“Yeah. I received the living expenses. Yep. No, I’m hanging up. International calls are expensive. Yep. Talk to you later.”
I one-sidedly hung up. Dad was a talker, if you let him be, he’d talk for over an hour, so I needed to be cautious myself. After hanging up, I sat on the living room sofa, reaching my hand out to the envelope that had been delivered yesterday.
Inside, a hundred thousand yen.
It came from my parents overseas, my current living expenses.
Personally speaking, instead of sending over cold hard cash, I’d prefer it if they did a bank transfer, but dad said, “There’ll be some trouble if it goes through a bank. The money laundering will–” so it was settled with ‘in-cash payments at regular intervals’.
Was it really alright to send money in a common brown envelope? And wait, when this money is supposed to be being directly sent from overseas, why was it in Japanese bills?
“… Well, I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Linking thoughts became a pain, so I abandoned them.
It’s my father we’re talking about, so I’m sure he prepared it in Japanese Yen with me in mind. He’s a splendid dad who taught me what money laundering means. ‘It’s that terrible thing that happens when you forget your money in your pants pocket, and it gets all messed up in the wash.’
I clenched the hundred thousand yen in my hands.
“… I’ll use it with care.”
It’s the money mom and dad worked their butts off earning for my sake. I have to plan it all out without wasting a cent.
When I was softly seeping in familial love, ding-dong, the bell rang. Who could it be on a holiday morning? I headed for the entrance, opened the door—and jumped back.
Because of the strange getup of the man before me.
To sum it up in two words, a practicing monk, was the feel he gave off. Because of the amigasa he wore, I could only see his mouth and the slight beard growing from his chin. He wore a black priest’s garb, with Japanese sandals on his feet and a large khakkhara in his hand.
I lost my words before the strange-looking man.
He suddenly cried. Clink, he sounded his staff. With a grim countenance, he surveyed the area.
“This house is possessed by an evil spirit!”
Just what was this person saying?
“This is bad… I’ve been on a long exorcising journey, but this is the first time I’ve felt such strong waves. If it’s not dealt with soon, you’re in for some real trouble!”
“Look, right behind you…”
“Eh!? Is there something there?”
“This is bad. It’s too terrible to even describe…”
“Hey! Don’t clam up there, what is it!?”
“Anyways, calm down. Are you listening? Look calmly into my eyes, and listen to what I have to say.”
“This house is possessed by an evil spirit.”
“… Is it really…”
No, no way, that’s not happening… for this house to be possessed…
“Hasn’t anything bad happened to you lately?”
I bit on with all my might.
“Yesterday, I hit my little toe on the corner of the dresser.”
“Yeah, that’s without a doubt the evil spirit’s doing.”
“T-then when today’s morning horoscope put me at rock bottom…”
“No mistake,” said the practicing monk. “Is there anything else troubling you?”
“Umm… a girl in my class has a weak stomach, and has to run to the bathroom a lot.”
“Yeah, that’s undoubtedly the evil spirit.”
“Then when one of my underclassmen cosplays as a witch and romps around town…”
“It’s the evil spirit.”
“When my upperclassman lonesomely practices ventriloquism alone…”
“Do I even have to say it?”
The evil spirit possessing my house is causing problems for everyone. The reason they all got just a little strange like that was all my fault…
Aaah! How can I look them in the eye again!?
“It’s nothing to be down about, mister.”
As I sank to my knees in despair, the monk called out in a gentle voice.
“You haven’t done anything wrong. It’s all the evil spirit’s work.”
Taking off his amigasa, he directed warm eyes at me.
“… But what am I supposed to…”
“Don’t worry about a thing!”
He gave me a strong pat on the shoulder, producing an urn from the sleeve of his garment.
“I embedded this with an evil-dispelling force, the tha~nkful urn. As long as you set this urn out in the demon gate of your home, I’m sure it will immediately clean away the evil spirit!”
Raising a joyous cry, I stared fixatedly at the urn.
Now that he brought it up, I definitely got the feeling it was letting off some sort of incredible power. At a glance, it might look like what might be sold at the hundred yen shop, but I’m sure it was bestowed with high-class techniques an amateur like me had no hopes of noticing.
“But, and it really pains me to say it, this face was made with exceptionally valuable soil, so the price tag can’t help but be on the hefty side…”
“I-it costs money…”
I didn’t think it would be free, but if it was too expensive…
“What are you talking about!? It’s that obsession with money that fuels the evil spirits of this house!”
I see, I treasured the money my parent sent me so much I became a money-hungry fiend?
Well certainly, there’s no point in money if you just save it away. The more you use, the more the Japanese economy flourishes.
“… Understood. I’ll buy that urn!”
“Oh! Bless you, young man! I knew you’d understand!”
“So about the cost…”
“Right… ah, by the way, around how much would you be able to put up at a moment’s notice?”
“I currently have around one hundred thousand yen inside the house…”
“Wow! What a coincidence! The price of this urn just happens to be exactly one hundred thousand yen!”
“Whoah. That really is a coincidence. I’m sure it was my fate to purchase that urn!”
“It’s just as you say! Now, now, before you change your min—I mean, you’d better install this urn as soon as possible, so if you would…”
I hurriedly returned to the living room and picked up the envelope with my living expenses.
I’ll be doing some worthwhile shopping.
“Eighty, ninety, one hundred. Yes, sure enough. Then here’s your urn. Take care.”
After I gave him the money, the monk handed over the tha~nkful urn before immediately preparing to leave.
“I’m supposed to put it in the demon gate, right? Where exactly in the house is demon gate, specifically?”
“Ah, don’t worry about that. That thing’s real effective, so just leave it wherever.”
His service suddenly became quite arbitrary.
I could acutely feel a, nothing left to do here, aura seeping through the air.
“U-um, would you at least give me your name?”
I asked the monk who had turned his back to me, leaving in a huff.
There, he turned, giving a refreshing grin.
“I am but a lowly travelling monk.”
Pulling his amigasa down over his eyes, he hid his expression. And firmly raising his thumb he said this.
“My name’s not worth giving.”
Shot through the heart, I continued waving to the monk until he was out of sight.
Wow, there really are good people out there.
I’m sure that person would continue his journey, purifying people of evil spirits. Thank you, nameless monk! I’ll never forget you!
“I was triiiiccccckkkeeeeddddd!”
Finally noticing I had been set up the next morning, felt so irritated and pathetic, in a corner of the classroom, I held my head in agony.
I lost one hundred thousand yen.
My current living expenses all went poof.
How am I supposed to live on from tomorrow…
“… You know,”
As I crouched, from overhead, a voice filled with ample pity rained down.
“Kagoshima-kun, you really are an idiot.”
Chck. The knife of words pierced deep into my heart. If this was a manga, that would be when a sharp jutting arrow pierced me through. When I raised my face, the class rep Orino-san was looking at me with the eyes one directed at a hopeless child.
Orino Shiori. An earnest honor student, a girl whose weak stomach was occasionally her weak point. Her appearance went back and forth somewhere between the lines of cute and pretty, I guess.
“Why were you tricked that easily, seriously.”
“His skillful speech led me on…”
“No, from what I’ve heard, he wasn’t skillful in the slightest.”
Before Orino-san who curtly cut me off, I could only shrink back.
Today morning, I was convinced the urn had exorcised away the evil spirits, stepping into the classroom with my tensions sky high.
“Good morning, Orino-san. Ah, hey, listen to this. Yesterday, a kind traveler sold me an urn. Thanks to that, the evil spirit possessing my house was cleansed away. Well, the hundred million yen was painful, but it was a precious urn, so it can’t be helped.”
I triumphantly bragged.
While I was talking, Orino-san’s complexion gradually worsened, in the end having lost its color entirely, “Kagoshima-kun. Could you explain it in detail…” She said coldly.
After that, Orino-san did her best to explain I had been tricked, but not wanting to accept my failing, “If you’re going to make fun of that monk, even if it’s you Orino-san, I won’t permit it!” I said in the sort of tone that might form irreparable rifts in intrapersonal relationships.
But in no time, I had lost the argument and was forced to accept what I never wanted to, the fact I had been scammed.
“… Well. Well well, well well well well.”
I slowly stood. Brushing aside my bangs, I pat my uniform straight as I spoke full of leisure.
“Well, well I did think it was a little strange.”
“Don’t have to act tough.”
“Urk… you’re wrong. I was thinking of everyone…”
“Don’t shift the responsibility.”
The usually kind Orino-san was kinda harsh. Perhaps she had concluded me to be a “Pamper him, and he’ll become hopeless” sort of man.
“Well, that being the case, this really isn’t a situation to laugh at,” Orino-san’s face turned serious. “That’s a bonafide case of fraud, and the sum was as it was. That man might try repeating the same means again. You’d better contact the police.”
“R-right. We can’t let him trick the good people of this town!”
“… And Kagoshima-kun, stop recklessly trusting the stories of people you don’t know.”
“… Yes,” I gave a powerless nod. “So… umm, Orino-san. Could you not tell the others about this? Especially not Kurisu-chan…”
“Yeah? Of course, I don’t plan to spread it… but why?”
“No, there’s a limit to being pathetic, see. And I want to be a reliable senpai to Kurisu-chan.”
“… Kurisu-chan probably doesn’t have one iota of respect for you as a reliable senpai.”
No, there’s no way that’s true.
Kurisu-chan always shows me a friendly smile. While that smile occasionally looks like it’s just social courtesy, it goes without saying that’s just my imagination.
“Anyways, this’ll be our little secret. Got it?”
“Hmm, our little secret, huh…”
For a slight instant, Orino-san’s expression loosened. But she soon pulled it tight and spoke with the same earnest face as ever.
“Got it. Then we should set up some countermeasures, the two of us.”
There the bell rung, the strategy meeting was put on hold.
We took our own seats, and just before the chime was about to end, the classroom door opened to pave the way for our homeroom teacher, Hoshikawa-sensei.
“Ahem, I have a new friend to introduce to you today.”
With some rough greetings, Hoshikawa-sensei said such a thing.
The class was suddenly astir. A boy, or a girl? There were conversations breaking out here and there. A new friend, meaning a transfer student.
Now normally, I’d be as interested as the average person, but I wasn’t in the mood. My mood was too blue through the loss of a hundred thousand yen.
“Yeah, yeah, settle down. Well then, Kikyouin-san, come in.”
As Hoshigawa-sensei said that, a single girl appeared at the classroom door.
My eyes were immediately drawn to her blonde hair. Rather than cleanly dyed or natural, it looked like a darker pigment had been drained away, more pale than bright. Her blond hair was bunched into one at a high point.
The look in her eyes was a little harsh. Alongside the frown she carried on her mouth, it made for a strong-willed impression.
Still sour-faced, she stood on the podium.
“Then please introduce yourself.”
With a short answer, the transfer student picked up a stick of chalk and wrote her name on the blackboard.
What lovely penmanship. There’s no doubt she was versed in calligraphy, I’m sure the whole class was thinking.
“ Kikyouin Yuzuki. Let’s get along.”
Putting the chalk down and turning to us, Kikyouin-san said with a terribly bored voice. At the very least, from that voice, she didn’t show much of a desire to get along with anyone. More that she just added it on because it was part of the template of a self-introduction.
“ Kikyouin moved here from Kyouto,” In a sullenly silent Kikyouin-san’s place, Hoshigawa-sensei added on. “Everyone treat her well. Also, Orino, Kagoshima.”
“Yes,” “Yes” Orino-san and I raised our hands.
“Those two are our class’s rep and vice rep. If anything happens, go to them.”
Once again, Kikyouin-san simply gave a business-like reply.
Moving just her eyes, she looked over the classroom.
Slowly… her eyes stopped on me.
The moment our eyes met, she winced just a bit.
I wonder why?
Could it be we’ve met before? No, I doubt it. She’s quite an impression-leaving girl, if I met her, there’s no way I’d forget.
[IMAGE GOES HERE]
While I pondered over it, Kikyouin-san took her eyes off me and reverted to her original expression face.
The transfer student Kikyouin-san was an exceptionally nonchalant person.
When homeroom was over, a great many of our classmates went up to her to ask her a great many questions. But she simply evaded them all, an expressionless look on her face.
While she didn’t make an unpleasant face, she blatantly took on an unpleasant attitude.
Perhaps her, “leave me alone” aura had an effect, as what would be a festive event to the students, the appearance of a transfer student, was over before it started.
Regardless of that, during the midday break, Orino-san and I pushed desks together to eat lunch.
If you’re asking why I was eating lunch with Orino-san, the reason was simple and clear.
So I could have some of her lunch.
… There should be a limit to being pathetic, me.
Normally, I’d buy bread at the school store, but having lost my current living expenses, my financial situation was terribly harsh.
“Hah,” I leaked a sigh of admiration. “Your cooking is as tasty as ever.”
“Y-you think? Thank you.”
“The white rice is especially tasty. When it comes to Japan, it’s got to be rice.”
“… Kagoshima-kun, you’re just generally bad at praising people.”
Orino-san was fed-up. Crap. I guess there’s no point in praising her white rice.
“But it really is amazing that you woke up in the morning to cook a bento.”
I tried following through as I gazed over her bento once more. Not a single bit of frozen food, a girly lunch-box filled with that hand-made feel.
“If you do it every day, you just get used to it. In my case, cooking’s like a hobby. I often make my own dishes.”
“Ah, I get you, I get you. Making up dishes sure is fun. I’m often pursuing my own unique flavor.”
“… I’m sorry, please don’t group us together.”
She made an extremely reluctant face. That was the face of a painter whose painting was compared to an infant’s scribble.
Hmm. This is a surprising thing I only found out about recently, but apparently, I’m what the world commonly refers to as having no sense of taste.
It’s a bit complex, but I’ve started to think, “Isn’t it actually a charm point?”
A selling point of my positive self.
“Now then,” with the meal over and the bento put away, Orino-san spoke. “About the man who scammed you, let’s put some thought into it.”
“… You’re right.”
The fun lunchtime almost made me forget, but I was currently in an incredible pinch. I shouldn’t avert my eyes from reality.
… Ah, I want to look away. Can’t I have a bit of escapism?
“When tomorrow comes, Do you think the spirit of the lake will pop up and ask, ‘did you drop this gold hundred million yen, or this silver hundred million yen?’ so we can all live happily ever after?”
“Quit dreaming… er rather, what even is a gold hundred million yen?”
Think about it seriously, she scolded me, so I thought some.
“… But I don’t think there’s much we can do besides contacting the police, realistically speaking.”
“Right… but at the current stage, we have too little information Did you find out the person’s name or anything?”
“For argument’s sake, I did get curious and ask…”
“He said it’s not a name worth giving.”
“I thought he was a modest and cool person.”
Chck. My heart was wounded again.
Ah, but when Orino-san calls me an idiot, it actually doesn’t feel very bad. Since I’ve gotten to the point of thinking that, perhaps I’m already beyond salvation.
“If you want, I can put in a word to the police. I know a few people who know a few people. But even if it’s possible, I don’t really want to have to explain the reason to them…”
“Wait, Orino-san, You have that authority?”
“Ah, I-I don’t, no way!”
While for a brief moment, Orino-san let off the air of someone in an organization with a deep connection to the place, what’s more, a big shot with a relatively high place in that organization, as she hastily waved her hand, she looked like no more than an ordinary high school girl.
As usual, Orino-san ran her mouth incomprehensibly from time to time.
“… Hah. So the doors are shut.”
I slumped over the desk.
“But before all of that, I need to secure food expenses. From tomorrow, no from today night, I wonder what I’m going to eat to live…”
“U-Um, about that.”
When I held my head, Orino-san raised her voice.
Her cheeks a little red, she bashfully spoke.
“Just for a while, I could make your–”
A cool voice barged into the conversation.
When I turned, the one there was the transfer student Kikyouin-san.
“You, come with me.”
Still sour, she looked at me with cold eyes.
“Who, you mean me?”
“Hurry up. I want to get it over before lunch break ends.”
Regardless of my answer, Kikyouin-san turned on her heels and walked off.
“Ah, wait a second.”
I hurriedly stood from my seat, following behind her for the time being.
“Wait, Kikyouin-san,”Orino-san said. “Is there something you don’t get? In that case, I’ll go with you. I’m class rep, so–”
At that unrestrained word, “Wha-” Orino-san’s expression hardened.
“I don’t need yer meddlin’. I–” She pointed at me, “—have business with that one.”
“What do you mean meddling!? When I’m trying to…”
“That’s whatcha call meddlin’.”
“… And what business do you even have with Kagoshima-kun?”
“What? Are you his girlfriend or something?”
To the question she irritably spat out, Orino-san’s face turned red.
“Then this has nothin’ to do with ya. Go away.”
Kikyouin-san started off again. “Look, you hurry up too,” she urged me on, so still not knowing what was going on, I tagged behind.
The place Kikyouin-san took me was the rarely-used area behind the gym. As for why she knew where it was when she was supposed to have just transferred in today, “I spent the first half of lunch break looking for a spot,” apparently.
“As long as we can be alone, anywhere would be fine.”
She said flippantly as she stared at me.
And I was nervous stiff.
I gulped down my spit, frantically analyzing my current situation with a boiled-over face.
A girl called me out. Behind the gym. A place we could be alone.
… Hey now.
No matter what anyone thought, it had to be a confession.
In a moment, Kikyouin-san was going to confess to me.
My heart soared to an idiotic height. I mean, it was my first ever confession! No, wait a second, on close inspection, that’s strange. Kikyouin-san just transferred in hours ago. We barely even conversed.
Thus there is only one conclusion I can make.
This is what the world calls—love at first sight.
… Wait. Could it be I was actually cool?
“You’re actin’ weird. It’s creepy.”
What cold words does she hold for the man she’s fallen for?
Even so, she’s pretty calm about all this, Kikyouin-san.
When she’s going to confess to me, I couldn’t feel anything like heightened emotion. Her complexion hadn’t changed in the slightest. It was still a sickly pale.
Could it be this girl… she’s used to this.
Dammit. To a veteran, a confession might be a trivial happening, but to a pure boy like me, it’s a grand event that I’ll remember for the rest of my life!
I took a single deep breath. Calm down, you have to calm down, Kagoshima Akira. Be cool. While I’m really happy that Kikyouin-san came to like me, unfortunately, I have not come to like her.
I mean, I’ve only just met her.
It would be easy to lightly give the okay and start dating. But that’s not the sort of relationship I’m looking for. Am I a wimp? A coward? Behind the times?
Hmph. Call me what you will.
When it comes to these sorts of things, I don’t just want to give in. Love and affection, dating or not, I don’t want to decide on those things so easily.
That’s why—I’ll properly turn her down.
“It might be surprisin’ to hear this all ‘f a sudden, but…”
Kikyouin-san spoke in a calm tone unthinkable for a confession.
I quietly nodded. My chest was full with apologetic sentiment. I’m sorry, Kikyouin-san. When you mustered up your courage (though it doesn’t look like that at all) to confess to me.
Ah, good grief.
What a sinful man am I.
“You’re possessed by evil spirits.”
“Can we start as frie—huh?”
What did she just say, this girl?
An evil spirit…?
That was a term I had heard before. More specifically, yesterday morning.
“The ghosts of a couple who passed in a traffic incident. The couple’s getting’ along quite nicely, stuck to your back. Now they’re lookin’ mighty embarrassed.”
She was looking at me… no, at something behind me.
“They’re not really strong, so there shouldn’t be any real harm… but you at least feel a chill, aight? Was it hard to sleep last night?”
“No, not particularly…”
“That so. Good for you. Well, they’re better off passing on quick. Nothin’ good comes of lingerin’ in the world. I want to lay them to rest fast.”
“… Umm Kikyouin-san, what have you been talking about for…”
“Oh that. I see ghosts.”
She nonchalantly tossed it out light as a feather.
“In Kyoto, my family’s been onmyouji for generations. There’s this clan that carries the blood of that famous Abeno Seimei guy, and the Kikyouin house is a branch family. I’m the eldest daughter. You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?”
“The reason I came to this town, to put it real simple, is for practical trainin’. Before I become an adult, it’s custom to get sent ‘round to sacred ground all over the place—that’s where there’re lots of ghosts and yokai by the way.”
I felt an ominous sweat flow down my back.
It kinda felt like the confession was still a confession nonetheless, but she just confessed something even more amazing to me. She suddenly went on about seeing ghosts, and being an onmyouji.
“O-oh really. That sounds amazing.”
I said. But, well, I didn’t fully swallow down what she was telling me. Fool me once, they say. I went through some pain yesterday. I’ve properly learned from experience.
Perhaps inferring something from seeing me pull back a bit,
“Well, whether you believe me or not doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t change what I’m doing.”
Kikyouin-san said bluntly, lightly exhaling a sigh.
In my head, there had been a slight possibility of, “She was so nervous when she tried to confess, that she started running her mouth on ghosts and other incomprehensible things,” but it seems that line was thin.
Still, so it’s come to being possessed by an evil spirit…
… Ah, those events from yesterday quickly developing into a trauma came back to me.
“I’m going to send the ghosts possessin’ ya to heaven real quick, so stay still a minute.”
“I can’t pay you any money!”
I cried out in my poverty.
“Right now, I really have no money! I can’t even feed myself! If you want to trick someone, please choose someone with more money!”
“… Hah? What are you talkin’ about, dude?”
“You may want to trick me, but I won’t go down so easily! It’s that! Yeah, that! My dad is a lawyer, so there’s hell waiting for you if you scam me!”
I put up a bluff with all my might. That was all my might.
“Seriously, what’s up with you all of a sudden? What, did you fall for a phony exorcist scam or somethin’?”
“W-what!? What might you be talking about, young girl?”
I brute forced my way through with all my might.That was all my might.
Finding my dawdling irritating, Kikyouin-san swept back her blond hair and exhaled a large breath.
“I’m not takin’ your money, just stop moving.”
“Really? Can I take your word for it? Don’t demand anything later. My dad’s an international lawyer, so I’m really knowledgeable about that sort of thing–”
“Ah, god! You’re persistent! Just shut up and stand still!”
As she snapped and shouted at me, I reflexively stood at attention.
Kikyouin-san slickly pulled a sheet of paper from her pocket. That white rectangular paper was adorned with letters of which I couldn’t tell what language they belonged to.
With a smack, she slapped the paper onto my forehead.
“Oww. Hey, can’t you be a little–”
“… Yes ma’am.”
She’s a scary one. Completely in her own world, that one.
In various ways, she’s scary.
Gazing at her as she closed her eyes and began concentrating, I faintly thought. She said money wasn’t her objective, which means… right.
She’s just saying she can see ghosts to draw everyone’s attention…
Come to think of it, there was one of those in my elementary school, a girl who was desperately trying to become popular. I’m sure there’s at least one in every school. But if she was still saying it after getting to high school, that’s a little harsh. I can only say she’s setting up her character completely wrong.
Kikyouin-san calmly sucked in a breath.
Whoah! She’s started saying some convincing-sounding things!
Before my eyes, she started moving a hand with two fingers stuck up in circles.
Wringing out her voice, she stopped her hand smack dab in front of the paper on my head. Just what was she doing, I thought, but as Kikyouin-san was simply so serious, I couldn’t say anything.
“… Okay, it’s over.”
Letting out a relieved breath, Kikyouin-san lowered her hand. At the same time, the talisman on my head peeled off, fluttering gently to the ground.
“The couples’ ghosts successfully passed on. There really is nothin’ good about being bound to this world, so that’s good.”
I did it, was the expression she made.
“Ah, you don’t have to do anythin’. I didn’t do the exorcism for your sake or anythin’. Having a possessed guy in the same class as me was just an eyesore.”
“I won’t say don’t tell anyone about this. You can spread it or do whatever you want. It’s not like anyone will believe you, and even if they do, they’ll just find me creepy.”
Seeya, she said.
After saying whatever she wanted, Kikyouin-san soon disappeared from the area behind the gym.
As the one left behind, I leaned my back against the concrete wall, worming my way down it to a squat on the ground.
“… That was painful.”
This was a cringe equal if not greater to the eighth-grade syndrome cosplayer Kurisu-chan. I get being anxious after transferring schools, but there really is something up about saying you can see ghosts to get everyone’s attention.
Well, compared to that phony exorcist scam, her lack of ill intent made her a hundred times better.
I turned my head to gaze over my shoulder.
I couldn’t see anything.
Kikiyouin-san exorcised me, so even if there was something there, there’s no way I could see it, but even so, I couldn’t bring myself to believe there was a ghost on my own back up to a moment ago.
Well, sure enough, now that she’d brought it up, maybe my shoulders did feel a bit lighter—
“No! I-I can’t, no way!”
Getting into that train of thought was falling right into Kikyouin-san’s trap (?).
My lightening shoulders was definitely the placebo erect!
I have to learn from experience.
Ghosts don’t exist!
“You’re making a long face there, Kagoshima.”
After school. Having come to the ComClub club room, I was playing fighting games with Kagurai-senpai. The round was over, and as I took a short rest, senpai asked with a worrying sort of teasing sort of voice. Gaming was Kagurai-senpai’s hobby and we would often play together after school.
But the way Kagurai-senpai played was quite peculiar.
“Hah. I’m sure your worries ‘re on the level of your mommy finding your porn stash, right? Good grief, you’re a petty brat, you know that.”
“Hey now, Gakuta. Don’t tease Kagoshima too much. Just because you’re mad he beat you.”
“Hah? What ‘re you talking about, Monyumi? I’m not mad at all. Yeah, I ain’t mad at all!”
“… Who’s the petty one here?”
“Shut it! Now kid, we’re going again!”
“Hmm. I’m sorry, Kagoshima. Making you tag along with this guy.”
“……. Well, I don’t really mind.”
As always, Kagurai-senpai’s ventriloquism level was so high it was a little scary, I thought as I moved the joystick to select a character.
The stuffed animal Gakuta was resting on Kagurai-senpai’s lap, and lifting up his small hands from behind, she used them to manipulate the controller. Twice the effort, half the returns.
“Mnn! Take that! Hah!”
Raising shouts, Gakuta-kun violently, repeatedly struck in button commands with his soft hands, while Kagurai-senpai looked over him tiredly.
No many times I saw it, it looked like Kagurai-senpai was just placing her hands on an autonomous Gakuta-kun, but that’s what you call an optical illusion.
“So anyways, Kagoshima.”
The match ended (with my win again), “Ngaa!” Gakuta-kun painfully writhed, and while producing his cries of anguish, Kagurai-senpai overlapped her own voice on top.
To think she can do two voices at once, she’s already a world-level ventriloquist.
Maybe I should get her signature before she takes the world by storm.
“Why are you making that depressing face? It doesn’t suit you.”
“Even I have my worries you know.”
“Hmm. I heard there was a transfer student in your class today, but could it be related to that?”
“I’m surprised you knew about that.”
“Who do you think I am?”
Hmhmm, she smiled proudly.
Come to think of it, almost as if she had arrived from a distant future, Kagurai-senpai boasted a tremendous affinity with computers. The management of Adatara High School’s data was also left in her hands.
Meaning there was nothing she didn’t know in regards to this school.
“As you’ve guessed, it’s about the transfer student.”
I spoke only about today’s lunch break. It was embarrassing to bring up my purchase of a hundred thousand yen urn, so I would hide it from everyone apart from Orino-san, who learned by coincidence.
“Oh? For you to sink your claws when she’s just transferred in, despite your cowardly appearance, you’re surprisingly assertive.”
“… What part of that story gave you that impression?”
“Hey, I’d give to be in your shoes. By Heisei Literature, transfer student is an exceedingly important trait to possess. If she was coming, she should’ve just transferred into my class.”
Kagurai-senpai referred to Otaku Culture as Heisei Literature, pouring an abnormal amount of affection into them. When she was a pretty woman, she played her share of dating sims and ero games.
“I’d be perfectly fine if she was just a cute transfer student… how should I put it, she’s a girl with more than a thing or two going on.”
Like ghosts, yokai, onmyouji, and the like.
I didn’t believe in such irregular existences.
The lady in a strange suit I met in Gentle Breeze Park told me not to.
“Oh, that’s right, Kagoshima. I have something important to talk to you about.”
“What is it?”
“Do you want to join a club?”
“By a club, do you mean the ComClub”
Kagurai-senpai gave a certain nod.
ComClub, properly termed the Computer Club. While it used to have around ten members working on program and computer modification and production, the returnee Kagurai-senpai entered and as a result, every single member resigned. At present, senpai was the only one left.
“I don’t really mind joining… but why all of a sudden? Did something happen?”
“Yes. The truth is, the student council’s been taking the initiative lately, moving to close down clubs with too few members. This club’s become a target.”
“Hmm. The student council, is it?”
The reason the ComClub was recognized with only one member was thanks to Kagurai-senpai’s management of school security, but in the end, that was nothing more than an exception. I’m sure there were people out there who didn’t take favorably to it.
“Good grief, what is up with this school’s student council!”
Kagurai-senpai breathed heavily. She was taking heavy offense. When it came to the ComClub’s continued activity, I’m sure she feuded with the student council.
“By Heisei literature, a student council is supposed to be a captivatingly charming, merry bunch… but those guys, just how lacking in personality traits can they be… five people, and four of them boys? Are they even trying!? Who’s going to pick up a story like that!?”
… Though the direction of her rage was strange.
Sure enough, our student council is filled with plain people.
Sure enough, the student councils of manga and anime are usually fun-loving groups.
Well, let’s just put that aside.
“So you’re telling me you might lose the use of this room?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“… That’s a little sad. This place is ridiculously comfortable. It’s on the top floor, so it’s even got a good view, and because of the computers, it’s even been furnished with good air conditioning.”
“Personally, I can’t bear to lose this base. It took quite some effort to modify this PC to easily connect to the B3 world. I had to arrange the other computers to run in parallel—”
“B3 World? What’s that?”
“Aaah! I-It’s nothing! Nothing at all, don’t worry about it.”
“Is that so.”
If it’s nothing, I’d better not worry about it.
“Anyways, I want to gather personnel and make this a proper club. If I do, I doubt anyone will complain. Of course, you can leave all our club activities as the computer club to me. I doubt high schoolers of this era ca—no, I mean. Yeah. Well, let’s just leave it at that.”
“I’m fine. But what are you going to do about the other members?”
The number of people for a proper club was supposed to be five. Counting me and Kagurai-senpai, we’re lacking another three.
“Orino and Kurisu will work out,” Kagurai-senpai said matter of factly. “I don’t recall those two being in a club.”
Orino-san and Kurisu-chan were on considerably friendly terms with Kagurai-senpai. It was quite often that the four of us- me included- used the ComClub room for study meets.
“That’s true, but until you actually ask them…”
“With those two, if I make a serious request, there’s no way they’ll refuse.”
She said with a fearless smile.
… This person plans to abuse Orino-san and Kurisu-chan’s good nature.
“So what about the last one?”
“I don’t care who it is. Kagoshima, do you have any ideas?”
“Ah, I wonder. Everyone around me’s already in a club.”
By the way, our school prohibits overlap. The last member will inevitably have to be part of the go-home club.
“I see. Hmm. Carrying out an advertising campaign is a pain, but hunting down someone who isn’t in a club is also a pain…”
Kagurai-senpai crossed her arms in thought, but, “Ah, that right,” she soon hit upon something.
“We’ve got one. A person who’s definitely not in a club.”
Well that’s true. Having only transferred in today, I highly doubted Kikyouin-san was in a club yet. After classes ended, she went straight home alone.
“You’re already on good terms with the transfer student, right? This is what you call a godsend. Go an ask her, why don’tcha.”
“I’m telling you, we’re not on good terms.”
“Just ask and see where it goes. Transfer students are there to be gotten along with. There are starving children in the world who can’t be friends with transfer students no matter how much they want to. If you’re a man, getting along with a transfer student should be no trouble at all.”
Just how much romance did she find in the label of transfer student?
Kagurai-senpai’s dating sim brain was reaching a bit of a dangerous level.
“Transfer student is a wonderful trait that signifies new stimulus and dramatic developments to come in the story. The antithesis of the transfer student is the childhood friend. The bond of always being together, and the sadness of being so close yet going unnoticed, on top of–”
“Hmm. That’s amazing.”
As she went on and on, I arbitrarily ignored her prattle. Thinking it was around time to go home, I began preparing to leave.
“Well, if it’s childhood friends, I’ve got one of those.”
“Meaning tsundere is a mutable concept that changes with the times–”
The words I nonchalantly threw out brought her words to a sudden spot. When I turned, her eyes were open wide, her mouth opening and closing in silence.
“… You, what did you just say? You have a… childhood… friend…?”
Hah! She raised a voice like a shriek, looking up to the heavens.
“Childhood friend is a trait so realistically unobtainable, it can’t even be compared to transfer student… you mean to tell me you’ve been keeping humanity’s greatest treasure… no, humanity’s strongest weapon locked away…”
“You talk about them like they’re nuclear warheads…”
“In Heisei Literature, the childhood friend’s sole regular appearance is in the phrase, ‘cute childhood friends don’t actually exist in reality’ used to resolve the absolute complex held by the youth of the era. And yet… d-do you even realized the blessed environment you must live in…”
She bit on so hard, I pulled back a bit.
Kagurai-senpai’s affinity towards childhood friends was several tens of times that of her love for transfer students.
“… Eh? What are you? What the hell are you? A transfer student comes to your class, you’ve got a childhood friend. What the hell are you? God? Are you God or something?”
She was kinda getting into a really annoying tension.
The boys in school think of her as some ice-cold cool beauty, but when you talk to her, it’s all too easy to tell that’s nothing more than an illusion.
She was funnier and more friendly than her appearance might suggest.
“Oy, Kagoshima. Is that childhood friend cute?”
“… No rather than cute, I’d say cool.”
“Hmm, so a tomboy type.”
“? No, not a tomboy, just a boy.”
She blankly opened her mouth.
“Um, uh… what? I’m sorry, Kagoshima. I was sure I’d studied the language of this era, but I cannot comprehend the meaning behind the words that just came from your mouth. Can you please repeat that?”
“As I said, he’s a boy. Well, he’s quite a mature guy, so maybe more of a man.”
There, Kagoshima-senpai made a face as if she had listened in to some unknown language.
“K-Kagoshima… could it be that your childhood friend is male…?”
This can’t be, tell me it isn’t so, she seemed desperate.
But I plainly nodded.
“… A childhood friend of the same… gender…”
She held her head with both hands, ruffling her orderly long hair into a mess. Like a scholar who’d just had everything they’d ever learned negated.
“… Kagoshima, are you gay?”
“I’m not! Why did it come to that!?”
“I mean, you’re a man and you have a male childhood friend… there’s no other possibility.”
It did seem Kagurai-senpai’s dating sim brain was long passed the point of no return. Well, I’d had my brushes with the subculture a bit, so it’s not like I couldn’t see where she got the childhood friend must be the opposite gender train of thought.
“In the first place, childhood friend isn’t a gendered term.”
“No, no, just think about it, and wait, I mean, I mean, I mean, I mean, I mean, you know… you know, right… I mean I mean I mean…”
She started fretting like a child.
She really was in an annoying mood.
“Hah… it’s fine. I was an idiot for placing any hope in reality.”
Breathing a deep sigh, Kagurai-senpai sat in the seat of her favorite desktop PC.
“Cute childhood friends only exist in games…”
She flicked on the PC and started up a dating sim.
“… I’ve said it again and again, but I’ll say it again. Kagurai-senpai. Please play those games where no one’s watching.”
“I refuse. I’m not doing anything embarrassing.”
She stuck out her chest and said it with pride. What wasted manliness.
“Since you’re here, want to play together, Kagoshima? I’ll educate you to the point you’ll never be able to say the words male childhood friend again.”
“… I’ll refrain. Please enjoy your dating sim alone.”
Just how awkward would that be, playing it together?
“Well then, Kagoshima. That male childhood friend of yours, just how long has he been a childhood friend?”
“As I was saying, what sort of childhood friend is he? From elementary school, or maybe kindergarten? Or could it be your parents were friends, so you knew him since you were a baby? What’s the pattern?”
“Don’t call it a pattern.”
Since when? When was it again?
“… I’ve never thought about it.”
“Mn? Never thought about it? Can something like that happen? Even if you don’t know the precise date, you should have a general idea, right?”
“That’s, right. I think so too…”
I really never thought about it.
He… by the time I noticed it, we were just friends as if it were natural.
I can’t remember a time when we weren’t friends.
When did I become his friend again?
When… did I first meet him again?
If you go in an unpopular direction from my house, and turn down an unpopular street, you reach a slightly run-down shrine. I’m not serious about religion, so I have no idea what sort of god lives there.
Passing through the tori gate, dyed even redder by the evening sun, I entered the grounds of the shrine. The area was exceptionally quiet, only the rustling sound of the wind on the leaves entered my ears.
After returning home, I peddled my bike to the shrine.
I knew if I came here…
“Ah, as I thought.”
As I walked along the stone pavement, I spotted a single man sitting on the shrine’s slight staircase. Wearing a dark gray kinagashi close to black, a head of light gray hair close to white. Without any distinct color, he held a vague, monochrome appearance. He folded his long legs, reading the thin paperback resting on his lap. Noticing me, he lifted his face.
He said with a smile. Bitter and sweet, a smile that suited him.
“Been a while, Kai.”
Giving a light answer, I sat a step lower than him.
My childhood friend.
We didn’t have any particular common point, not the same kindergarten, or elementary school, the same cram school or club, but I… was his friend by the time I noticed it.
Kai was often at the shrine. I thought I might be able to meet him as I made the trek, and as if he had been waiting for me, here he was.
Putting his favorite bookmark in the book, he flipped it shut.
“Keep reading. You were at a good part, weren’t you?”
“No it’s fine. It’s more fun talking to you than reading books.”
He sounded like he was joking, but simple as I was, I was happy even if it was a joke.
“Hey Kai. What sort of god is in this shrine.”
“This is an Inari Shrine, so Oinari-sama lives here.”
“Oinari-sama? What’s that? Does it have anything to do with Inari sushi?”
“Inari’s a kitsune. You can see a fox statue over there, can’t you?”
“Ah, your right.”
Just as Kai said, a little distant from the gate, there were two fox statues.
“By the way, it’s called Inari sushi because it uses a kitsune’s favorite fried tofu.”
“I see. As expected of you. You’re as knowledgeable as ever.”
“You’re just too unknowledgeable, Akira.”
At his mischievous smile, I gave a sullen response.
“Well sorry for being ignorant.”
“Quit sulking. You’re not a kid,” Kai smiled wryly. “It’s not like ignorance is a bad thing. There are loads of things in this world you’re better off not knowing.”
“Ignorance is a bliss, you mean?”
“That’s right. For the really important things, it’s fine as long as only god knows.”
“Only god knows?”
“Yep, only god knows.”
He said lightly with a bittersweet smile.
At times, Kai would say things I didn’t really get. Perhaps he meant for a complicated nuance I was unable to comprehend, and perhaps he didn’t mean anything at all.
It’s just, I didn’t hate listening to him like this.
And we talked about trivial things. The manga I got hooked on lately, and the books he’d been reading. I unveiled the one-shot gag of inevitable laughter I thought up yesterday, and Kai made a troubled face at it, so on and so forth.
“Kikyouin…? Akira, is that true?”
When I told him a transfer student came from Kyoto, Kai was a little surprised.
“It’s true. Do you know anything about Kikyouin-san?”
“No. I don’t know anything about that transfer student individually. But I do know the name Kikyouin. They’ve got somewhat of a name in Kyoto. The Tsuchimikado house carries the blood of the great onmyouji Abe Seimei. And one of their branch families is the Kikyouin House.”
It was the same as what Kikyouin-san said. Something about carrying the blood of Abe Seimei and being a branch family. That part of it wasn’t her made-up setting, apparently.
“Umm, so what happens if she has this Abe Seimei-san’s blood? Does that give her some amazing power?”
“Not really. That shouldn’t do much. But it might not just be his blood she carries on.”
Kai sounded intentionally elusive.
“The Tsuchimikado House makes money through fortune telling and feng shui, but I don’t hear too many good things about the Kikyouin House. Plenty of bad things, mind you.”
“What sort of bad things?”
“The clan possessed by a fox.”
His tone lowered a bit.
“Only girls are born into the kitsune-cursed Kikyouin House, and every time the generations change, the baby born’s hair grows closed to gold… is the rumor that’s going round.”
Kikyouin-san’s hair color.
It was definitely blond.
“… A curse? That sounds kinda out of place. Do they still have those in this day and age?”
“Time’s got nothing to do with it. No matter how long it goes on, these sorts of stories don’t disappear. As long as humans exist, ghosts and youkai aren’t going away.”
As he said it conclusively, I couldn’t help but ask.
“Then do you believe that ghosts are out there?”
“Hm? Hmm, let’s see. Maybe not.”
Kai said, in an especially hinting tone.
I see. So they really aren’t. If Kai says it, then it must be true.
“For example, do you know about the youkai called the Zashiki Warashi?”
“Yeah. Well, that’s a relatively famous youkai after all.”
“How much do you know?”
“Umm, it latches onto a house, and brings happiness to the people living there or something…”
When you’ve got children playing with one another, before you know it, there’s one too many. When someone must have slipped in, the kids are all faces you’ve seen before. That one extra is the Zashiki Warashi.
… I think.
Meaning a youkai who becomes a friend before you’ve realized it.
I wonder if it’s that sort of thing.
“Okay, as long as you get that much, it’s enough. That makes matters quick.”
Giving a satisfied nod, Kai went on.
“The Zashiki Warashi is a folkloristic device born to address the ‘inclination of wealth’ within a community.”
… He lost me.
Picking that up from my expression, Kai rephrased it simpler.
“To put it really simply, the question ‘why is his house making so much more money than me’ was answered with, ‘because there must be a Zashiki Warashi living there’. It didn’t matter what, they just wanted an answer.”
“Oh, I see.”
“The Zashiki Warashi is a north-eastern youkai, but wherever you look, you can find youkai of similar origin. Possessed by a kitsune, or possessed by an inugami. Those so-called possessions are generally the same story.”
“I see, I get it.”
Thanks to Kai explaining it as fervently as if he was talking about himself, I could finally understand.
“You’re telling me… Youkai don’t exist.”
In the end, they were all born in an age where science hadn’t developed.
They were born to explain incomprehensible, unreasonable situation.
Those were youkai.
“I don’t know about that.”
But Kai vaguely muddled his words.
“Now that science is around, yeah, you can declare youkai don’t exist. But even in this era being taken over by science, man continues to believe in god, to fear the youkai. He prays to the Buddha and scorns the devil. Even if there’s no scientific proof, as long as their name brings an influence to a human heart, then don’t you think that’s the same as saying they’re still around?”
“You mean… like for example, how the rent goes down for a room a suicide happened in, and how there are still people who write youkai and onmyouji-themed manga, that sort of thing?”
When I sought confirmation, he quietly lowered his head.
“… But in the end, that means they don’t exist, right? Humans just made them up, then danced to their tune, or rather…”
“That part’s the same as science.”
“When it was unraveled by human hands, it gradually extends far beyond their reach, both science and the occult. Just as a child won’t grow up as their parents want them to, that sort of thing.”
I kinda understood, but really didn’t.
“Did I confuse you? Well truth be told, you’re exactly right. Youkai don’t exist. No matter the influence they bring to the human heart, their existence is mere fiction. While real individuals, organizations, events may have been related, they themselves are not real.”
Saying that, Kai smiled. He smiled the smile an adult uses to soothe a child.
“There are no ghosts or youkai. So it’s not possible that a Zashiki Warashi became your friend before you knew it.”
“… I see. Yeah. You’re right.”
Hearing that from Kai, all the doubts in my mind cleared up.
There are no ghosts or youkai in the world.
So both Kikyouin-san and that traveling monk had to be fakes.
“… It’s getting dark. It’s time I went home.”
Lifting myself up, I descended the stairs and started walking off.
After a light parting, I turned my back to Kai.
In the end, I never told him a hundred thousand yen was cheated out of me.
I didn’t want to worry him, I was too embarrassed to say.
… Erk. But what do I do about today’s dinner…
When I turned at the voice from behind me, Kai tossed something over. I somehow managed to catch, and when I looked at it in my hand, it was a five-hundred-yen coin.
“I’ve paid you back for the five hundred yen I borrowed the other day.”
“Did I ever lend you money?”
“Huh? Maybe I made a mistake. Whatever. Then I’ll lend it to you. Go buy yourself a meal or something.”
“Pay me back next time you have some money.”
“… Haha. Thanks.”
I could only laugh.
Before my wise childhood friend, it looks like everything I tried to hide was seen through.