The place Kume-san directed me to was a region filled with apartment complexes a little ways away from the station. Away from the main road, where only futon shops, cleaning stores, Izakayas, stores appealing to the direct local crowd dotted the place. The lack of prosperity wasn’t much different from a residential district in the middle of the day. So when I stood before the indicated complex and spotted the antique bookstore occupying the first floor, I was confused in spite of being informed of it beforehand.
How was an old bookstore surviving in a place like this—
One look was enough to tell the store was a clutter.
It was the sort of bookstore you might see in Kanda-Jinbocho, the sort wit books piled up the edges of the eves. The dustiness could be conveyed outside, and entering the shop required some courage.
By the way, to the right of it was a Ramen store with the shutters down, to the left, a western apparel store catering to old women (judging by the impression).
“So this is… the origin of the legend.”
The store’s interior was narrow. What’s more, because the bookshelves were huddled together to the very limit, it became even more cramped. So cramped, it would be impossible to slip passed another person between the shelves. On the floor, book bundles bound in vinyl threads, were mercilessly stacked up with too much empty space like a shoddily-played game of Tetris.
There was evidentially no intention to display products in any tidy manner. Neither was there any mind to maintain hygienics in the store. The paper taped to the glass of the entrance sliding door had nothing but ‘Shoplift!’ written on it in red, quite a perplexing statement. Usually, Don’t shoplift, or Shoplifters will be arrested was the norm. Meaning, this store was far from a normal store, and its shadiness was also fitting of the land that birthed a legend.
After venturing further and further into the narrow store buried in old books, “Whoa,” the sight of a beauty in a red kimono sitting behind a cramped fifty-centimeter-ish counter almost made me jump back.
The manuscript I was looking for—I recalled Kume-san’s words— was in the furthest reaches of the old bookstore, it was hidden in the read-only, not-for-sale corner.
Countless bookshelves had changed what was once an open space into a complicated maze. The back passage passed the counter had a placed with a single curtain draped over it. Whether I was allowed to pass beyond it or not… I looked at the shopkeeper, hesitating whether to ask or not, when the pretty lady raised her face, turned me a modest smile and told me, “The adult section,” I immediately straightened my back, but shortly “… is not in that direction so please proceed at your leisure” she added on. If nothing else, I had a vague sense I was being teased. I was running into a lot of weirdos these days. Dammit.
After regrouping, I marched on.
It was blatantly the adult section.
“You lied to me!”
But at the end of the adult section was the not-for-sale corner I was looking for.
I hate this store.
The manuscript I was looking for—came Kme-san’s secretive whisper— is sandwiched in the pages of a local history book. It was a small corner. It didn’t take long to find.
Locally history was a topic that wouldn’t sell to a particularly wide demographic. While the same books were left in small bookstores around the shopping district, they gave off the sense they hadn’t sold in ten years.
An antique local history was at an even greater disadvantage.
While the price printed on the back cover listed it as a faded one thousand yen, the tag identified it was not for sale. What could be bought for a discount at the shopping district. It was a mystery for what reason it was being kept.
That’s just how perfect the camouflage is— I recalled the look in Kume-san’s eyes, as if he was boasting of the treasure he’d found. I tried skimming. The sour scent of old paper stung the air. Perfectly in the center, a colorful scrap of paper was sandwiched with the vividness of a pressed flower. The manuscript.
“Well I’ll be…”
The mysterious work known as the Voynich Manuscript was famous, and it was something similar. The manuscript was covered up in what looked like ancient writing. While they looked vaguely Japanese, there wasn’t a single character there I had ever seen before. That foreign language with a touch of Japanese was almost like a code.
There were a few colored illustrations, rendering the manuscript vibrant like a picture book. That’s what gave it a playful impression. The illustrations were of maps, of vegetation, of rocks, of brambly landscapes, of mysterious animals. There was no uniformity to them, on the contrary giving it a broader meaning. While it looked like a natural history magazine to me, according to Kume-san, it was a ‘Research document on spells,’ apparently.
The manuscript had fallen apart. Each page was preserved in a different interval of the history book. What was originally a not-for-sale volume, with all sorts of curious onlookers passing by and flipping through (it was apparently a famous manuscript in the area), it was dismantled, however, unable to take it out, it was preserved like this. If it was sandwiched in an unneeded book, perhaps those hopefuls would look forward to a chance they might be able to secretly buy it off (at a discount no less).
“It’s detailed, I’m surprised they got so much in by hand…”
It was apparently a complete unknown what hand had filled in the crowded codes and schema that covered it. This sort of thing couldn’t have been completed without a hint of dementia.
As I was flipping through the manuscript in the pages of the history book, I came across a drawing perfectly resembling the dragon’s nail.
“Here it is!”
There was no doubt whoever made the nail reproduced it from this. Some guy from the distant past. It hurt that I couldn’t read the letters. If I showed this to Ryouko, would her delusions clear up? Or could it be, she’d make up something new? Whatever the case, it was a large discovery, so reporting to Ryouko was a necessity. I was better not using my phone in the store. I took eight minutes to tap out the text, ‘Drgon info get, address ______ complex, thirst floor, love to brook store.’ And send it. I didn’t really what was happening after I hit space. When I looked back, for some reason, move had become love (seriously, why?).
The reply came in forty seconds.
‘This is Researcher. Emergency Signal Received. Transferring to point in 10sec.’
Ryouko was standing right next to me. Her other world costume the same as ever.
“W-when did you get here?”
“One moment ago.”
From the still-flapping curtain, even if the transfer part was a lie, that would mean she just happened to be somewhere nearby.
“Don’t tell me… you were tailing me?”
“Negative. Teleport. The truth.”
I let out a small cry. That was the face of a liar. She was tailing, stalking, a crime.
“Why were you tailing me!”
“Transfer is the only method to encounter Ichirou after school.”
I was at a loss for words.
“Then why weren’t you at school…?”
“Apart from speaking with Ichirou, it is impossible to discern any meaning in going, therefore school commute has been suspended.”
“… Is that so.”
While there was a lot I wanted to say, I had to finish my business first.
“Have a look at this. It’s not for sale, so you can’t bring it out in excitement.”
Ryouko took the book closely observing the page with the dragon terminal illustration. Her face with the glisten of silver plating was visibly pierced with the red of excitement.
“I-Ichirou. This discovery is exceedingly beneficial.”
“I know, right? But you can’t take it with you.”
“… Will attempt negotiation.”
“I doubt it’ll get you anywhere. I’m sure countless people have tried before you.”
To add to that, even if we took it, we wouldn’t be able to decrypt it.
“This is the identity of the item you call the dragon terminal. That’s all I wanted to tell you. I couldn’t obtain a real article, but I think this is the best information I’m capable of offering.”
That’s why, this is the end.
Ryouko was already entranced in the manuscript. Like an old typewriter, I could follow her eyes moving left and right in a systematic manner. Her eyes scanned through the other pages as well. I called to her from my side.
“Then I’ll be off, you can investigate until you’re satisfied. I can’t do anything about you coming to school, but just checking in for attendance is an option, so if you’re not sick, you’re better off attending. It’s better than getting counseled… I’m washing my hands with it. I’ll be protecting myself in the classroom, but I’ll at least consult over the phone. If possible, I’d be happy if you wanted to discuss rehabilitation.”
She wasn’t listening after all.
Something was bogging me down. But the search ended here.
While she turned for only a moment to my angered cry, her attention immediately returned to her hands. She wouldn’t try to understand a single part of my irritation. As she stooped over, bringing her eyes right up to the book, she looked far younger than she really was.
My heart froze over. Drenching yourself in delusion is no different from putting up walls. A childish delusion was no different from garbage. It’s not something you can blame anyone for. Nor is it something you can hoist up with pride.
I was made the leader of the oddball group, trying to live each day as it came, but she never even considered opening her heart to me.
I don’t care if I’m narrow-minded. I don’t mind if you insult me, call me cold. I just want to be a normal human being. I want to say good riddance to my past self.