used to depend on and was now lost floated into his heart. For some reason, he felt like he could rely on no one. That feeling was very like the particular one Hirose always felt when he was depressed—like the sentiment of having lost one’s homeland.


Hirose’s supervising teacher was a science teacher named Gotou. Because it was a private school, the teachers seldom left. Teachers like Hirose who came in the middle of school terms were now mostly chosen from the teaching school within the school.

Gotou was a chemistry teacher and had been Hirose’s homeroom teacher when he was attending his first year. Hirose had received a lot of his assistance and was heavily influenced by him.

Hirose quite liked Gotou, and Gotou felt much the same way. Unless it was completely necessary, Gotou never went back to the faculty office. He had made his own dwelling in the chemistry preparation room, and Hirose had spent three years in there as well. Due to this, Hirose had a particular familiarity with chemistry, and thus, his grades in chemistry had also been a bit higher. Because of this, he had joined the science department in college. However, he didn’t want to become a researcher, nor did he want to become an ordinary salaryman, so he had decided to become a teacher. Perhaps it’s not completely due to the fact that he saw in Gotou a teacher’s ideal which sparked something within him, but it wouldn’t be too much to say that everything he did was somehow influenced by Gotou.

– – – – –

The special classrooms had been put together and separated into an area of their own called the special classroom section. When he had come before in August to receive guidance, he had been instructed on this day to go to the chemistry prep room right after he arrived at school, but he had no idea where the chemistry prep room was located. He looked about as he walked, referring back to the sketch. The special classroom building that was completely unfamiliar and quiet gave it a feeling of isolation. He found the chemistry lab at the end of the third floor and the chemistry prep room was right beside it.

Hirose lightly knocked on the door of the prep room. A hoarse voice immediately responded from inside.


“Excuse me,” said Hirose as he opened the door. Suddenly the smell of oil carried on the cool air from the air conditioner rushed at him. It was the smell of turpentine that was inseparable from the chemistry prep room.

“Hello. Well, don’t you look completely like an adult now?” Gotou was smiling teasingly as he stood in front of an easel by the window of the not particularly spacious prep room. Gotou painted purely out of individual interest. Though he was an amateur, he could paint like a professional, and he also had the duty of the art teacher of the required art club. He was not currently painting, but looking at a work he had completed.

There was a cabinet placed on one of the walls. Across from there, three tables had been set tightly together against the other wall. Brush cleaners, painting supplies and a palette were scattered on one of the tables next to the easel. On the other two tables there were what looked like teaching materials, but they were in a mess just the same. The lab instruments and canvases that were strewn about the floor and the periodic table and memos posted on the wall made everything very disorderly, and the impression of the prep room that Hirose used to frequent could be superimposed very closely onto this one.

Hirose looked at Gotou’s face, which had not changed at all, and finally smiled. At last he had the feeling that he had come home.

“It’s been a long time,” said Hirose, and Gotou immediately laughed. They had met in August when he was undergoing guidance, so it hadn’t been very long since they saw each other, but when he saw Gotou in the prep room, Hirose felt a kind of feeling that he hadn’t seen his teacher in a while which was hard to express.

“All of a sudden you’ve become an adult and reached the age of wearing ties.”

“Fortunately.” After exchanging greetings, Gotou pointed at the first desk from the door.

“Just use Tanno sensei’s desk.” The only ones teaching chemistry were Gotou and Tanno. Tanno was a gentle, elderly teacher who respectfully could not stand the smell of turpentine and very rarely came to the prep room. Of course, Gotou’s personal effects were placed on top of Tanno’s desk. Even this was a habit that he had had when Hirose was still in school, and Hirose remembered it fondly.

“Doesn’t look like you’re going to be late, eh?”

“Well, people grow.” After Hirose said this, Gotou laughed loudly.

Hirose’s parents changed jobs in the winter of his second year in high school. At the time, there was no way for him to apply for a transfer, so Hirose stayed behind by himself and rented out a house. He then attended a local college, so the result was that he had stayed where he was born and raised up until now.

Once he had started living on his own, no one was around to make him go to school, so there were many instances when he was late. He had been reprimanded as irresponsible by his third-year homeroom teacher after he had been tardy for an entire month straight. After he was lectured, his absences increased even more. In short, it seemed that he didn’t like going to school.

In reality, Hirose had not been the kind of kid who could fit into the school environment. He had never been very close to anyone in his grade, and he wasn’t good at reaching an understanding with the teachers. It wasn’t that he hated studying, but having to be imprisoned within the enclosed school together with other people for a long several hours was unbearably hard on him. When he had lived with his parents, it was bothersome arguing with them, so he dutifully went to school. However when he was living on his own, it was like his bindings had been undone and he gradually started skipping classes. Though it never became so serious as to the point that he refused to go to school, it might also be going too far to say that it was purely out of laziness.

After many quarrels and discussions, Hirose did not improve at all and simply caused his homeroom teacher to be at his wit’s end. In the end, his homeroom teacher could only grumble to Gotou, who had a good relationship with Hirose.

“People are like kusaya,” Gotou had said. “When you’re not used to it, you think it’s smelly and it makes you sick. But once you do get used to it, you can really enjoy its great flavor. If you think it’s too smelly and throw it away, then you’ll never be able to eat it.”

In response to Gotou’s words, Hirose had responded then that he would never eat it. In reality, that was when Hirose had seriously pondered going into the mountains, building a hut, and living in seclusion as his alternate plan. Though he felt this way, he was still at least a little bit influenced by Gotou’s words. Afterwards, Hirose was gradually able to open-mindedly deal with other people. These sorts of situations were common in the third year of high school.

In short, Hirose had been considered a difficult student, but all Gotou did was patiently listen to Hirose’s complaints. All the other teachers knew of this situation and because of it, they tacitly allowed Hirose to rely on Gotou day and night. When he thought about it now, Hirose felt that he must have been a lot of trouble for Gotou.

“Well then, why don’t we go to the faculty office?” Gotou wiped his hands on the towel at his waist. That movement was a habit of his when his frame of mind changed.

“All right.” Hirose nodded, set his briefcase on the desk, and walked behind Gotou, who had a calm expression on his face.

What was strange was that Hirose didn’t have any feelings of alienation. In the end, he felt as if there was clearly no particular reason for Gotou to purposely ask him to come to the prep room, though perhaps the purpose had been to make this process a bit easier for Hirose.


Hirose went to the faculty office for a meeting and then attended the opening ceremonies. The student teachers this year numbered less than ten, and Hirose was the only student teacher in science. All of the eight people had been classmates of Hirose, but he didn’t really remember any of them.

Hirose was not born with a social personality that allowed him to make a lot of friends. He didn’t have an interest in bringing his impressions of yesterday’s television shows to school the next day to talk over. Outside of school, he had even less of an interest in exchanging opinions on students and teachers with other people. He knew that if he wanted to improve his interactions with people, he’d have to endure this phase, but for Hirose the high schooler, he didn’t have the desire to take on this challenge. He didn’t ever think that living alone was a hardship, and he wasn’t afraid of isolation. There were many classmates with whom he had never spoken to by the end of school. He spoke a bit with a few of the other students who had spent a lot of time in the prep room, but his relationship with them wasn’t so good that he would arrange to meet up with them outside of school. Thus, if one was forced to say whom he had been friends with in high school, there was probably only Gotou.

When Hirose was called up by the headmaster for his introduction in front of the students who were sitting in neat rows, he couldn’t stop thinking about this.

– – – – –

After the opening ceremony ended, Gotou went to the homeroom of the class under his guidance, and Hirose followed behind.

Gotou was currently advising class six of the second year.

“My responsibility is sixteen hours a week, four second-year Chemistry classes and two first-year Science I classes. Other than that, I also have homeroom and mandatory clubs. Right now, I’m going to entrust them all to you.”


“I’ll go through the whole process once so that you can see how to proceed. Later on, it’ll be entirely up to you. I’ll watch over you kindly from the side.”

“Are you just going to watch?”

“Of course I’m just going to watch.” Gotou smiled.

Hirose could only murmur his response, “Yes, yes.”

“All right, everyone here?” Gotou surveyed the classroom from the podium and started the class with an opening speech. Hirose stood in front of the schedule posted beside the podium and endured the students’ gazes that made him a bit uncomfortable. Some of the looks were full of curiosity, while others were those of avoidance. He knew that the attention and the curiosity of the students were all directed at him.

In a hoarse voice, Gotou went over key points that the students should know. His clear enunciation and his easy-to-understand, modulating tone made Hirose nostalgic.

Gotou’s topic extended to the plans for the athletics festival to be held in ten days, and therefore all the students’ attention was directed at the podium. It wasn’t easy to shake off the hold of their gazes, so Hirose quietly breathed a sigh of relief.

“Some things should be addressed over in the student council, so without going too far, you may act as you wish.” These words seemed to be Gotou’s favorite thing to say. “You can do whatever you want, but I won’t be accountable for it. Go ahead and do anything that you feel like you can be responsible for.”

Hirose cracked a smile and looked from Gotou to the students. The students all had different reactions. From Hirose’s point of view, Gotou was a good teacher, but this didn’t imply that all of his classmates had felt that he was a good teacher. Some people thought he was mean, and some didn’t like that he acted as if he understood other people. There were even some who had taken Gotou’s words at face value and regarded him as an irresponsible person. Seeing all the different expressions on the students’ faces gave Hirose this impression.

Hirose looked around the room and smiled wryly. It was a class of forty kids, all similar ages. In a school setting, this was completely normal, but once you left this environment, there was no scene stranger than this, a group of people of the same age, in the same dress, and having the same expression. They all had the faces of honor students, and it made Hirose think of a neatly arranged carton of eggs.

Hirose thought this as he looked about the classroom, and then his line of sight suddenly stopped.

There was a student sitting in the back of the classroom that caught his eye. Hirose stared at him for just a little bit longer than a moment, but he didn’t know why.

He did not have a distinctive appearance. He was neither particularly ugly, nor particularly clear. He was not looking somewhere else, and he didn’t have any expression on his face. He was just like the other students, looking blankly at the podium where Gotou was standing. To the contrary, it was obvious that he was just not alike the students around him. If you had asked what was different, Hirose could not have said, but he was certain there was something different about him.

If he was forced to say, he would probably say that it was the air about him that was different. Hirose felt like the atmosphere that surrounded the student, the feeling that he gave out, and other such things were the greatest differences between him and the others.

This was a strange guy, Hirose thought to himself just as he heard Gotou calling him. Gotou waved at him, and he quickly put his thoughts away as he walked over.

– – – – –

Gotou said that the time of year when everyone could pass their days happily had come again, and then he introduced Hirose to the students.

“This is student teacher Hirose. You should treat him with the appropriate kindness.” As soon as Gotou said this, there were some sounds of dry laughter scattered throughout the classroom. Gotou gave the attendance record to Hirose.

“Call roll, give this handout to them and you’re done. I’m going to go take a nap,” said Gotou as he pointed to the handouts on top of the podium. Hirose nodded. Gotou chuckled softly as he left the classroom. It looked as if he didn’t want to watch Hirose in action for the first time.

“I am Hirose. Pleased to meet you.” After he greeted them, Hirose followed Gotou’s instruction and passed out the handout. He divided the handouts approximately and gave them to the students sitting in the very front and watched them send the papers back. At the same time, he looked at the faces of the students. His line of sight still unexpectedly stopped on ‘him.’

‘He’ took a handout from the stack handed to him from the students in front of him and sent the remainder to the person sitting behind him. He made no sound and it looked as if the air around him was completely static.

If ‘he’ had been both really weak and a skinny person, perhaps Hirose would not have paid special attention to his presence. To the contrary, ‘his’ behavior was completely opposite to his lively appearance. Perhaps it was the impression his upright waist gave. ‘His’ outward appearance completely expressed the openhearted and healthy atmosphere that only growing people had. However, when ‘he’ moved, he didn’t make any sounds, nor did he convey any mood. At least it seemed from his appearance that one would expect him to have the untroubled behavior of a young man, but ‘he’ entirely lacked this. It was this sort of extreme discrepancy that caught Hirose’s eye.

As he received the extra handouts, he thought, what an interesting guy.

When Hirose took attendance, ‘he’ responded with an extremely tranquil tone when “Takasato” was read. Because the voice of a young person was originally lively, it gave Hirose even more of an impression that this voice was a bit monotonous.

“So, it can be read ‘Takasato’?” Hirose casually asked for confirmation because he wanted to hear ‘him’ speak again. However, he replied very simply with a “yes.”


When Hirose returned to the chemistry prep room, Gotou was pouring coffee into a beaker. As he was passing the attendance record over, Gotou pointed at his desk and took out another beaker from the cabinet. Hirose placed the attendance record on Gotou’s desk and opened the bookshelf to take out a jar that had been placed inside along with the mess of teaching materials. He knew that one of them contained sugar, and another contained creamer.

“You still remember?”

“How could I forget?” replied Hirose, and Gotou laughed. The clear jar with a label stuck to it on which nothing was written was the sugar, while the brown jar was the creamer. For a person like Hirose who had previously hidden in the chemistry prep room all the time, he could not be any more familiar with these things. Hirose put the jar and the medicine spoon on the table, and Gotou handed over the beaker. Hirose took out his handkerchief to hold on to the beaker. Without it, a beaker filled with hot water would naturally burn one’s hand. If one wanted to enjoy tea in the chemistry prep room, a handkerchief was indispensable.

“This brings back memories.”

“Sure does!” Gotou said this in a very satisfied manner, which Hirose found funny.

“Have students been coming here lately?”

“Nobody spending day and night here like you did, though some people come here during their lunch break and do what they like doing.”

Hirose couldn’t help but smile. “Do they cook ramen in beakers and make popsicles in test tubes?”

“It’s just as you say,” laughed Gotou. “Well, that sort of person will always be here, but you’re the first in history to have come back as a student teacher.”

Hirose laughed softly. When he was still in school, there were others who spent their days in the prep room, but most of them were just like him. After graduation, they chose diverse paths in life—from researchers to doctors, and even some actors and activists—but none of them chose to become a teacher.

“How’s it feel to imitate a teacher?”

“It’s hard to describe in words.”

“I’m thinking there probably isn’t much interesting about that class.”

Hirose hung his head and cracked a smile, and then suddenly remembered. “There’s a kid who doesn’t seem quite like the others.”

“Ah,” replied Gotou. “So you’ve notice as well. Is it Takasato?”

Hirose nodded and Gotou smiled. “Your ability to pick out people who aren’t like others is quite good. When I saw Takasato, I thought that this guy is a lot like Hirose.”

“His type is a bit different, isn’t it?” asked Hirose. Gotou looked up at the ceiling.

“There is a difference, because you had a nervous look to you. But he’s conspicuous all the same, don’t you think?”

“Was I that noticeable?”

“Of course you were. You and Takasato both stand out.”

“Perhaps you could call it an eyesore.” Hearing this, Gotou smiled again.

“That kid is in the art club too. —The pictures he does all have a rather profound effect. He’s a strange fellow.”


“When I say that he’s strange, I’m saying he’s several times stranger than you. On the contrary, you were much easier to grasp.” Gotou’s expression had somewhat of a deep color that was hard to describe. “You and I both don’t really belong in the same category as regular people, so it was very easy for me to hold on to you. But Takasato’s just not the same.”

“Isn’t Takasato also outside the category of regular people?”

“But not in the same way. You and I are different from other people by our own choosing, but there’s no way for Takasato to blend in. It’s because his nature is completely different from that of other people, so we can tell that he’s unlike an ordinary person. That’s how he is different.”

“You’ve been observing him quite closely, haven’t you?”

“Yep,” said Gotou with a crooked smile. “The atmosphere around him is completely different from the other students, right?”

“It is different.”

“Rather than saying he’s strange, I think we should say that he’s a different sort of person.” There could be a little bit of worry heard hidden in Gotou’s tone.

“Is there a problem?”

“There’s no problem. Takasato differs from you. He’s a good kid, but not only does he have a good head on him, he also has a cooperative personality.”

“I was a lot of trouble for you then.”

The polite and proper way this was said made Gotou laugh. “He’s like the eye of a typhoon. He himself is very peaceful, but everything around him is chaotic. You’ll know very soon. Though this class isn’t very interesting, you can’t manage them with ordinary methods.”


“Because Takasato’s there.” Gotou got up after he said this. He pulled open the curtain and let the sunshine fill the entire room. He wiped his hands off on the towel at his waist and then stood in front of his easel.

The view of the campus was in the process of being completed on the size-ten canvas. It looked like one part of the campus scene was being painted with a strangely bright color. A few students that looked like monsters or fairies wearing school uniforms were also painted on it. There were people hidden behind trees with old-seeming expressions on their faces, others on a bench who looked like toads, and some making wild poses while looking at them. At first glance, it had a dark feeling to it, but after a closer look, one could sense a humorous tone and warmth to it that was hard to explain.

The first time he saw something that Gotou had painted, Hirose was really surprised, but he immediately felt like it was a work full of Gotou’s style. Gotou normally painted the scenery of the school, but it was rare for people to appear in his paintings. Hirose knew that once, Gotou had signed a picture, “Conference,” wherein strangely-dressed animals were gathered in the faculty room drinking it up, but as a result, it caused the headmaster to have a few words with him.

It wasn’t necessarily because of Gotou’s nudging, but Hirose had also chosen the art club as his mandatory extracurricular. Perhaps he just liked the feeling of closing himself off that came with facing a canvas. He had previously wanted to paint something like those that Gotou had done, but in the end he simply came to the cruel realization that he wasn’t very good at painting at all.

Seeing Gotou starting to look over his unfinished painting, Hirose quietly sat down in front of the desk and opened up his training journal.

– – – – –

The following day was the beginning of regular classes. Hirose followed Gotou everywhere, and by that afternoon, he was standing at the podium covered in sweat. The training period was a very short two weeks, or more properly said, it was twelve days. Hirose enthusiastically threw himself into his work, and at the end of the two days that added up to a sixth of his training period, the floating atmosphere that preceded the athletics festival began to permeate the school.

* *

The white flowers were in full bloom.

His entire field of vision was taken up by a large plain. The sky unfolded like a sphere that had been cut in half. The field was like an endless disc. He had never seen one so wide that it extended all the way to the horizon.

He looked around. The field formed a complete circle of 360 degrees. The green extended out flatly without the slightest variation.


He said this to himself, and it wasn’t until then that he realized he didn’t even know what this place was. What is this place? He felt like there wasn’t anything like this around his house or surrounding his elementary school, and not even on the road to school that was now so hard to recall.

Then he lifted his head. The sky was a complex arrangement of colors. It was the first time he had seen a sky of this color.

Most of the sky was light blue. It looked a little bit lighter than the sky ordinarily was, or perhaps it was because it was covered in a thin layer of cirrus clouds. In the middle of the light blue, there was a gradation of pink and light green.

He looked absent-mindedly up at the sky. In his mind he thought, the next time I color the sky, I’m not going to use blue, but try using light blue instead. As the cirrus clouds slowly drifted about, the color of the sky began to shift like the aurora.

After watching the sky for a while, he looked around once more and talked to himself again.

—But try not to forget the moon.

A moon, pale and white as a full moon in the morning, climbed up into the sky of incredible colors. Around the moon, he could see dim, white stars. He followed the shapes of the constellations and saw a second moon.

He subconsciously widened his eyes.

—It looks like there’s more than one moon.

After counting carefully, he saw that there were a total of six moons floating about, each with a different shape and size. The sun could not be seen anywhere.

This was unimaginable to him and he stared up into the sky for a long moment. The air wasn’t cold, nor was it hot, and the wind blew gently towards him, carrying along with it a slight fragrance. It was the scent of flowers with the smell of grass.

He took a deep breath, and then turned toward the ground. The soft, down-like green spread across the flat earth. The grass reached up to his knees. Its stalks stretched straight out from in between its thin leaves and a few claw-like flowers were attached to the top. From up close, the flowers were sparse, but from a distance, it looked like a haze of white.

Whoosh, a slightly strong wind began to blow. The grass and the white flowers swayed together in the wind. When the small flowers bumped into each other, it made a clear sound like that of glass touching glass. The soft grass tickled his legs.

And then he became aware. It wasn’t a field at all, but a marshland. His small legs were in the transparent water just up to the middle of his shins. He had never seen water this still before, and he even questioned whether or not it was possible for water to be like this, completely without ripples or flow. The most incredible thing was that his legs didn’t feel wet at all. He tried lifting his leg to see what would happen. The water droplets were like shattered crystals and glistened as they fell. Not even a little moisture remained on his skin.

The bottom of the water was blanketed with gray stones. No wonder the ground was flat. The big square rocks had been arranged neatly and were covered up to their tops with water. The thin but apparent green stalks grew out from in between the stones. Small fish came swimming and flipping out from the dark places of the clustered bunches of grass into the light.

He cheerfully let out some sounds of joy. He thrust his hands into the water, planning to pull some fish out. Under the pursuit of his small hands, the fish didn’t fearfully dart away, and not only that, they even actively swam near his fingers. Whenever he moved his fingers, they would come closer.

—What in the world is this place?

He used both of his hands to draw out water with fish in it and then looked around. He began to understand that this sort of place was impossible. Water dripped through the cracks between his fingers, and when the fish slipped through his fingers with the falling water, they tickled him slightly.

—What a beautiful place.

He nodded his head meaninglessly. He looked around once again and then began splashing his way forward. With every step he took, the flowers would continuously sway, producing a crisp clinking sound around his legs.

Afterwards, he didn’t know quite how long he had been walking for, but he felt simply like he had walked quite a distance. No matter how long he did walk, he didn’t feel the least bit tired. It continued endlessly, and he didn’t get tired of the views of the countless and familiar flowers that revealed themselves no matter how many times he looked at them. He was very content and kept walking, carrying with him a happy mood. From time to time, small birds would fly from a place unknown to him and come to perch upon his head or his shoulders. After playing about for a bit, they would fly away again.

Following the flight of the birds with his eyes, he discovered that in front of him the field ended at a distance. The white flowers broke off to the side, and he could barely see a portion of blue-green. It seemed as if there was a river flowing through here.

He walked towards the river. However, he walked and walked and was simply unable to walk closer to the river, just as though he were chasing drifting water, never being able to catch up to it. He played with the little fish and the small birds as he walked for quite a long time, finally arriving at the river.

Though it had looked like a narrow river, it was actually a big one. The other side appeared to be so far, and the river bottom couldn’t be seen. The stone-covered ground stopped abruptly. Other than the deep green water, he couldn’t see anything else in front of him. He looked closely, but the color of the water appeared to be just as deep and solid everywhere, as if there were no areas that were shallower than others. He was clear on the fact that the bottom of the river probably didn’t rise and fall either.

He walked to the green at the edge of the deep and wide river, and then he didn’t go any further. He didn’t know how to swim yet. Though it didn’t look to have any current, he didn’t think he could cross such a broad span of the river.

He looked around disappointedly. Something in the distance appeared to give off light. After a closer look, A bridge had been positioned upriver (or downriver) in a distant part of the winding waterway.

This bridge was translucent, as if it had been built out of glass or something like it. He cracked a smile and walked forward along the edge of the river, towards the bridge in the distance that he could only faintly see.

Chapter 2


It was the third day. Three hours of classes had ended, and he had finished writing in his training journal. He was just about to go home when students from 2-6 came looking for Gotou. They said that when they were organizing square planks in preparation for the athletics festival, they had accidentally broken a window. He rushed over to the area behind the gym where students were busily carrying on their work and sorted everything out according to Gotou’s instruction. The students that had stayed after school to prepare for the athletics festival had gradually gathered in a crowd. If there were students in his class that stayed after school, Gotou had to stay after as well. And if Gotou stayed behind, it was natural that Hirose not leave either.

While thinking about these things, Hirose contacted the faculty member in charge and was walking in the hall on his way back to the prep room when he saw someone in the 2-6 classroom. No one had put in a request to stay in the classroom after school today, so he looked into the classroom apprehensively and discovered that the person inside was none other than Takasato.

Hirose couldn’t tell what he was doing in there, nor could he see if he was thinking about something or just staring off into space. He could only make out that he was sitting in his own seat with his hands together and placed lightly upon the desk, looking in the direction of the window. His only feeling was that he was simply there.

“What’s the matter? You’re still here?” asked Hirose as he stood in the wide doorway of the classroom. Takasato suddenly turned his head and then quietly nodded.


“Working on the preparations?” Hirose subconsciously wanted to find other things to talk to him about, and so he asked this as he walked into the classroom.

Takasato looked directly back at Hirose’s face.


It was at that time that Hirose sensed something zipping by Takasato’s feet. He stopped walking and chased with his eyes the shadow that crossed his vision. The speed of the shadow was quicker than his eyes and slipped out of sight. It had happened in an instant and Hirose hadn’t really gotten a good look, but he felt like that thing looked like an animal. A stunned Hirose looked in the direction the shadow had darted, but of course he didn’t see anything.

Did you just see that? he wanted to ask as he looked straight back at Takasato. There was no color to Takasato’s gaze. Hirose suddenly felt awkward and could only shift his line of sight to a corner of the classroom. The dry summer air had settled in the empty classroom.

Hirose smirked and then looked over again at Takasato, who was also looking back at Hirose. “Staying behind to catch up on work?”


“Then, are you feeling unwell?” asked Hirose as he leaned in, but Takasato simply looked up at Hirose and shook his head.


Takasato’s responses were always short like that. Hirose looked at the face that looked back at him. Takasato’s face didn’t have any expression; it was peaceful like that of someone who was fully awake.

“You’re Takasato, right?” Hirose reconfirmed the name that he already kept firmly in his mind. Takasato merely nodded.

“Aren’t you participating in any after school clubs?”


“Why is that?” Hirose thought about how it would be possible for Takasato to respond with a little bit more and so he asked this. Takasato tilted his head slightly and replied in a voice calm beyond his years.

“Because I don’t have an interest in joining any clubs.”

Though Takasato had said more, the incongruous feeling he gave off still didn’t change. Takasato was not giving Hirose the cold shoulder, but it didn’t seem like he was welcoming Hirose either. It was simply because Hirose had talked to him that he respectfully responded. There was merely this feeling.

“What are you doing then? Ah, I’m not interrogating you. I’m only curious.”

Takasato tilted his head a little and replied, “I’m looking outside.”

“Just looking? Aren’t you thinking about anything?”


What a strange guy. Hirose didn’t think he’d see anything interesting, but he still looked out the window. Because of the angle, Hirose could only see half of the gym’s roof from where he was, and the horizon above it, which looked like a table made out of blue glass. Perhaps the only thing that Takasato could see from where he was sitting was the sky.

“Only the sky is visible.”


Takasato turned his head toward the window as well. From the angle of his gaze, he appeared to be looking at the sky. The weather outside was good and though it was September, one could still not see the day growing darker. The cloudless and cold blue background of the sky extended without end.

“I don’t see what’s so interesting about this view.” It was obvious from Hirose’s tone that he was puzzled, but Takasato didn’t particularly respond. The corners of his mouth simply rose slightly and revealed a faint smile.

For some reason, Hirose felt uneasy, but he was unwilling to turn around and escape from the classroom, so he asked Takasato a few meaningless questions. What competitions was he going to participate in during the athletics festival? Did he like exercise? Was school enjoyable? What was his best subject? Who was his first-year homeroom teacher? What junior high had he attended? Who made up the members of his family?

Takasato looked at Hirose’s eyes and answered each question plainly. He had not decided to participate in any competitions; he neither liked nor disliked exercise; he did not think that school was especially boring; he didn’t have a subject in which he excelled, etc. He always replied to Hirose’s questions with the shortest and simplest answers.

He wouldn’t offer anything that he wasn’t asked, and he didn’t ask Hirose any questions of his own. Whenever he was asked something, he would respond, but if no questions were asked, he said nothing. Though he didn’t appear to be bothered by Hirose, he wasn’t actively seeking to have a conversation either.

“This might be a little blunt, but I think you’re a bit unusual. Has anyone told you that before?”

Hirose knew that this question was somewhat rude, but he couldn’t help but ask. As a result, he received a short and simple “yes” from Takasato, which carried with it not even a sliver of emotion.

“That’s what I thought,” smiled Hirose. Takasato cracked a faint smile as well. His expression was like the insincere smile that adults of experienced used to be polite. Takasato didn’t give people a crude impression, so he didn’t make people feel discomfort, but there was still no way to get rid of that certain feeling of unease. As for his attitude and voice, which were both very calm, it’s better to say that they gave people an impression of experience, than to say that they carried with them the sense of maturity that was well past his age. Also, that feeling really didn’t match up well with his actual youthful appearance. This inconsistency was in every one of his movements and in everything he said, and it extremely puzzled Hirose.

Hirose personally grasped the strange quality that Gotou had talked about. It might be better to say that Takasato was “strange” than to call him “unusual.” There was nothing about him that made others unhappy, so it seemed like “having strange quality” was the only appropriate way to describe him. He couldn’t tell what Takasato was thinking about, but he could tell that he didn’t have any warped thoughts going through his head.

“Am I bothering you? Please excuse me.”

Hirose said this, and that smiling face replied, “Not at all.”


“Takasato’s really unusual,” said Hirose when he was in the chemistry prep room during the lunch break on the following day. Gotou had gone out for lunch.

There were four students next to him. Hirose figured that no matter if it was the present or the past, there were always going to be those who made the prep room their home base. Either because they felt that there was too much of something or not enough, their whereabouts could not be found in the classroom. Except when Hirose was attending school, all the students who had gathered together in the prep room were unparalleled. Compared with those who came before, the students who were surrounding him now eating lunch, gave him the feeling that they did not size up very well.

“We’re aware that Takasato is really unusual.” The student who said this with a tone of wonder while turning his head upwards, was called Tsuiki. Like Takasato, he was a student in 2-6, and it seemed as if it wasn’t until this year that he began hanging out in the prep room.

“I know. I talked to him yesterday.”

There was nowhere else as suited to eating lunch as the prep room. Not only was the natural lighting good, but the air conditioning was also on in the summertime. Gotou would also generously treat everyone to tea. It’s just that he served it in beakers.

“At a glance, he seems like a really gentle guy, right?” said Tsuiki a bit sarcastically.

“Are you saying that he’s not actually gentle?”

“Well, maybe.” This was said with the slightest bit of dissatisfaction. Or was there another way of looking at it? A student named Iwaki looked at Tsuiki’s face.



At Tsuiki’s blunt refusal, Iwaki looked very obviously disappointed. He was a second-year student as well. He was in class 2-5, but he took his electives with class 2-6.

“What? Do you hate Takasato?”

“It’s nothing.”

“What is it? Just say it!” Iwaki refused to let it go, and Tsuiki turned away in an attempt not to answer this question. The first-year Nozue and the third-year Hashigami looked on with high interest.

“Is it just that he’s a gloomy person? That the first impression he gives people is bad. Or did that guy secretly do something?” asked Iwaki.

Tsuiki blurted out, “Anyways, he’s just weird.”

His tone was strangely anxious, and everyone had hesitant expressions on their faces.

“How is he weird?” Hashigami continued to ask, and Tsuiki looked even further down while he muttered in a resolute tone.

“Because that guy’s a bit different from other people.”

Hirose heard something in Tsuiki’s tone that made him think. He tilted his head and asked, “Is Takasato disliked?”

Hearing this, Tsuiki looked a little distressed.

“I don’t think anyone likes him.” After saying this, he looked at Hirose. “It’s best not to have anything to do with him.”


Tsuiki didn’t answer.

“Does he have some sort of problem?”

“—Anyways, he’s just different.”

Iwaki let out an exaggerated sigh.

“He just doesn’t talk much. Is bullying still going on these days?” asked Iwaki mockingly. Hearing this, Tsuiki looked down again. After he was at a loss for a moment, he spoke in a meaningfully quiet voice.

“Don’t tell anyone I told you this,” he warned those around him. “Takasato’s experienced kamikakushi.”

In that moment, Hirose thought, what written characters go with “kamikakushi”? After a little bit of thinking, he finally thought of them, “spiriting away,” and he couldn’t help but open his mouth widely. [note: this part doesn’t quite work in english. after hearing tsuiki say “kamikakushi,” hirose was at a loss initially as to how to write it, and therefore what it meant. after he figured it out, he realized that it meant “spiriting away.”]

“A spiriting away? You mean one day he just vanished suddenly?”

Tsuiki nodded. “I think it happened when Takasato was in elementary school. He really did just suddenly disappear one day, and then he suddenly came back one year later. Where he was or what he did during that time, absolutely no one knows.”

“What does Takasato say about it?”

“He doesn’t seem to remember anything about it.”


Hashigami leaned forward curiously. “Are you sure that it wasn’t just a kidnapping? It was really a spiriting away?”

“I guess. That’s why Takasato had to do a year of school over.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Hashigami derisively. “So what? It’s just hearsay.”

Tsuiki glared at Hashigami. “It’s real! Because this story’s really well-known. Anyways, that’s why Takasato’s so weird.”

Hirose was really puzzled. This area had been developed quickly within a few years, but he had heard that Tsuiki and Takasato had lived around here since before the development push started. The so-called “well-known story” didn’t represent a “well-known school story,” but a “well-known local story” instead. It made sense up to this point, but to speak of “spiriting away”…

“That’s nonsense.” Iwaki’s words ended this conversation, but the phrase “spiriting away” was stuck deep in Hirose’s mind. Hirose essentially had no interest in mysticism or paranormal phenomena, but that didn’t mean that he rejected it all. Not to mention that when it came to Takasato, it was very hard for him to treat this subject like idle talk as Iwaki had done.


The fifth period immediately afterwards was the mandatory club. Hirose and Gotou, who had returned from lunch, proceeded together to the art room, where most of the students had already arrived.

Though it was called a mandatory club, in reality it wasn’t all that different from an art club. After Yoneda the art teacher perfunctorily took roll, the students left the art classroom in twos and threes. Hirose knew from his own previous experience that though the students all carried their sketchbooks under their arms when they left, most of them either went to the library or an empty classroom to study, or they went somewhere else to have fun. The teachers gave their silent consent to that sort of thing as well, and the students knew about such a thing, thus the cultural clubs were all ordinarily those that the most students signed up for. Of course, among the students there were also those who really liked to paint and remained in the art classroom. These students started on their work as Gotou and Yoneda had a leisurely conversation over to the side.

Takasato was one of the students who remained. He opened up his easel and set it in a corner of the classroom, and then took a canvas out of the communal locker.

“Is he going to do an oil painting?” guessed Hirose quizzically. Perhaps it was because the atmosphere that he had about him was associated with watercolors. Using movements that revealed familiarity, Takasato took a box of paints out of the locker and opened it. Hirose walked towards him silently.

After he walked to a place where he could see the canvas, he greeted Takasato. Hearing Hirose’s voice, Takasato looked back and, after recognizing that it was Hirose, he nodded a little bit. His face was like that from the day before, revealing a smiling expression. Hirose raised his hand and waved it, and then looked over to Takasato’s canvas and watched closely as he painted for a while.

That painting was one that truly left a deep impression on people. For a long time this was how Hirose looked at Takasato and then looked at his painting.

“…It might be a bit impolite to ask about something like this…” Hirose didn’t know quite how to say it, but he knew it wasn’t possible for him not to ask. “What is that?”

On the canvas, the colors that appeared to have been applied without the least bit of order, were only pure colors. It seemed as though he could see some faint shapes, but it was just when he concentrated his sights to try to grasp onto a concrete form that he again felt the outlines were excessively murky, and he wasn’t able to see any real shapes. The use of colors was very complex. Mostly, the colors that Takasato used were soft colors, but he felt that they were extremely opaque. It was hard for him to say that they were pretty colors. Regardless of if it was the colors or the blending of the colors, neither could be described as pretty, and also it looked like there wasn’t a composition to be spoken of.

“Is it some sort of vista?” asked Hirose very confusedly, making Takasato widen his eyes a little bit.

“Yes.” He softly squeezed out a smile. It looked almost as if it was a real smile.

“Where is it?” Hirose asked this in an interested manner, but Takasato shook his head.

“I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember, but you can still paint it?” asked Hirose rhetorically, in doubt. Takasato showed a focused expression as he nodded.



“I was thinking, if I managed to paint it, would I be able to remember it then?”

“I see,” replied Hirose. He was amazed at this strange sort of guy. Hirose left Takasato with several doubts in his gut. He suddenly remembered Tsuiki’s words: He’s experienced a spiriting away, and one year later, he didn’t remember anything.

He turned back to look at Takasato. He really wanted to ask him: was that vista from when he had been spirited away? He immediately forced himself to keep his mouth shut, and got rid of such an idea. Without giving it a thorough consideration, he definitely couldn’t ask something like that offhand. He couldn’t just blindly believe what Tsuiki had said, and he also felt that if it was to be believed, then he would be even less able to rudely touch upon this question.

“What a peculiar guy,” mumbled Hirose to himself.

If he had really underwent a spiriting away, then Takasato really didn’t remember what happened to him within that span of time but hoped that he would be able recall it. It must be rather discomfiting for a person to have lost a block of their memory. Despite this, Takasato was still so positive about wanting to remember. This fact puzzled Hirose.

People are extremely sensitive living things. Tsuiki’s tone was the most typical expression of this. Takasato had previously undergone the experience of spiriting away, so he was a bit strange. He was a bit different than them—so he wasn’t able to create a good feeling in other people.

Even if a person deliberately hides their own likes and dislikes, the feelings will still be conveyed to other people. Hirose didn’t suppose that Takasato wasn’t able to pay attention to this. Did Takasato not want to wipe out the “spiriting away”? Had he never thought to wipe it clean from his own past experiences? Had he never thought about forgetting what had happened to him before? —Or, had there even been something like a “spiriting away” after all?

– – – – –

During the club, Takasato silently painted on his canvas. He would often stop, as he thought things over while he painted, and then he would also often use a knife to scrape off some colors. The only thing that Hirose could understand was that painting this painting—when he thought back on this later—was very important to Takasato.


On the fifth day, the fifth period on Friday was a long homeroom. Naturally, the topic was locked strictly on the athletics festival to be held just a week away. After various warnings were communicated to them simply, all there was to do was to stand at the side and watch as the class representative arranged the working preparations.

The students conversed about disparate topics while the meeting was going on. It was only because the teacher wasn’t standing up at the podium that the classroom revealed itself to be much noisier than usual. Just about everyone had to decide the competitive events and the distribution of the prep work, but the entire process was not much different from a leisurely chat.

Hirose looked about the whole classroom while standing in the back. Takasato had not involved himself in the chatter. He had been completely isolated by the atmosphere of the classroom, just as if the air around him had been separated. No one sought to talk to him, and he didn’t actively seek to talk with other people. He simply sat and watched as the others conferred. The attitude exhibited by the people around him was as if he wasn’t there at all.

The collaborating seemed already to have a conclusion, and the competitions that all the students were taking part in were clearly set. Committee leader Gotanda counted the names in the competitions on the blackboard to reconfirm, and then he suddenly said, “Huh? We’re short one person.”

Hirose realized that the missing name was Takasato’s, but he didn’t say anything. Takasato likewise didn’t say anything in particular. The student who sat at the front whispered into Gotanda’s ear, and Gotanda became flustered as he looked at Takasato.

“Takasato, do you have an event that you prefer to be in?” Gotanda’s voice sounded nervous. Takasato offered a short and simple, “no.” Gotanda hesitantly looked from Takasato to the blackboard.

“All that’s left is the 200-meter dash. Is that all right?”

Takasato nodded without an expression on his face. Gotanda relax with a sigh of relief.

Hirose watched everything develop as he tried to grasp the atmosphere of the classroom. Takasato was isolated, and all the students deliberately ignored his presence. What was really strange was that Hirose couldn’t feel any spitefulness here. It looked as if no one excluded him because they held some sort of malice. They just purposefully avoided looking at Takasato. —This was the impression that Hirose got.

– – – – –

Afterwards, the students left the classroom for the prep work to which they had all been assigned. According to convention, the athletics festival divided first-years through third-years vertically to compete in three teams. Classes five and six of each year, which was traditionally called the Blue Army, were combined into one team. The fifth period on Friday was a long homeroom for the entire school, so first-year and third-year students began to frequent the classroom.

Gotou yawned as he went back to the prep room, though Hirose remained in the classroom. He inattentively watched the students chatting as they worked.

“Hirose sensei, if you’re free, can you help us out?” Having been called out in this way, Hirose smirked.

“What would be best for me to do?”

“Help cut this up.” The student handed over newspapers. It seemed like they were preparing to do papier mache. Takasato sat not too far away, and was also compliantly cutting something up with scissors.

“Oh? Hirose-san, have you been recruited too?”

Hearing this, Hirose looked up and saw that it was the third-year Hashigami popping his head in.

“Isn’t this what apprentice teachers do?”

“Training is very tough, after all. —Is there anyone here in charge of the cheer squad?” asked Hashigami as he looked over at the people that remained in the classroom. A student raised his hand, and Hashigami began to pass on some coordination info about how he had to stay after school to discuss arrangements for the cheer squad.

“Takasato, next, do this one.” Just at that time, someone handed a portion of blue cloth over to Takasato, who was then sorting out the paper he had cut.

Takasato nodded and took the piece of cloth. Hashigami stared over at him.


“So you’re Takasato?”


“Yes.” Regardless of whether it was a student teacher or a senpai, there was no change in Takasato’s attitude. Those expressionless eyes simply returned Hashigami’s stare.

“Ah huh,” replied Hashigami with much interest, and then asked, “So I hear you were spirited away when you were little?”

It’s impossible to fully describe the change that underwent the room after he said that. Hirose felt as if a nervous feeling so thick it could almost be seen snatched up the students present. In an instant, everyone once again went back to their work pretending as though nothing had happened at all, but they all looked like they were desperately trying to look away from something that made them uneasy.

“Was that for real?” asked Hashigami with a tone full of curiosity. Takasato just nodded silently.

“It wasn’t just a kidnapping? I hear you don’t remember it at all. Is that true?”

“Yes,” replied Takasato plainly. He didn’t look like he was especially uncomfortable.

“So it was a so-called loss of memory, huh? Amazing…”

Then, for the first time Takasato wrinkled his brow. Though it didn’t seem as though he was unhappy about anything, one could faintly feel that he didn’t like discussing this topic.

“You sure you weren’t abducted by a UFO? You hear a lot of that sort of thing happening lately. Those creepy aliens do experiments on people’s bodies, and then after they wipe your memory, they send you back.”

Takasato opened his mouth to speak. This was the first time Hirose saw him talk without being prompted.

“Who did you hear this from?”

Hashigami lifted his chin and without any hesitation, he glanced over at Tsuiki. You cruel jerk, thought Hirose to himself. Then, he heard the violent crash of a chair falling over, and his expression froze. He looked back at where the noise came from and simply saw that Tsuiki’s expression had changed and that he was now standing.

“Wasn’t me!”

What surprised people was the look of panic on Tsuiki’s face.

“Please, believe me! I didn’t say it!” denied Tsuiki fervently.

Hashigami laughed, “Wasn’t it you who said it?”

“Not me! I didn’t say anything!”

Takasato looked down. His brow was a little bit furrowed, but still no one was sure what sort of feeling it represented.

“It wasn’t me, Takasato.”

A stunned Hashigami followed Tsuiki with his eyes as he fled out of the classroom.

“What wrong with him?”

Hirose was also dumbfounded. Why had Tsuiki been so anxious that his entire expression had changed? At this time, Hirose discovered something else, that all the students who were present had strange looks on their faces.

They all seemed to be nervous, and moreover they all tried their best to cover up that nervousness. Every person pretended that they had not noticed Tsuiki’s unusual behavior. Hirose thought that they all looked to have just the sort of response people have when they witness a drunk guy making a scene on the train.

Hirose looked back at Takasato. Takasato’s face was blank again. He didn’t appear to be the type of person who was secretly violent. Hirose didn’t consider him to be someone who would inspire fear in others.

“I think this Tsuiki is turning out to be even weirder,” mumbled Hashigami to himself. Still, none of the students there gave any acknowledgement.


After school was out, the clamor in the schoolyard had still not quieted down. One of the teams was standing under the window of the chemistry prep room, working hard on a signboard, and somewhere, the cheer squad of the Red Army was practicing. Class 2-6 had also registered to stay after school. Gotou painted blithely, so Hirose was free to bury his head into his training journal.

It was just then that Gotanda from the student committee hurried in while in a state of agitation.

“Sensei, someone’s hurt.”

“Hurt? Who?”


Hirose suddenly dropped the pen in his hand.

“Tsuiki? What happened? Was there a fight?” asked Hirose apprehensively, because he couldn’t forget that strange scene.

Unexpectedly, Gotanda shook his head.

“When we were making a billboard, his leg was accidentally hurt with a saw.”

“Oh… I see.” Strangely enough, Hirose let out a sigh of relief.

“It is serious?” asked Gotou, and Gotanda shrugged. It didn’t appear to be a very serious matter.

“When we took him to the infirmary, he was bleeding a bit.”

“I’ll go check up on him,” said Hirose as he stood up. Gotou nodded at him.

– – – – –

When Hirose and Gotanda rushed to the infirmary, Tsuiki had already gone home.

“He went home?”

If he could make it home on his own, then it shouldn’t have been a very serious injury, right? Hirose felt like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders, but at the same time it was hard for him to relax. The teacher-nurse Totoki smiled wryly.

“I don’t know why, but he seemed very intent on hurrying back home.”

The teacher-nurse while Hirose was in school had already reached retirement age and retired. Totoki was one of the few teachers that Hirose had never seen before.

“Actually, his injury wasn’t so serious that he needed stitches, but I told him it would be best if he went to the hospital for a visit.”

“I see…”

Hirose raised his hand and waved it at Gotanda, who then nodded blankly and left the infirmary. Hirose then give Totoki a light nod.

“Sorry for the trouble.”

“No trouble at all.” After he said this, Totoki, who was close to Hirose in age, smiled.

“Would you like some tea? How is your training going?”

“It’s a bit easier than I thought it would be.”

At Totoki’s gesture, Hirose sat down in a chair at the side. Totoki prepared a cup of chilled barley tea with practiced movements.

“Hirose sensei, what subject do you teach?”


“Ah, then your supervising teacher must be Gotou sensei, yes?”


“Isn’t that tough? I hear he thrusts all of his students upon the student teacher.”

“Yeah, he does,” smirked Hirose as he picked up the teacup.

“Totoki sensei, are you also staying after school and working overtime?”

“When it’s time for the athletics festival or the culture festival, I always have to wait until the last student goes home before I can leave. Because, someone might need me at any time.”

Totoki laughed calmly and sat down as well.

“Kids these days are a bit clumsy. Just now, that…” As Totoki said this, he looked at the notebook on the desk. “Tsuiki-kun? He said that he had securely propped the board up with his leg and the sawing was done very carefully.”

“He used his leg?”

“He used his knee to prop up the board, and as a result, he cut his shin. For sure he was a bit clumsy in supporting the board, but the person doing the sawing wasn’t too great either.”

Hirose looked over at Totoki again.

“He didn’t hurt himself?”

“Nope. There were other students helping with the sawing.”

“Do you know the name of the student who was using the saw?” asked Hirose. Totoki looked uncertainly at his notebook again.

“It was probably the student that came here with him. Let’s see, Seta-kun.”

Hirose couldn’t help but let out a sigh.

“What is it?”

Hearing Totoki ask this, Hirose hurriedly shook his head. Totoki tilted his head in doubt and said, “Well, their situation wasn’t so bad. The third-year that came before them actually got a nail driven into his own hand.”

“A third-year?” Hirose had a bad feeling about this. Totoki nodded.

“He’d somehow put a 5-inch nail into his palm, up to the head of the nail, and he’d done it to himself. I really wonder how he was using the hammer that he was able to do that.”


Totoki nodded. “I sent him to the hospital immediately, since he was using an old nail that someone’d brought. This sort of thing is what I’m most afraid of.”

“Oh no, I wasn’t asking about that.” Even Hirose thought that his thinking was a little strange, but no matter what, he wanted to find out for sure the name of that student. “What was that student’s name?”

Totoki widened his eyes and flipped through his notebook for a third time.

“Third year, class five’s Hashigami.”


On his way back to the prep room, Hirose didn’t know at all how to settle his mood.

Tsuiki and Hashigami. It looked like there was another meaning to this. Although he understood that there probably wasn’t any particular significance to the whole thing. It seemed to him that he had seen strange signs one after the other: Hashigami, the nervous students, Tsuiki who had fled so quickly—and Takasato.

From the head office area that housed the infirmary, he could go directly back to the special classroom section. He slowly ascended the stairs of the head office area to the third floor. A landing was designed between the sets of stairs where they turned, after which one could continue upwards. The wall of the landing was taken completely up by a window that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. On the other side of the window, he could see the colors of dusk draping over the school building. He was directly facing the neatly arranged classrooms of the classroom section, with the wide courtyard lawn in between.

The glass forming a horizontal row was the window of the hallway. Most of the interiors of the windows were lit up with lights. When Hirose drew his face near to the glass at the landing, he could clearly see the inside of the classroom section. Students were walking back and forth along the lit hallway. He could even see the silhouettes of the working students through the open doors of the classrooms.

Hirose forgot about agitation that he had just had, and without thinking, he smiled. The excitement of the students that arose concerning festivals was always like that of working mice, and there was something about them that made him smile. Hirose was looking around at all the students when something suddenly caught his eye. His line of sight stopped upon a student who was standing by the window at one end of the school building.

In the midst of all the bustling to-and-fro, there was only one person who wasn’t moving at all. He was standing at the window on the second floor and appeared to be glancing down at the lawn.

Hirose couldn’t help but blink his eyes a bit and then close them for a second. Afterwards, he opened them widely and looked toward the far side of the second floor. He raised his hand and wiped at the glass, and then he stared even more closely over there.

The distance between the two sections wasn’t close enough for him to see the face of that student clearly, but Hirose could see that there were arms resting upon his shoulder. They were bare arms. The uniforms that the students wore currently were short-sleeved, so it was normal to be able to see a student’s elbow. However, those arms were exposed up to the shoulder. It was as if the bare arms were covering up the student from behind. For a moment, Hirose had thought that the student had his back toward someone, but he couldn’t see the rest of the person’s head and shoulders behind the student. There were simply two arms resting lightly upon his shoulders.

Hirose thought he was seeing something that couldn’t exist. Why couldn’t he see the head and shoulders of the owner of those two arms? The upper arm seemed to rest completely over the student’s shoulders, and yet Hirose couldn’t spot any sort of figure behind him. The posture of the student with the arms around his shoulders didn’t look as if it was bearing any sort of weight. Those arms almost looked like they grew out of his neck and hung in front of his chest. A few students passed behind him quickly, though none of them discovered anything abnormal.

When Hirose was watching again and the again the student and the arms, the student suddenly turned to the side. He turned only his head, and from where he was looking emerged two students.

Hirose couldn’t help but let out a sigh. It must have been just a prank. He took the fake arms that he had used in the costume competition—one this school’s most famous competitions—and was hanging them in front of his chest as a joke. And then when people noticed this, they called out to him. That must have been it.

The student by the window said something, and then he turned so that his back was facing the window. In the extremely short time it took for him to turn completely around, it seemed as though those arms had retracted toward his back and appeared to disappear. The entire process looked a lot like arm-like snakes that slithered backwards. Of course no figure could be seen at the back of the student who was now leaving the window.

– – – – –

Hirose stood there absent-mindedly for a while. He rested his forehead on the glass and envisioned what he had just seen over again.

“It was because of the distance,” said Hirose to himself. “Yes, it was because of the distance and the backlighting.”

Now, in the midst of the preparation for the athletics festival, the inside of the school was overflowing with all sorts of things. There were papier mache figures, costumed props, and things the cheer squad utilized that one couldn’t even figure out the use of if one just glanced at it.

It must have been because of the unusual circumstances that caused him to look at that situation as he did.

This was what Hirose told himself and then he sighed. The warm air had made his forehead damp with sweat. He forced himself not to think about it anymore and took this opportunity to turn away. The picture of what had happened then settled in a deep corner of his mind.

* *

Deep in the night, a man hurried back to his home. The night air brushed gently against his sweaty skin, causing him to sweat even more.

He’d drank quite a bit. The man walked upon the road relying on his homing instinct, though to the contrary, there was no way for his instincts in to kick in here in this residential neighborhood where all the buildings looked the same. More than once, he’d rang someone else’s doorbell.

With his memory, some sense still remained in him, and thus he would often stop, raise his head, and look up. With the buildings of the same exterior design lined up neatly, they looked like giant gravestones. He did frequent verifications. The building numbers were hung in big, color ceramics on the side of the highest floor of the 12-story buildings facing the emergency ladder.

“I’ve done this so many times before, why do I still get it wrong?” he thought to himself.

At the same time, he was reminded of the makuragaeshi.

Back in his hometown, there was a legend concerning the “makuragaeshi.” It’s said there is a demon called the “makuragaeshi” that comes out at night and moves the pillow of a person deep in sleep to an unusual place. Every time he went to his grandmother’s house in the countryside, the “makuragaeshi” would appear. When he woke up in the morning, his pillow would always be resting by his feet. Although, when he remained motionless after he opened his eyes, it felt like the position of his futon was different. When he thought about it now, it was probably just that his sleeping posture hadn’t been very good, but he still couldn’t forget that mysterious feeling, the uneasiness of waking up in the old tatami room of the old country house. After some careful thought, the futon hadn’t moved the night before, but nevertheless, there remained thoughts he wasn’t able to explain.

He smirked as he stopped walking. He stared up at the building in front of him. He had confirmed that he was standing in front of the building he should have returned to.

He nodded arbitrarily and looked up once again. There were no other figures in the road on which cars were prohibited from driving. His steps echoed throughout the wide open space. It looked like the tall buildings were about to fall on top of him. He turned his head and looked around, feeling faintly dizzy.

He shook his head about and discovered that there seemed to be a white light on top of the building that he was looking at.

It was shining weakly and dimly. There was a dim, round glowing at the edge of the roof. He a blinked a few times, and then stared fixedly at it. He saw something rising out of the light.

The man’s jaw dropped in surprise. It was as if some animal had climbed up out of the light. He didn’t know exactly what it was, but he knew that it was a big beast with four legs. It was too big and tall to be a dog. The body of the four-legged beast grew dark and there was no way for him to identify it, though he saw that it was giving off a faint glow from its back.

“What the heck is that?” he asked himself, but before he could think anymore about it, the four-legged beast leapt into the air. It passed over the top of his head as fast as if it had been swimming in the water, and glided across the 12-story buildings.

Even after its silhouette disappeared, he still stood there dumbfounded, looking in that same direction.

Chapter 3


The first week of training was soon to be over. It was Saturday when the students had only a half-day, but most of the students remained at school in the afternoon in order to prepare for the forthcoming athletics festival. The chemistry prep room was occupied by the regulars.

It was uncertain where the first-year Nozue had heard the news of Hashigami’s injury, though he was carefully explaining what had happened.

“It was a 5-inch nail. Except for the head of the nail, the entire length had gone through his palm. And even though he went to a hospital and got a doctor to pull it out, the process of doing so was really tough.”

“Yikes, how scary!” exclaimed a first-year named Sugisaki.

The air conditioning was on in the prep room. Gotou as usual had gone out for lunch. The students had taken the beakers out by themselves and were either drinking juice that they had bought at the store or the coffee that Gotou had prepared.

Tsuiki was taking a day off today. They’d heard that Hashigami hadn’t come to school either.

“Hashigami-san’s a pretty handy guy. He’s good at carpentry work too.”

The first-year Nozue’s words had caught Hirose’s attention.

“Is that so?”

Nozue nodded meekly. “Hashigami-san is actually an otaku.”

Hirose didn’t understand what he meant.

“Hashigami-san’s room is amazing. If we’re just talking about VCRs, he’s got about five of them. He uses them to record anime. He’s got a great antenna system set up that he uses to record rebroadcasts from broadcast stations that are far away.”


“Yeah, and the shelves he puts videotapes and cassettes on take up an entire wall. Hashigami-san built them all himself.”

Iwaki smiled. “Even monkeys fall from trees.” [note: this is an idiom which means that no matter how good one is at something, they can still make mistakes.]

Sugisaki laughed loudly. “Even Hashigamis puncture themselves with nails.”

Hirose let out a short, obligatory laugh, but he wasn’t satisfied with this explanation. There was something he just didn’t understand.

“That’s right, I heard that Tsuiki was acting weird yesterday or something?” asked Iwaki. Hirose nodded disconcertedly.

“You seem to know quite a bit.”

“I think someone in our class was there. I heard he ran away in a fluster, that he got into an argument with Takasato.”

“Yeah… Hashigami said some trivial things, and then it turned into something like that.”

“Trivial things? Hashigami-san was there too?”


“Oh, I know. It’s that thing, the spiriting away,” said Nozue excitedly. Hirose nodded vaguely.

“What’s the spiriting away?” asked Sugisaki curiously. Nozue then proceeded to tell a story of which only half had actually happened and the other half he had made up himself.


“Don’t believe him. Most of that Nozue came up with by himself,” replied Hirose with a cynical smile. Nozue pouted unhappily when he heard this.

“It’s a bit troubling. Everyone goes about casually broadcasting this stuff everywhere. —But the spiriting away seems to be for real.”


It was just at that time.

“I think it’s probably better if you don’t talk about this just because you think it’s interesting.”

It was the second-year Sakata.

“Why?” asked Iwaki as he turned around.

“Someone in my class has said before that bad things will happen to you if you just casually talk about it.”

“What do you mean by bad things?” The one who had asked this was Hirose.

Sakata shrugged, saying, “I’m not clear on it myself. The classmate that had said it doesn’t seem to like to talk about it. He was in the same class as Takasato when they were first-years, and he said it wasn’t good to talk about it. I heard it wasn’t too good for the guys who’d made fun of Takasato…”

Everyone who was there was a little taken aback, but Hirose couldn’t help but start to take this seriously.

“It wasn’t too good? Do you mean like accidents or something like that?”

“Probably. They say that nothing good happens to people who bully Takasato. Everyone who’s made fun of Takasato’s been hurt.”

“No way! You’re making this up!” said Iwaki. Sakata could only tilt his head in hesitation.

“That’s just what I heard. But, a lot of people have been hurt because of this, and didn’t someone die on a field trip that spring? Of course, those are just rumors too.”

“Someone died?”

This was the first time Hirose had heard anything of the sort and he peered at Sakata’s face.

“Yeah, when they were riding a ferry, someone fell into the sea and drowned to death. I think it was someone in class three. It’d happened on the way back from the field trip, and so they had to stop doing that field trip altogether. It was in the newspapers. Didn’t you see it?”

“Ah, I don’t remember…”

“They say that the day before, that guy didn’t like the look of Takasato, so he got two of his friends and the three of them beat him up. That one guy died and pretty bad stuff happened to the other two too.”

Iwaki wasn’t pleased and spoke up. “You’re making this up.”

“I’m not. Why would I do that? Of the other two guys, one of them was run over by a truck and got his leg broken. The other got into an accident while riding a scooter without getting a license and was hurt really badly. He was suspended from school and later dropped out. At any rate, none of those three are at this school anymore.”

After Sakata finished, he pursed his lips. “I seemed like someone died when I was a first-year.”

No one said anything else. Hirose knew that everyone was shocked, except that he wasn’t able to speak because of an apprehension that arose inside him. He could understand now the reason why Tsuiki had been so distressed, and all the students present expressed a strange anxiety that was also due to these rumors.


The following day was a Sunday, and for the sake of making it more convenient for the students doing prep work, the school officials opened the doors of the school. It seemed like Gotou was spending his entire day holed up in the prep room. Hirose had heard that the rest of the student teachers had also come to school to use this opportunity to rehearse in studying the class work. After thinking a bit about it, he himself got in touch with Gotou and told him that he would be at school in the afternoon as well. Then, he left his apartment early in the morning.

An insecurity that wasn’t entirely selfless was bothering him and made him feel like he had to find out the truth. Following a note that Nozue had written for him, he went to Hashigami’s house for a visit. Once he had clarified things with Hashigami, he would be able to relax. However, he also knew that if everything had happened purely by accident, he would feel quite a bit disheartened.

Hashigami’s house was located in the center of the new town area that also contained the school. There were many park facilities in the spacious residential neighborhood. This town was full of a comfortable atmosphere, which was in concordance with the image of a commuter town. Hashigami’s house was at one corner of this residential neighborhood, and after just one glance, one could tell that this building housed only those of a wealthy economic status.

Hirose rang the doorbell, spoke his name and said that he was looking for Hashigami. Very quickly, Hashigami came down the spiral staircase that was in the entrance hall.

“Eh? Hirose is you?”

“You look like you’re doing well,” said Hirose. Hashigami cracked a smile.

“Honestly, I skipped school. Saturday was a half-day anyways, right?” he joked as he made a funny face and then pointed to the second floor. “Let’s go upstairs.”

– – – – –

Hashigami’s room turned out to be as Nozue had described. The interior was filled with videotapes and that sort of thing. On the wall of the large approximately 8-tatami-wide room was set up tall shelves up to the ceiling. They were finely crafted shelves that had even been varnished. Had Nozue not mentioned this before, Hirose would have thought that these shelves had been bought from elsewhere.

“Did you make all of these shelves yourself?”

Carrying an electric water pot back into the room, Hashigami laughed, a little embarrassed. “Yeah, it’s a little awkward using stuff that’s been made to a regular specification.”

“That’s really great.”

“Naw,” laughed Hashigami self-consciously.

“With such skillful hands, how did you manage to injure yourself?” When Hirose asked this, Hashigami held out his bandaged hand for him to look at.

“Are you talking about this?”

“I heard you put a nail through it?” asked Hirose, and Hashigami’s expression became a little stiff. He thought it over a little bit as he fiddled with the end of his bandage.

“…The nail went into my hand by itself.”

Hirose didn’t know how to respond to that, so he just stared at Hashigami. Hashigami pouted a bit like a child might.

“Hirose-san, do you believe in ghosts?” This sudden question caused Hirose not to know what to say for a moment.

“I need to say upfront that I don’t believe in that sort of thing,” Hashigami said with determination.

“I’m the same way… I’m more inclined not to believe in stuff like that.”

Somewhere in Hirose’s mind, there appeared a little alarm, because the events that he’d seen the day before had remained in his mind.

“But I think it was a ghost that did this,” said Hashigami in a quiet voice.

“Why do you think that?”

“Because I couldn’t see the offender who drove the nail into my hand.” Hashigami dropped a teabag into a teapot, and then poured some hot water from the electric pot in and covered it. “When I was doing the nailing, I wanted to finish securing the archway that we’re setting up at the entrance. I was holding a nail with my left hand and a hammer with my right. But the nail that ended up going through my hand wasn’t the one I was holding.”

As he said this, Hashigami got a nail from off of his desk. It was about 5-inches and was slightly bent in the middle. He could see immediately that it was an old and rusty nail.

“So that’s the nail?”

“Yep. I brought it back from the hospital, as a memento.”

Hirose thought, what an unusual memento; although, he didn’t say that aloud.

“I’d brought the my own hammer and nails from my house. I mean, it’s stuff I like using. But that nail wasn’t my own nail.”

“Why?” asked Hirose curiously. Hashigami shrugged.

“I didn’t bring any rusty nails like that. Don’t people say that if you’re cut on a rusty nail, you’ll probably get tetanus? It sounds a little scary, so I throw rusty nails away, not to mention the fact that this nail’s already bent like this. Some people hammer the nail back into shape and then use it, but I think that no matter how you hammer it, it won’t go back to its original shape.”

After Hashigami said this, he tossed the nail back onto the desk.

“I was doing my hammering in a corner area when I felt like something had cut the palm of my left hand. When I flipped my hand over to look, I saw that nail sticking out of my hand.”

“All the way up to the head?”

“No way,” laughed Hashigami. “It was just a little bit of the tip. I think it might be better to say that it was stuck into my hand, rather than say that it punctured it. Without anyone’s touching it, the nail was propped up, slanted against my hand.”

Hashigami’s tone was plain, though it sounded to Hirose like it was plausible.

“I thought this was weird and wondered what was going on. I put down the nail I’d been holding and I brought my hand towards my face for a closer look. And then there was a clack and suddenly someone was hitting the nail.”

“Who was it?”

“Right. I couldn’t see anyone, but I felt like someone was hitting the nail in with a hammer or something. The blow knocked my hand away, so I threw my hand to the ground for support, and then I heard another clack. I finally realized that that nail had been driven into my hand.”

It felt like the temperature in the room was slowly falling. Hirose unconsciously looked up at the air conditioner near the ceiling.

“I was so scared, I couldn’t even call out. My thought processes had stopped. Then, there was another sudden hit. It didn’t hurt very much, but I was at a complete loss. I wanted to move my hand from the ground, but I couldn’t. As I was thinking how impossible this was, the nail was hit again. As a result, the entire length of the nail had been pushed through my hand, except for the head was sticking out a little. I was afraid and shouted, what the heck is going on! Isn’t that funny?”

Hashigami chuckled dryly.

“The guy behind me asked me what happened, and I told him that I’d been nailed. My hand was completely stuck to the ground, so then I reached my hand under the other one and gently took my hand off of the ground. There was a hole on the ground where the nail had been, but no blood was dripping down. It wasn’t until then that it started to hurt, and I hurried to the infirmary.”

Hashigami poured the black tea into a cup.

“It might be bitter,” he mumbled. The tea that had sat forgotten to one side was already maroon in color; it looked like it would be pretty bitter.

“I figured that my values might change because of this, so I kept the nail as a memento.”

“Have they changed?” asked Hirose calmly. His own voice sounded dry.

“Not really. I feel like it doesn’t have anything to do with me, though I was a little scared yesterday. When I was trying to sleep, I kept feeling like there were going to be other nails coming at me from whatever place. I was afraid to close my eyes, thinking stupidly that if I closed my eyes, the nails would come right at them. But, I ended up falling asleep anyway.”

Hirose simply nodded. He didn’t know what else he could respond with. What Hashigami had said innately held some sort of mysteriously persuasive power, but something in his own mind resisted swallowing it whole. Thus, he couldn’t add his own comments to it.

“I didn’t believe in ghosts, and now I still don’t believe in them, but there’s some doubt in the back of my mind. What exactly was that? I think this is what they call confused, huh?”

Hirose could still do nothing but nod.


When he could no longer think of things to say, Hirose left Hashigami’s house and proceeded to Tsuiki’s house for a visit. No one knew exactly where Tsuiki’s house was, so he looked the address up in a class directory and stopped at a police box for directions.

Tsuiki’s house was on the outskirts of the new town. This area looked to be composed of a disorderly mix of ready-made houses built in recent years and old houses that have been around since some time ago. In actuality, the old houses were not that old, but they had a completely different flavor than the newly-built houses that surrounded them.

Hirose rang the doorbell. Tsuiki’s mother came to answer the door. Hirose told her his name, and then she went upstairs to get her son. For a little while, he heard the sounds of conversation coming from upstairs, and then Tsuiki’s mother came back down.

“I’m sorry, but he says that he’s not feeling well.” However, her tone didn’t sound apologetic.

Is he all right?” asked Hirose. Tsuiki’s mother crinkled her brow.

“Excuse me, but may I ask if you’re a friend of his?” From her tone, he could distinctly hear the meaning of “I don’t remember your name or your face.”

“No, I’m a student teacher. Gotou sensei told me to come and check up on the situation.” In his head Hirose apologized to Gotou, and then Tsuiki’s mother covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, is that so? Please excuse me.”

Hirose could only give her a perfunctory smile, as she said, “It’s because you look so young.” She directed him to the second floor.

“Please go upstairs. I don’t know what that child is up to, always saying that he’s not feeling well. The doctor clearly said that he could go to school if he relied on a cane, but he insisted on taking the day off. He used to be a diligent child. I keep thinking, what exactly happened to him at school?”

Hirose nodded vaguely and climbed up the stairs. The room from the top of the stairs seemed to be Tsuiki’s room.

“Since you’re a teacher, you should say you’re a teacher, or else how was I to know?” She said this as she opened the door without so much as a knock, and then turned back to Hirose. “I’ll go fix some tea.”

“Ah, you needn’t bother.”

Tsuiki was scrunched up under the covers of his bed.

“How are you feeling?” asked Hirose. Tsuiki poked his head out of his summer futon.

“Hirose is sensei’s name?” Tsuiki had asked the same question as Hashigami had.

“How’s your leg?” Hirose asked with a smile. Tsuiki lifted himself up and wearing a track jacket, he sat on top of the futon. He moved his leg over as if it were very heavy, and Hirose saw that it was bandaged all the way to the ankle.

“Yeah, it’s not that bad.”

“Really? The day before yesterday I went to the infirmary, but you’d already left.”


“How did you manage to cut your foot?”

Tsuiki didn’t reply. It was just then that his mother, who had entered with some barley tea, saw his expression and smiled a worrisome smile.

“He just says that it was an accident, and won’t say anything further. Ever since he entered high school, he speaks less and less. —My younger brother was like this as well.”

Just as his mother was about to sit next to Hirose, Tsuiki said curtly, “Mom, why don’t you go downstairs?”


“It’s not like we’re talking about anything important. Just go downstairs.”

“All right.” She looked at Hirose, then looked at Tsuiki, and then left the room. Hirose was silent in thought for a bit, and then listened to the footsteps of Tsuiki’s mother as she went downstairs. Tsuiki remained in a closed up posture and seemed also to be carefully listening to his mother’s footsteps.

“Well, Tsuiki,” said Hirose. Tsuiki looked at him with a bothered expression on his face, as if he was discouraged about something. “Does your injury have anything to do with Takasato?”

Upon hearing this, Tsuiki screwed up his mouth.

“You said before that nothing good comes out of getting involved with Takasato. I’ve heard about all sort of unfortunate events being talked about. Is that how you got your injury too?”

In that moment, Tsuiki looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t say anything after all.

“I just came from Hashigami’s house.”

“Is Hashigami-san okay?” Tsuiki suddenly leaned forward. Hirose nodded.

“Yes, it wasn’t anything so severe.”

Hearing Hirose say this, Tsuiki contorted his face and asked, “Did something happen to him?”

Hirose realized that there simply hadn’t been any conversation between the two. “Oh? Are you worried about him? Were you worried that something might have happened to him too?”

“What happened to him?”

“A nail.” Hirose extended his own left hand. “I think it pierce him. Though Hashigami said that the nail had done it itself.”

Tsuiki hung his head.

“Hashigami said that someone he couldn’t see had deliberately done this to him.”

“Does sensei believe him?” Tsuiki asked directly. Hirose nodded his head frankly as well.

“He didn’t seem to be lying. Truthfully, I partially believe it and partially doubt it, but once I’ve come here to see you, I would really like to believe this sort of thing.”

Tsuiki hung his head still. Hirose could see that his hands that were resting on his knees were trembling, and he knew Tsuiki was scared.

“If Takasato is made angry, people die.” After patiently waiting a while, Tsuiki finally opened his mouth, but what he had said was startling. “When I was in junior high, I was taking a cram school class with a guy who was in the same school as Takasato, and he often spoke of Takasato. He said there was a weird guy at school, someone who had been spirited away before. He said that if someone were to make Takasato mad, that they would die, and if someone were to make him unhappy, they would be seriously hurt. At the time, I’d thought that it was all a bit ridiculous…”

“Are you talking about what had happened on the field trip?”

Tsuiki shook his head. “He was only joking, so I didn’t believe him. Then, he brought up something strange that had happened to him in the summer of the third year of junior high. He’d said that he was afraid of doing swimming lessons in gym class, because he’d felt something tugging at his legs, which had scared him. He’d been crying as he said this during cram school.”

Hirose simply listened silently.

“He’d said that it was because he’d hurt Takasato before. They’d had a fight during P.E. or science class. Afterwards, he would always insist that it must have been because of that.”

“What are you saying…?”

Tsuiki shook his head. “I don’t think he was clear on it himself. He just said that something had been pulling on his legs. He’d told the teacher that he wasn’t feeling well, so he didn’t want to swim, but the teacher didn’t accept his explanation. He’d told me that he could very soon be pulled down by his legs and drown to death. It turned out that he really did die. He had drowned in the swimming pool.”

Once again, Hirose was speechless.

“When I started my second year, I was put in the same class as Takasato. At first, I had no idea that he was Takasato. Later on, other guys had told me that if I had anything to do with Takasato, I’d be cursed. I’d heard that during our first year, there’d been people who were seriously injured or died. I didn’t intentionally listen to these rumors, but I just didn’t feel comfortable. As a result, during the field trip…”

“Yes, I’d heard.”

Tsuiki nodded. “Seeing that look of unhappiness that Takasato showed the day before yesterday, I knew then that something was going to go wrong…”

Hirose urged the quiet Tsuiki to continue speaking. “And then?”

“Then when I was working, there appeared a weird hand that grabbed hold of my leg.”

“A weird hand?”

“It was pale, and it looked like a woman’s hand. I was using my knee to support the veneer of the signboard, but then someone grabbed onto that leg. It was like someone was using both their hands to embrace it tightly. I tried to kick it off, but I couldn’t move my leg at all. I think the person who was pulling the saw didn’t notice it at all, and still continued sawing. The saw kept getting closer to my leg, and I knew that if this kept on, my leg would be sawn off, but I couldn’t move. I lowered my head to look beneath the veneer, and I saw a pale, woman’s hand holding on to my leg. But there wasn’t anyone under the veneer at all.”

“Didn’t you call out?”

“I couldn’t make a sound. All I could think about was that my leg was going to be sawn off, so what could I do? In my mind, I was pretty clear on the fact that my leg was definitely going to be sawn off, but I didn’t know what to do. So, it was a relief to me that in the end my leg was only hurt a little bit. I told myself, ah, that was good, I hadn’t made Takasato too mad.”

Hirose felt that from a certain viewpoint, it was this sort of thinking that was scary.

“But then, when I was in the infirmary getting treated, I gradually started feeling a bit uneasy. I was afraid that things weren’t done yet, so I ran back home. Though this is how it ended, without anything else happening…” Tsuiki couldn’t help but look at Hirose. “Sensei, what was it like? After I left the classroom, was Takasato very mad?”

Tsuiki was agitated. Hirose simply shook his head.

“No, it didn’t look like Takasato had cared that much.”

“Do you think that this is it? Do you think he’s not mad anymore?”

Hirose sighed heavily. “Nothing else has happened to Hashigami. I don’t think anything else is going to come about.”

Hirose in actuality had no basis for saying this, but Tsuiki looked like he was really happy. He let out a sigh of relief and smiled, but then his expression suddenly because stiff again.

“Sensei, uh…”

Hirose understood his meaning and nodded. “I’m not going to talk to anyone else about this. So, don’t worry about it.”

After Hirose said this, Tsuiki unloaded the intense worry he had carried in his brow, and sighed deeply.


Hirose definitely didn’t believe in the talk of the so-called “curse of Takasato,” but he could feel deeply the flood of belief by a portion of the students in the “curse of Takasato.”

People believed Takasato would bring misfortune upon people. So, every time something suspicious happened, they would inevitably involve Takasato. Hirose understood how this worked. What he didn’t understand was, was this simply an innocent belief or was it reality?

– – – – –

“Hey.” When he opened the door to the chemistry prep room, Gotou greeted him casually. He was still standing in front of his easel.

“How are Tsuiki and Hashigami?”

Hearing Gotou ask this, Hirose was suddenly dumbstruck, although he followed it with a wry smile. “So I’ve been discovered by you, huh?”

“At the very least, I can still grasp your thought processes. If you hadn’t gone, I would have. How are the two of them doing?”

Hirose handed over to Gotou some juice he had bought at a nearby vending machine.

“Hashigami seems quite energetic. Regarding Tsuiki, I guess he’s doing pretty good as well.”

“So did it turn out to be Takasato?”

As Hirose pulled open the ring pull, he looked fixedly at Gotou’s face. “What does that mean?”

“Didn’t Takasato have a quarrel with them the day before yesterday? That’s what Iwaki had said.”

Hirose examined Gotou’s expression. Because students ordinarily went in and out of the prep room, Gotou knew all about what happened between the students. It wasn’t inconceivable that he would know about the “curse of Takasato.” However, Hirose was thinking that Gotou quite appeared to believe in the talk of the “curse.” It was incredible that he would use that sort of tone when speaking.

“Is Takasato the cause?”

Hirose thought of the promise he had made to Tsuiki, and he couldn’t help but feel a little lost.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell other people about it.”

“…At the very least, that’s what Tsuiki believes. He says it’s the curse of Takasato. In regards to Hashigami, it seems likely that he doesn’t know anything about it.”

After Gotou wiped his hands, he sat down and opened the can of juice.

“Takasato’s a problem child. From a certain viewpoint, he’s an extremely difficult problem child. He’s not fundamentally the sort of person who creates problems over small things, but everything around him turns out to be a mess. He’s the eye of a typhoon.”

“…Is it appropriate to say this to a student teacher?”

Gotou simply smiled bitterly and look at his juice can.

Hirose felt it out, asking, “On the very first day, Gotou-san said some things that were quite profound. Were you referring to this?”

Gotou nodded. “Yes, I was.”

“I heard that Takasato curses people, and I also heard that during a field trip, a student had lost his life because of this. —Is that for real?”

Gotou furled his brow. “It is true that a student died on a field trip. The police ruled it an accident. That idiot drank alcohol on the ferry back. Our students for the most part conduct themselves appropriately, but in their midst, there are still a few whose behavior is out of control. That particular one never followed the rules, and he had even been marked by the student guidance department. That student and a few others who were likewise marked, were drinking beer together until they were very drunk. They said they wanted to get some wind, so they ran up to the deck. As a result, he fell into the sea. Other passengers witnessed him fall. There’s no doubt that it was an accident.”

After Gotou finished speaking, he tilted his head upwards to take a drink of the juice.

“For me, I think it would be too forced to decide whether or not there’s some other meaning to that accident.”

Hirose nodded, and then asked, “Gotou-san, what is your impression of him?”

Once Gotou heard this, he directed his gaze at Hirose for a moment. He then looked at his hands and quietly asked, “Do you have an interest in Takasato?”



“I don’t know,” replied Hirose honestly. He felt that Takasato was a student unlike any other. However, if it was only because of this, he probably wouldn’t be interested to this degree, would he? Hirose was never great at figuring these things out. The reasons that had caused him to keep this in his mind was because of that painting, that indescribable one that Takasato had painted, the “spiriting away” rumor, and the appearance of Takasato attempting to remember what had occurred in that period of time.

Gotou smiled and then looked up at the ceiling.

“I used to be full of interest in Takasato too, in many aspects. I looked up everything that could be looked up about him. It’s in my nature to be curious.” Saying this, Gotou smiled cynically. “Many dead and injured people have appeared all around Takasato. It looks like there really are a lot. For example, when he was in junior high, in his third year there are already four deaths.

“Four deaths… Were there that many?”

“Just about. Three died in traffic accidents, and one died from illness. The cause of death for each of them was clear, with absolutely no room for doubt. —By the way, Hirose, didn’t deaths occur when you were in junior high?”

Being asked this very bluntly by Gotou, Hirose hurriedly searched his memory. “There were a couple. I remember one of them was in a traffic accident, and another was a teacher who died from illness. I didn’t really know either one.”

Gotou nodded. “Right, and Takasato’s situation is similar. One of them was in the same year as he was, but the others were mostly unfamiliar with Takasato. If you let those guys talk about it, they’ll blame the curse of Takasato. It may be chance, and it may very well not be. How can we be certain?”

“You have a point.”

“It’s the same with the field trip. One person died and two were seriously injured, but it all happened by accident. No matter how you look at it, it was purely accidental. Because, it wasn’t until a month after the end of the field trip that something had happened to the third person. Could we really connect that to Takasato? —I don’t know.”

Hirose nodded in agreement.

“But Takasato is still feared by most. People are sensitive to deviation, but on the other hand Takasato won’t suffer harassment, because people believe that he’ll curse them.”

Hirose nodded, and then, a little puzzled, he said, “I’ve heard other strange rumors having to do with Takasato…”

Gotou nodded in a straightforward way. “The spiriting away?”

“Is that real?”

“It seems to be. At the very least, he really did have to re-attend a year of school. It was during his fourth year of grade school.”

“But about the spiriting away…”

“It’s said that he disappeared from his garden.”

After Gotou said this, he threw out the empty can, and then handed to Hirose an empty beaker that had been sitting to one side. Hirose silently accepted it, and together with his own portion, he poured coffee into it.

“I heard that it had happened in the courtyard. It was the February of his fourth year in grade school. Takasato was in the courtyard. His family’s house was an old building, one of those houses with a storehouse built in the yard. That house had a courtyard somewhere and Takasato had been there.”

Gotou put large portions of cream and sugar into the instant coffee that Hirose had handed over, and then stirred it.

“The courtyard was completely blocked all around by the buildings and walls, and without going through the interior of the house, there was absolutely no way out. In order to enter the house, one has to go in through the corridor of the living room, and his mother and grandmother had been there at the time. The sliding door of the corridor had been open, and they could clearly see everything in the yard. I heard that they had only looked away but a moment, and Takasato disappeared.”


“They both confirmed that it hadn’t been possible for Takasato have passed by them. The height of the wall was as tall as the roof, and there had been nothing in the yard that could be used to stand on. On one side was the storehouse that hadn’t been opened in quite some time. On the other side was the wall of the bathroom with only a window that light could get through, over which a trellis had been installed to block the sight. As for under the floorboards of the building, there was no way for a person to fit themselves into there. In other words, Takasato had to pass through the living room to leave the yard.”

Gotou tossed the medicine spoon into the sink, and it made a loud sound.

“That’s how it was when Takasato vanished from the yard that was impossible to leave. It was as if he had just suddenly disappeared, and that’s why people say it was a spiriting away.”

“But…” Before Hirose could say much, Gotou casually waved his hand.

“According to what the police have said, of course they call it a kidnapping. It was something like someone sneaking in over the wall and taking Takasato away. Perhaps it was because it was profitable, or perhaps it’s possible that they originally had this kind of purpose, but then afterwards felt something for Takasato. However, there’s a hole in these two explanations.”

“A hole?”

Gotou raised his eyebrows. “The other side of the wall was the neighbor’s yard.”

If that’s so, then the criminal crept into the neighbor’s house and then crossed over the wall and invaded Takasato’s house.

Gotou continued, “In any case, Takasato spent a year somewhere. Actually to be more precise, it had been a year and two months. When he came back, Takasato didn’t have any memory of it. What had really occurred, absolutely no one knows.”

“Didn’t the police investigate?”

“I think they did, but they didn’t find anything. Forget about who’d done it, but even where Takasato had been or how he’d gotten back, up until now no one knows.”

“How did he get back?” asked Hirose curiously. Gotou nodded.

“Takasato came back after a year and two months. I heard that that day was the day they were proceeding with his grandmother’s funeral. He had just suddenly appeared at the place where they were holding the funeral. However, not one person saw him walking back.”

Gotou sighed.

“The person that discovered Takasato was someone who had come to pay their respects and had been in the entry hall. When they saw a completely naked child coming through the door, they were very surprised, and then when they immediately realized that it was it was Takasato, who had disappeared a year ago, they were even more shocked. Takasato’s house is located in the inner part of the old town. In order to get home, he had to pass through the town. Because there was a funeral on that day, there were people going in and out of Takasato’s house, but no one saw Takasato going through the town.”

“How very strange…”

“There were even people chatting in the roadside farm. They were very certain that no suspicious cars or people had passed by, but they couldn’t confirm that they had seen Takasato. That is to say, it was just like when Takasato had disappeared; he had suddenly returned.”

“I see. So is that the so-called spiriting away?”

“That’s how it was. The Takasato that returned had not only grown taller, but had gained some weight as well. His health was extremely good. —Perhaps the only one who knows exactly what happened is Takasato himself.”

There is no doubt that Takasato is of a different nature, thought Hirose to himself. Just looking at those experiences, his existence was already different. According Tsuiki’s way of speaking, Takasato’s spiriting away was a very famous story. Hearing it, of course it was famous. How did the people around Takasato react to his return? Not all of the reactions would have been pure and whole-heartedly cheerful, would they have? The neighbors would probably have made him the subject of gossip, and his classmates would probably have made him the target of mistreatment. None of these things was hard to imagine.

To Takasato, it wasn’t an experience that was worth much celebration. Some of the students looked at Takasato as a deviant, and currently, his past was still having some sort of effect on him. Takasato probably knew this as well. Since this was so, then wouldn’t Takasato naturally want to leave his past behind?

“It seems like Takasato really wants to remember,” said Hirose. Gotou nodded.

“More or less. It looks like Takasato cares about the fact that he has been abandoned by his classmates, or else he probably wouldn’t want to remember.”

For Takasato, the reality of his own previous spiriting away wasn’t taboo. Hirose felt that this fact was really incredible.

“Regardless of if it’s a curse or any other such rumor, things having to do with the spiriting away still have an effect on him after all, don’t they? To be honest, I don’t quite know why Takasato is so persistent in trying to remember what happened.”


“Though, perhaps you can understand it,” said Gotou simply.


“Hirose, if you can’t, then no one will be able to.”

Hirose understood what Gotou had implied, but he didn’t know how to respond.

* *
* *

A man threw out his cigarette butt. In the pitch black night, the small, red light of the fire fell and hit the concrete, scattering tiny sparks. The sound of waves echoed in his ear. The half moon appeared in front of his eyes, above the silver waves of the night sea.

He used the tip of his foot to stamp out the cigarette butt that had fallen to the ground. He reached his hand to the pocket of his polo shirt and pondered whether or not he wanted to smoke another one, but in the end he still took out the crinkled pack of cigarettes. The flame from his Zippo burned as he lit it. He smelled the strong smell of oil. As if he wanted to avoid that oil smell, he turned his face away, and thus a car parked under the weir entered his field of vision.

He revealed a thin smile. For a college student whose income came entirely from part-time jobs and living expenses sent from home, this car was a bit too extravagant. It was a car that had been bought with a promise to his parents that he would return to his hometown and work at a business there. In reality, the main office of the business from which he already accepted a tentative offer in the summer was located near his hometown, but the actual activity happened at the business office in Tokyo. Moreover, he had always hoped to work in Tokyo. He knew that this hope was just about within his grasp.

He didn’t have any feelings of guilt. He figured that being a kid was all like this, and being a parent was all like that. All the boarders around him had all done the same sorts of things. Parents would always hope to keep their children by their sides, and kids would always want to fly out from their parents’ house. Regarding his parents’ situation, they hadn’t stayed by their own parents’ side just to make them happy. Hereafter, he didn’t seem to have any plans to live together with them. His parents appeared to have planned to live with him, welcoming the happiness of elderly life, and requesting that their children do the things that they weren’t able to do. Did that look way too shameless?

He laughed as he shook off some cigarette ash. It was still the period where he was getting used to driving his new car, and that wasn’t conducive to driving long distances. Driving his car nearby his apartment when he had calculated the traffic to be lightest had become a recent habit.

—If he’d had a girl by his side, that would be perfect.

Thinking about this, he smiled bitterly. The classmate that he had dated from before the summer had gone to be with a useless skirt-chaser. Perhaps the main reason he had been defeated was that the moment he asked his parents to buy him a car was too late.

He flicked off the ash from his cigarette again and then threw it away. The cigarette butt that he had thrown to the outside of the weir drew a crimson trail as it fell to the beach far below. As he was watching it flying down, he sighed, and then he noticed a shadow on the beach.

The beach was small. It seemed to be low tide just then, but the distance of the waves lapping against the shore wasn’t very far. The human figure came closer towards the water’s edge from a point far away. He thought this was suspicious, and when he focused his gaze, the figure appeared to be a young woman.

He couldn’t help but look down at his watch. It showed a time that was past one in the morning. He looked around at the entire beach. There was no one else except for that woman. It didn’t look like a couple of lovers who had agreed to meet up in the middle of the night.

The woman walking on the beach stopped when she wasn’t too far away. She turned to look at him, and after pausing for a moment, she walked straight towards him. He waited uncertainly for the woman to walk closer.

When she reached the area under the weir, she stopped and looked up at him. She appeared to be around 20 years of age, and though she wasn’t outstandingly hot, she had the look that he liked.

“Are you alone?” she asked.

“Yes. What’s a girl doing out here all by herself?” he asked back. She gently nodded her head.

“Can you give me a ride into the city?” Her voice carried a reliant sound.

“Sure,” he replied.

He thus revealed a slight smile, and then he looked left and right, a little confused.

“It’s to the right,” he said. There were steps on his left side that went down to the beach.

He walked down weir and waited by his car. The woman climbed up from the beach very quickly. After she identified him, she walked down from the weir. She looked to be a very small woman. Rather than saying that she was a woman, her figure was much more like that of a teenage girl.

“Where do you live? I can take you back home.” He asked this, but she shook her head in worry. Seeing this, he couldn’t help but wrinkle his brow.

“Then where do you want me to take you? You only said into the city, so how am I supposed to know where to go?”

She lowered her head, a bit stunned. Her height only reached his shoulders. When she had lowered her head, her long hair fell from her shoulders, revealing her neck which was slender like a child’s. She appeared to be pretty calm. Perhaps she was only a high school student.

“New town?” he asked. It was as if she sighed in relief when she lifted her head to give a slight nod. He had some suspicions in his head, but he still opened the car door.

– – – – –

While he was driving, she didn’t say a word the entire time. No matter what he had said to her, all she did was nod or shake her head without the intention of saying anything.

“Did you get dumped by your boyfriend?”

Even with a question this direct, she still simply shook her head in the same way she had been.

“What were you doing in a place like that at so late a time?”

It was then that she finally spoke up. She replied in an isolated tone, “I’m looking for something.”

What a depressing girl, he thought to himself as he felt a little displeasure at the same time.

“It must have been a bad feeling, walking by the sea at night,” he said strongly and clearly, and then he immediately thought of a ghost story he had heard regularly. Someone had given a ride to a girl and then in the middle of the drive, the girl disappeared. —The ghost tale went something like that.

It can’t be. He turned to look at her. Although the girl in the passenger seat was quietly hanging her head, no matter how he looked at her, she didn’t seem to be a ghost.

“What are you looking for?”

She lifted her head. “The ki.”

“A tree?” [note: among other things, “ki” can mean “tree” in japanese.]

Is she talking about a tree? He turned to look at her.

“I’m looking for the ki, because I haven’t been able to find him, so I’ve been distressed.”

“Oh?” he replied dubiously.

“Don’t you know him?”

When he was asked this, he shook his head.

“Is ‘ki’ a name? So you’re not talking about something like a gingko or pine tree?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I’m looking for Taiki.”

“Taiki… Is that a guy?” he asked.

She shook her head. “It isn’t a person.”

In an instant he stared fixedly at her. In his head, he felt that it didn’t have any meaning, and that he couldn’t understand it. He felt a chill as he was shut in the small space of the car with this girl whose background he didn’t know.

“Don’t you know Taiki?”

“No…I don’t.” As he said this, he stepped on the gas. The needle of the speedometer rushed up. Although he was still trying out his new car, now was not the time to be thinking about things like that.

“Is the entrance to the new town okay for you?” It’s better to say that it was a reminder than to say that it was an inquiry. He didn’t want to take this girl any farther. The girl nodded silently. He said nothing as he sped up a hill.

– – – – –

As the car raced about for about ten minutes, it was hard to see the traffic lights in front of it. Because it was deep in the night, they had all changed to flashing light signals. Across the intersection, he could see shadow of the new town. All around, a sparse number of cars began to drive past them.

He sighed, and looked to the side. The girl simply sat hanging her head. He thought his own unfounded fears laughable, and then tried to talk to her again. His courage had increased a little bit.

“We can see the residential neighborhood now. What do you want to do? Do you just want me to take you to the entrance? Or do you want to…”

Keep going? Before he could finish, he swallowed his words stiffly. The girl looked up hesitantly.

“You…” He wanted to speak, but he couldn’t say anything. The car was surrounded by darkness. His image reflected off of the window, and he looked through it over to the passenger seat. The figure of the girl wasn’t there. He turned to the windshield and saw the passenger seat empty without even a shadow.

A chill crept from the bottom of his feet. He locked his line of sight dead ahead, forcing himself not to look at her. It was then that he suddenly heard a whining sound, like the whine of melting plastic. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the sight of the figure of the girl slowly collapsing.

He couldn’t stand it any longer and turned toward the passenger seat. All that was left in the seat was a bubble about the size of a person that was in the midst of gradually melting.

He stepped on the emergency brake. Under the strange centrifugal force, the scene all around spun continuously. When the car stopped, it was splayed horizontally across the road. It was good that there were currently no cars passing by.

He composed his breathing and looked to the side. Other than the trace of having been soaked by water, the passenger seat was devoid of anything at all.

From Aili’s translation of Ono Fuyumi’s Mashou no Ko.

Edited and proofread by audiowuxia.

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