by Ono Fuyumi
translated by Aili
and then translated again by Retrooo
©ONO FUYUMI, PINPOINT INC.
last modified, 10.11.2006
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 Guyana 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 want 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 Guyana 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.
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