Demon Child, Chapter 8.
from Aili's translation of Ono Fuyumi's Mashou no Ko.
For Hirose, the following day, a Saturday, was the last day of his teaching training. After the morning meeting held in the faculty office ended, he returned to the prep room, and a little later, Gotou returned as well.
"Seven accidents, eight faked illnesses," said Gotou just blandly, though that was enough.
Entering the classroom, Hirose saw, including Tsuiki and Gotanda, only five students waiting inside. After two weeks of being in charge of this class, this was the farewell scene.
- - - - -
The study curriculum meeting was originally planned for that afternoon, but it had been postponed until a later date.
After the Saturday fourth period class that was held instead, when Hirose went back to the prep room, Gotou poured him some coffee. Just the two of them, he and Gotou, knocked beakers and toasted a little.
Hirose's teaching training was now over.
"Gotou-san," called out Hirose as he was organizing the desktop. "Afterward, would it be all right if I popped my head in every now and then?"
Gotou was standing in front of the easel. Hirose didn't know when he stopped putting a paintbrush to canvas.
"Don't hesitate to come, or you might lie awake at night."
Gotou smiled as he wiped his hands. "I'm going to a meeting. I don't know if I'll be back this way, just to let you know."
Hirose looked at Gotou's face.
"I'm glad that you came. I think it was good for Takasato. Look after that guy."
Hirose nodded softly.
- - - - -
After he finished writing that day's training journal and review record, Hirose closed the notebook. The training notebook was full of ups and downs, making it rather unusual. Eight students died during his training period...
Feeling a strange pressure in this chest, Hirose placed his hands on the notebook and stared into space. Just then, three students, one of whom was Hashigami, burst into the room with cheerful voices.
"Ah, you're still here!"
He didn't see Sakata or Tsuiki.
"What's going on?" asked Hirose. The three pulled grocery bags from behind their backs to show him.
"A send off."
"We're having a farewell party."
Having said this, they promptly began to clean off the desk and spread drinks and the like on it. Before long, they had fixed up a modest party space.
"Sensei, will you be back?" asked Nozue.
"If they have a use for me," answered Hirose. Nozue furrowed his brow.
"Our school hardly ever uses newly-trained faculty."
"Yeah, well, if they're not recruiting, you can probably still take the faculty employment exams. I think you could pass it."
A teasing smile floated to Hashigami's face. "Well, first you have to graduate, right? What if you get held back a year? If that happens, then next year I'll be your kouhai."
"That's only if you pass," joked Nozue, who then laughed softly.
Hashigami lightly held up his beaker. "Well, no matter what, we appreciated everything. Congratulations on completely the teaching training safely."
After Hirose smiled dryly, Nozue said, "But, can we really say it was safe? Wasn't it a teaching training full of ups and downs? It's become the topic of conversation. Even Iwaki-san—"
Halfway through speaking, Nozue quickly shut his mouth, but he'd already brought the mood down. Hashigami smiled wryly and said, "Heh, let's avoid that subject."
"Right, right!" shouted Sugisaki.
"Oh yeah, here's something completely unrelated. Hashigami-san, I heard it appeared yesterday."
Nozue made a bad face. "Again with those rumors?"
"No, it's that female ghost looking for the 'ki' that Hashigami-san was talking about."
Hashigami's mouth dropped. "It appeared? Where?"
"At our school. In the evening, I think."
Sugisaki nodded vigorously. "I heard the one who saw her was a third-year. He encountered a woman in the entrance hall, who asked him, 'do you know the ki?' Later on, she asked if he knew Haku something or other.'"
Sugisaki scratched his head.
"Uh... I forgot. A guy in the art club heard it from a senpai." Sugisaki leaned forward. "But, I heard that 'ki' is the name of an animal. It's not oni."
Hashigami smirked. "You sure it's not just someone losing a dog or something and then coming to look for it at this school?"
Sugisaki scowled. "No! They said that she disappeared right in front of the third-year's eyes."
"Third-year, huh? Who was it?"
"That... I didn't ask."
"Sure he didn't make it up?"
"I'm saying he didn't!" Just when Sugisaki was getting keyed up, they heard hurried footsteps outside, and soon the door opened. It was Gotou.
Right when he entered the room, Gotou opened his mouth to speak, but seeing the three students crowded in there, he hastily closed it again.
"Hirose," he beckoned as he motioned toward the hallway. After Hirose stood up and exited into the hall, Gotou shut the door and lowered his voice. "Hirose, you have to go home."
Hirose widened his eyes. "Gotou-san?"
"Go home. Totoki sensei will take you."
Gotou was clearly dismayed. "The sports paper."
Gotou handed the newspaper over to Hirose and spoke quietly still, "It's Takasato. He's been exposed. And what's more is those imbeciles have put out his real name."
Hirose gaped in amazement, and then shut his eyes.
He felt an anxiety for which there was no place in his body.
This is scary, thought Hirose.
After the rumors about Takasato spread, what sorts of reactions will people have? —And furthermore, what sorts of things will happen as a result of those reactions?
After getting a ride from Totoki back to his own place, Hirose saw three men gathered in front of the entrance hall to his home. Hirose walked through the passageway designed in the style of a veranda, and the men turned toward him with questioning looks. One of them spoke.
"Are you the person who lives here?"
Hirose didn't reply.
"Are you by any chance the student teacher Hirose-kun?"
"You're Hirose-kun, aren't you? Hey, could we ask you a few questions?"
Hirose silently took out his keys. He ignored the approaching men and turned back toward his home, and one of them spoke.
"During the incident where the student named Takasato was pushed down, you were nearby, weren't you? Tell us about that time!"
Hirose gently pushed away the man standing in front of him and blocking his way. "Please step back."
"Takasato-kun was the one pushed down, wasn't he?"
"Please make way."
"It'll only be a minute, so won't you talk with us? If you insist, then we won't put out your name."
Hirose forcefully shook off the hand that was clutching his arm and inserted the key into the keyhole. He opened the door just a crack and slipped inside, but someone grabbed his arm. He intermittently heard the sound of a camera shutter snapping.
"Some say that Takasato-kun curses people. Is this true?"
"What do you think of the view that the group suicide was due to Takasato-kun's curse?"
"We only need a minute. Please speak with us."
"Did you know that no one is at Takasato-kun's house? Do you know where he is?"
Hirose put both the sounds and arms that were chasing him in the back of his mind, and walked into his place. He took the hands of those who were standing outside, holding on to the door, trying to open it by any means, and shoved them outside, and then slammed the door. The sound of knocking continued right after. He turned two locks and secured the door chain. He then leaned back against the door and sighed softly.
I didn't seem like they knew that Takasato was here. This was something worth feeling happy about, though it probably wouldn't be long before it was disclosed. He knew that such creatures were capable of that. However, it was dangerous. Takasato was more dangerous than any victim they would have had to deal with up until now.
He slid open the glass door to the 6-tatami room, and saw Takasato crouched in the corner as he had fled from something. This gave Hirose a small shock, because his posture made him look awfully like a small, frightened animal.
When Takasato heard the glass door open, he looked up and appeared very relieved, and then looked down apologetically. Hirose cringed and then squeezed out a small smile.
"Did you come across them?" asked Hirose.
Takasato shook his head.
"Don't outside for a little while. It's not going to be as free, but it's better than being mobbed by those guys," said Hirose softly as he loosened his tie. Takasato bowed his head deeply.
"I'm sorry for being so much trouble for you..."
"Didn't I tell you not to apologize all the time?" Hirose forced a smile. "The commotion'll blow over soon, because they're very fickle. It might be inconvenient for the next two or three days, but just think of it as a natural disaster and endure it."
Takasato nodded meekly. "That's good," he said.
Hirose turned back questioningly, but saw an extremely calm expression on his face.
"I thought something had happened, because just before noon, a lot of people were gathered outside. Whenever they caught someone who lived here, they would ask about sensei... I didn't want to believe..."
Hirose heard his voice though it was quiet. "You didn't want to believe that something had happened to me?"
"Well, now you can see that nothing's happened to me. At the school, even though there was a small accident, everything's fine over there too. Plus, my teacher training's over now. I think we're at a pause." After Hirose said this, Takasato relaxed his expression in relief.
"Are those people newspaper reporters?"
Takasato bowed his head deeply. "I'm really very, very sorry."
Hirose sighed, and then took the newspaper that Gotou had given him out of his bag.
"Your circumstances are tougher than mine."
It would have been easy to keep this from him, but he didn't think that there was a reason for it. Takasato needed to know the truth about what was going on.
Takasato received the newspaper and looked at it. A page was naturally dedicated to articles about baseball.
Takasato opened up the newspaper. After turning to a page inside, his hand stopped.
It was a big article about a cursed private high school. The incidents involving Iwaki and that of the seven people who'd jumped off the building occupied three pages of headline stories. Probably because they felt that there wasn't much of a point to concealing it, the name of the school was printed clearly within. It was written in the newspaper that between the two incidents, there occurred another: the restless students had pushed a classmate out of a window, and the full name of the victim, Takasato, had been printed.
The newspaper report somewhat criticized the school for its motives in attempting to cover up the incident of a student being pushed out of a window, and carefully analyzed the situation surrounding it. Within the course of the article, it described in detail Takasato's history of having been spirited away, his being ostracized by his classmates, and also the widespread rumor that he could "curse" others.
The article had also mentioned in passing the incidents that had happened in the past, including the death of a student on a field trip just this past spring, a series of serious accidents occurring afterwards, the death of the teacher Ikuta and the things that had happened before—it touched on the deaths and accidents that occurred around Takasato when he was in grade school and junior high. The report listed these meticulously and concluded with the speculation that it all had something to do with him.
With a stiff expression, Takasato folded up the newspaper. He didn't look as dismayed as Hirose had originally worried he would be.
"It's all right," he mumbled as his gaze hung downward. "I'm all right."
Hirose understood the connotations of him emphasizing the subject. But would they really be all right? Those who reported on this, those who provided the information, those who collected the information?
Takasato looked up at Hirose. "I'm going home."
Hirose shook his head. He could imagine how that mother would behave after reading this report.
"If you're doing so out of respect, there's no need for that." After he said this, Hirose suddenly looked over at the phone. "But, it might be better if you gave them a call and advised them to be careful of people coming for interviews—though it's probably the case they've already been there. Also, it'd be good to tell them not to reveal your whereabouts."
Were they to know that Takasato was hiding over here, then those people would probably be even more persistent. It might have been Hirose's own bias, but he couldn't imagine what those people would do. Furthermore, he knew even less what method of retribution "they" would adopt in response to these actions.
Takasato nodded, said, "Please let me borrow it," and picked up the telephone receiver. He dialed his number and waited a moment. As Hirose watched, he set down the receiver.
Perhaps, supposed Hirose, the media has bombarded their telephone with calls, and so that mother is firmly ignoring the telephone. That was what he thought.
- - - - -
It wasn't just Takasato's house that received special attention. When evening arrived, the telephone didn't stop ringing at Hirose's place. Most of them were asking Hirose to confirm that Takasato had been pushed from the window. A few calls were from the school, urging that he not to say anything that didn't need to be said. When night came, Hirose finally admitted defeat. He made it so that all calls went to the answering machine and turned off the ringer. That same night, the tape in the answering machine was interrupted by him as well.
The following day was a Sunday, and the situation outside still hadn't changed. Because of this, they could only idle away their time inside. On the day previous, he'd left his room with a do-or-die determination to buy and bring back plenty of groceries, so that they wouldn't have to leave in order to eat. Hirose watched TV or read a book as he chatted with Takasato.
When he went shopping yesterday, he's also picked up a sketchbook and some watercolors. Takasato sat next to the window with its curtains closed and had been drawing with a pencil since the morning. Beside him lay open the photo book on the Guiana Highlands.
What Takasato wanted to draw was the expansive scenery of strangely-shaped rocks. He wanted to sketch out something resembling the photos with countless lines, but in some areas, the crags were very clearly different. He appeared puzzled again and again as he kept erasing what he'd sketched. As a result, the surface of the paper had become fuzzy.
Hirose looked at his pictures, as he spoke of things of no consequence. Takasato's replies were always short, but it wasn't that he was disregarding Hirose. Hirose felt like he was talking to a dog or cat, but it was nice that Takasato was answering all his questions.
When he talked about the farewell party the student who were usually holed up in the prep room threw for him, Takasato looked up from his drawing and smiled, saying, "It'd be great if you were recruited."
"Yeah," replied Hirose. Takasato retained his smile as his eyes returned to the sketchbook. The two thus went back to what they had been doing.
"Oh, that's right." Hirose remembered what Sugisaki had said. "What do you suppose 'ki' is?"
Takasato looked up again when he was asked this, as if he was a little taken aback.
Takasato shook his head with a smile. "What is it?"
"I don't know. It's in some sort of ghost story that's recently become popular," said Hirose, who then proceeded to recount with a wry smile the story Sugisaki had told them. It was just a small and harmless ghost story, though he thought it unusual that he had thought about it like that. "Hashigami said that it might be oni, but someone said it might be the name of an animal."
Takasato's gaze dropped as he thought something over. "Is it the name of a kind of animal? Or is it a pet name that people have given it, like Mike or Tarou?"
"Hmmm..." Hirose cocked his head. "I didn't ask that."
Takasato rested his pencil lightly on his chin. "Could it be ki?"
"A male kirin."
Hirose replied with a question. "Kirin? With a long neck?" [note: the japanese word for giraffe is "kirin."]
Takasato laughed lightly. "It's the beast from Chinese legend, the kirin. I'm not sure if ki are male, and rin are female, or if it's the other way around, because different books have it different ways..."
Hirose took out his dictionary and looked up the entry on kirin.
"Kirin... Ah, according to this, what you said was right. Ki are male, and rin are female. They appear before the arrival of a sage. Is it like a Chinese unicorn?"
"It does have only one horn. It's also called a kakutan."
"I see. Though, your memory's impressive."
"For some reason..." Takasato gave a troubled smile.
"Then, what is Haku? Do you know?"
"That's all he knew, Haku something or other."
Takasato thought about it a little bit, and then murmured, "Haku Sanshi..."
"Haku... San...shi." Takasato wrote the characters for it on a blank space on the paper, and then his hand stopped.
"What's wrong?" asked Hirose.
Takasato shook his head. Something was making him feel uncertain.
"What is Haku Sanshi?" Hirose searched the dictionary, but he couldn't find it.
"I don't know."
Hirose looked at Takasato with surprise. "You don't know?"
"I'm...not sure. The words just suddenly came into my mind..."
Takasato appeared very confused. "...It's weird, but lately I keep feeling like I'm going to suddenly remember something..."
"From that time?"
"I think so."
It'd been seven years since Takasato returned. For seven years, Takasato has been kept from recalling those memories.
"Since before I fell out of the window, when they wanted me to bow down and apologize."
Hirose remembered. It was the first time he saw Takasato revealing an intense expression and shouting resolutely. —"No!" he'd called out.
"I don't even know why, but I felt like it was something I couldn't do."
Hirose watched as Takasato became troubled.
"I said I couldn't do it. Actually, before then, I'd always thought that if my apology could make everything all right, then I'd do it, but in the moment when I was being forced down to the floor, it felt like something I just couldn't do."
Everybody has that thing called dignity, and people were creatures who understood disgrace. Takasato interrupted Hirose firmly. "No, it wasn't shame or regret. It was an inability to do so. In my heart I was thinking, there wasn't any way I could kneel down to them and beg for forgiveness."
Takasato stopped here. It seemed as if he had closed his mouth because he was a little embarrassed at having revealed so much of what he truly felt.
"Is that so? At the time, it looked to me like you were dumbstruck."
Takasato nodded. "In the moment that I thought such a thing, I almost remembered somebody. That train of thought snatched away my attention..."
"Who was it?"
"I don't know. It felt like a shadow. I knew it was a person, but I didn't know what kind of person it was..." Takasato sighed. "And then, when I look at this Guiana Highlands photo book, its scenery gives me the feeling that I've seen it before... Like, Houzan."
"Yomogi, mugwort. Mt. Hou. That word just pops up in my head, but I don't know what it is." [note: the kanji for "yomogi," which means "mugwort," is the same as the "hou" in "houzan."]
Hirose walked to the bookshelf and pulled out a map. Was there such a mountain? Was it in Japan, or was it somewhere else? But after looking it up, he didn't find a mountain with that name.
Hirose's gaze fell upon the sketchbook. The strange view that he'd sketched with countless lines, that was Mt. Hou, a place that had something to do with Takasato's lost year.
It was then that the bell that had stopped ringing sounded out once again.
Hirose glanced over toward the kitchen for only a moment and then looked away again. The ringing of the bell continued and with it, Hirose heard someone calling out to him.
Hirose sat up.
It sounded like a student calling to him, and other than that voice, he could hear those of others, as if they were conversing with the person who had rang the doorbell.
Hirose stood up, walked to the entrance hall, and cautiously opened the door.
"Oh, so you are home." The one that was speaking was Sakata, and behind him stood a few eager men who began to ask a torrent of questions. Hirose undid the door chain and opened the door.
"Get in," urged Hirose, and without even looking at the other people outside, immediately shut the door again.
"Amazing, huh?" said Sakata as he took off his shoes. His tone seemed to imply that he was a bit excited.
"If you're feeling so envious, you're welcome to it. So, what's up?" asked Hirose, as he walked back to the 6-tatami room.
"I was just wondering where Takasato was. I went to his house, and—" Sakata stopped when he saw the person in question inside the room, and couldn't help but open his mouth in astonishment. Takasato lightly nodded at him.
"Ta..." Sakata was about to say Takasato's name when Hirose stopped him. Sakata was taken aback. Hirose glanced over toward the door.
Hirose closed the glass sliding door. "Sorry, but could you keep the fact that he's here a secret?"
"No problem, but why is Takasato at your place?"
"It's a long story. I asked his parents to let me look after him for now."
Sakata looked down at Takasato. Takasato's hands were resting upon the cover of the closed sketchbook as he sat with his head bowed.
Sakata sat down next to him.
"Takasato, you haven't been to school in a while. I was so worried."
Takasato looked at Sakata lacking any particular expression on his face, and didn't answer him.
"I called your house. I even went over there myself, but no one was there. The storm shutters were closed too. I thought to myself, where could you be?"
Takasato didn't say anything at all; he simply wrinkled his brow slightly. Sakata didn't pay much attention to his reaction.
"Ah, Takasato, I don't know if you know who I am. We've never been in the same class before."
"I don't." It was an extremely brief reply.
"I figured you wouldn't. I'm Sakata. I've always wanted to meet you and talk to you. Takasato, the things going on right now, they must be hard on you, huh? Though, I'm on your side."
Sakata opened his mouth and began to talk ceaselessly. Takasato hardly responded. It wasn't until Sakata asked him a direct question that he gave a curt reply, though when there weren't any questions, he remained silent. Throughout the course of the conversation, he merely stared at Sakata, expressionless.
Hirose had a strange feeling. Takasato's face as it looked now was just like how it had been when Hirose had first seen him. It was as if the Takasato that had been smiling and chatting with him before had never existed.
—Who was it that said Takasato lacked emotion?
Hirose rolled complicated thoughts through his head as he watched Takasato's static profile. Is this how he had spent his life? Saying nothing, looking at nothing. And so, no one understood Takasato; no one paid attention to Takasato. Considering these two, which one was the cause and which one the effect? Did Takasato shut out the world, or did the world shut out Takasato?
"As for Iwaki, well, we reap what we sow," continued Sakata without stopping. "It's because he slapped you. That was just out of line. And what did he say? If you have the guts to curse me, then do it! He should never have doubted you at all. And as a result, what happened to him was regrettable, but really, he brought that on himself."
"Did he?" asked Takasato calmly, though his temperament was resolute.
"That's what I'm saying! Those who test Takasato's abilities are in the wrong."
"There's no reason Iwaki-kun had to die. No matter what kind of person he was, that should never have happened to anyone."
Sakata was a bit taken aback by Takasato's intensity. After blinking a few times, he quickly forced a smile. "Well, each of us has a lifespan. Iwaki died because he was at the end of his, so you really needn't blame yourself."
Takasato hung his head and didn't reply.
Sakata didn't really take Takasato's bearing to heart, and immediately started up his chatter again. The contents of his speech included mostly talk about how everyone else was foolish and uninteresting. It was because people were stupid that when they saw someone of unusual intelligence, they would only regard them as heretical. And those that disparaged the heretical didn't know that in reality, they were the ones whose existence should be spurned. —Sakata repeated this sort of talk over and over again.
Hirose was agitated by an unease and disquiet that were hard to describe. He had no way of understanding what was going through Sakata's head. Sakata's repeated expressions of his philosophy which seemed all right, but were in actuality incorrect, made Hirose helplessly unhappy. At the same time, he felt an overwhelming discomfort. He felt as if he could see the room filled with colorless and transparent blocks, and those around Sakata were slowly crumbling.
After a long while, it didn't look at all as if Sakata was going to close his mouth. Based on his own experiences, he discussed to no end the stupidity of humanity.
The unsettled Hirose tried to be indirect in his urging Sakata to leave, but Sakata didn't get Hirose's intentions at all. —Or perhaps he was just pretending not to understand. When the color of dusk was slowly creeping up outside, Hirose finally decided to employ firmer language.
"Sakata, we're going to be eating dinner soon."
Sakata smiled and said, "Oh? You guys sure eat early."
"We don't often cook ourselves, so we need a little bit more time to prepare. So..."
"Ah, don't worry about me. You guys go do your thing. I had a late lunch."
Hirose sighed. "That's no good. We couldn't be at ease if you just stood by and watched us eat."
"Well then, when you guys eat, I'll go wait outside."
"If you do that, then it'll be late when you eventually go home."
"That's okay, I don't mind staying here tonight. My parents won't have a problem with it."
Hirose sighed again. "I don't have an extra futon, and the room's so small."
"I'm all right with staying in the kitchen. Not fussing about where I sleep is my specialty," laughed Sakata.
Holding onto his annoyance, Hirose said, "I'm sorry, but could you please go home?"
For a second, Sakata stopped smiling. He looked strangely at Hirose. "Am I getting in the way here?"
Hirose's automatic reaction was to say no, but he quickly suppressed it. "...Things are just a wreck right now."
"Oh, I see," said Sakata coldly. He then stood up and raised his hand to Takasato. "Well, then. I'll be going, though it's regrettable. I'll be back to see how you're doing."
Hirose sighed deeply. "Sakata, please don't come back here. You know how the situation outside is like."
For a moment, it looked like Sakata was about to say something, but he simply murmured, hm. He hurriedly turned and walked to the entrance hall. After giving Hirose a sinister glance, he left. Hirose heaved a deep sigh as he locked the door.
When Hirose returned to the room in the back, he saw only Takasato looking up at him in bewilderment. Hirose smiled wryly. "Sorry, I couldn't take anymore."
Takasato laughed gently. "Me either."
- - - - -
"There are all sorts of people in this world," sighed Hirose uncertainly as he leaned against the bookshelf.
Takasato nodded. "There are, aren't there?"
People like Sakata depressed Hirose. At times like this, he had an urge deep in his heart to return to that other place.
"I think I've become a hermit."
Not understanding, Takasato tilted his head as he looked at him.
"It was probably when I was in high school. I had a dream—to run away to some mountain and hide; to farm a little piece of land, and live a life of simple self-sufficiency."
Takasato laughed. "I know what you mean."
Hirose smiled dryly. "But even if it's deep in the mountains, the land still needs to be bought. And even if I had a field, it doesn't necessarily mean there'd something to harvest year-round. I thought, it'd still be best to save up money to some degree first. I had to join society, work hard, and save up enough money. But then, that goal was just too big and too far away, so in the end, I gave up on it."
"You've got to go south."
"A place that's warm throughout the year. Not deep in a Japanese mountain, but somewhere in the jungles of a tropical rainforest. It has to be a place where you could find things to eat everywhere."
Hirose was taken aback. "The castaways described in novels all end up on some island in the south, because if they drifted to the north, there'd be no story to tell."
"You've got a point."
Takasato laughed lightly, and then looked down at the photo book in his hands.
"I think Venezuela's pretty good."
There's an old man named Laime living at the base of the tabletop mountain called Auyantepui which was part of the Guiana Highlands. He's a white man from Lithuania. He lives a life of simple self-sufficiency there, and is called "the Hermit." [note: i believe aleksandrs laime was latvian and not lithuanian. also, he has since passed away.]
"Roraima? You should plant yourself across from old man Laime and become 'the Hermit of Roraima.'"
That would be beyond imagination. Settling down wherever he felt like in the dense forest meant that he wouldn't have to deal with the judgments of others. Clearing out a space in the jungle and planting some bananas to live off of might be pretty good.
"If I really had to choose though, I'd want to live on the top..."
"That's easy to say, but it's really cold at the top of the mountain, because the elevation's close to 3000 meters. I don't think it's suitable for farming up there."
"Farming might be a problem, but something could probably be done about the cold, since the sunlight's so intense."
"What do you think about collecting crystals from the Crystal Valley and selling them?"
Takasato smiled. "No, it wouldn't be tolerated, and plus, the first issue I'd be facing would be that going down the mountain to sell the crystals would just be way too much trouble. It's sheer cliffs 800 meter-high, you know?"
"Then how about this? The Labyrinth of Rocks remains unexplored, right? We can find someone to sponsor us on the condition that we make a detailed map of the Labyrinth. Then we'd have plenty of free time. It's like killing two birds with one stone."
"...That sounds good."
"That's what I'm saying." Hirose quietly laughed with Takasato for a little while.
"Although, how would we make a map? We might already be lost before it's even the third day."
"I guess we'd have to build a little hut on the edge of the Labyrinth, and then survey it starting on the outside and slowly working our way in."
"It's about three kilometers long, and more than one and a half kilometers wide."
"We could move the little hut around as we explore. The rocks in the Labyrinth are all really big, aren't they? I can't tell how big they are by looking at a photograph, but they're probably as big as buildings. Also, the rocks have been worn by erosion into unusual shapes. I bet if we just looked, we could find rocks out of which we could make houses, just like the ones in Cappadocia."
The famous region with strangely-shaped crags and underground cities of Turkey was also one of the places where Hirose had longed to be.
"We could name the rocks as we explored, just like how people named the stars."
Takasato smiled. "Would we need to bring a compass?"
"Yes, a compass and rope. We could probably find a use for chalk too."
"But it rains a lot over there, and it's under the cover of fog for long periods of time."
"Then an umbrella and boots are a must."
Takasato laughed lightly, "An umbrella?"
"Yeah, and lightning's really scary, so you can't bring one with a metal frame. With an umbrella in one hand and a rope in the other, it's like a fairytale, isn't it?"
"A red umbrella'd be best."
"Red?" asked Hirose, and Takasato laughed and nodded.
"Red. The colors of the rocks are so dark, so I'll have to use a red umbrella. A dense fog in the midst of a maze of building-sized rocks, and then add a single red umbrella to it, isn't that even more like a fairytale?"
Hirose laughed. "Then I'll carry around a yellow one."
- - - - -
Hirose and Takasato ate and laughed together as they brought up funny-sounding ideas. By nighttime, they had already completely drawn up the plans for a life in seclusion.
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She opened the window.
It was a window on the third floor, and peering from it, she could see very clearly the buildings of the school, which together looked like a great, black ship. The reason she thought it looked like a ship was because it reminded her of an oil tanker she had seen on a field trip when she was in grade school.
She didn't know why, but she had been afraid of that tanker. Similarly, looking at the school buildings at night was also a bit frightening. Recently, a lot had happened, and unsettling rumors were making their rounds at her high school, but even before the rumors, she had been scared of the school—the buildings of the school.
She knew that directly across from the window, she could see the main school building that housed the faculty rooms. Right now, the windows of the school were covered by blinds, but when the blinds weren't closed, she could even make out the colors of the teacups on the desk next to the window.
Up above, she could see the towering classroom building off of which people had previously jumped and killed themselves, and next to it was the special classroom building. Sticking out from under that building's shadow was another classroom building.
She leaned next to the window and looked at the scary buildings for a while. Even though she thought them frightening and disagreeable, for some reason, if she didn't look at them a while before she went to sleep, she couldn't rest her mind. She felt it must have been that she needed to make sure, to be absolutely certain that it really wasn't something to be scared of, that it was simply a school enveloped in the night.
She rested her chin in her hands and her line of sight swept across the buildings. Suddenly, she creased her brow and leaned out the window with her hands supported by the window sill.
There seemed to be something moving around in one of the classroom buildings. She couldn't tell what it was because she was too far away. She opened the desk drawer and took out a small pair of binoculars that she had bought when she joined the birdwatching club.
Looking through the binoculars, she saw the figure of a person.
According to the girls at her school, the students of this school were their objects of yearning. For a time, it had been popular among the braver girls to sneak into the school at night and slip love notes into the lockers of the boys they were interested in. The establishment of this activity was possible because the classroom building was so frequently in use. The students would often forget to lock the windows on the first floor. However, there were also a few unlucky girls who had been caught by the security guard, so eventually it was stopped.
The reason she thought of that was because the figure was female. She wondered, could there really be someone still doing that? She immediately thought of the other rumors that were being spread at her school.
Her hands were trembling as she held the binoculars. The woman was wandering aimlessly beyond the window. She discovered through the binoculars that the window looked into a hallway.
She shivered as she set down the binoculars. In such a short amount of time, she hadn't been able to survey the scene completely. She turned her eyes back immediately, for now she saw something moving on the roof of the classroom building. She was drawn towards it and once again picked up her binoculars to check out the roof.
There was an animal on the roof that looked like a dog. How could there be a dog on the roof of the school? That roof had been the ill-omened setting for the incident involving the seven students who had leapt to their deaths. That a dog was wandering about up there was beyond illogical, and it made her uneasy.
With the binoculars, she swept her field of vision about the school. For some reason she felt that if she didn't look at the entire school once, it was as if she wouldn't be able to calm down. She looked through the binoculars to the side and glimpsed the passage facing the special classroom building. She saw a dark shadow on the second floor, a shadow that looked like it belonged to a big, black cow. Looking further to the side, she could see the windows of the classroom building. At this time, she thought she saw something crawling on the walls. It looked like a dark red leech with a body as long as the window was tall. The creature crept up from below like a slug. Looking above it, she become aware of a few leeches occupying the edge of the roof, and looking below, she saw several of them wriggling about at the base of the building.
In the courtyard there appeared to be black dwarves walking about. Turning toward the sports area, she spotted giant amoeba-like things clinging to the ground.
What are those things? She dropped her binoculars. What the heck is going on at that school?
Just as she was about to close the window in fear, she suddenly noticed the glimmer of a shooting star. She chased the light with her eyes, and realized it wasn't a shooting star at all. Stunned, her jaw dropped.
It was a beast not unlike a deer. Where it was different from a deer was its body, which shimmered dimly. Not knowing where it had flown from, she saw it land lightly upon the roof of the classroom building. Puzzling enough, she wasn't frightened. On the contrary, all the discomfort she had felt previously had quickly disappeared.
The beast very quickly vanished to a place she knew not where, but not before it had already filled her with an exceptional calm as she slowly closed the window.