Volume 1 Chapter 2: Love Letter (Part 1)

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Volume 1 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ichi

Chapter 2 – Love Letter (Part 1)


That must be it.

That girl must be an alien, and Chief was right after all. Sonohara Air Base is a UFO base, a place for UFOs from faraway places in the universe to land secretly on Earth. Aliens and the top brass in the government have been sitting around the same table and communicating with each other. The top brass in the government must have worked themselves up in a frenzy trying to obtain the advanced technology the aliens have.

As a matter of fact, the aliens will say something like, “In the event you humans cease making war and achieve world peace, we will offer you all the technology we possess and Earth will become a member of the cosmic society” in voices that sounded like they had inhaled helium. No matter what book he read, it was always like this. Aliens always seemed awfully concerned about peace on Earth, so the aliens must have said the same thing to those important people in the government up in the north.

That was the reason why war was always on the verge of erupting, but never actually did. To both military camps, alien technology might be the trump card that would decide the outcome of the battle. Both sides must be thinking, if we were to cause any trouble for our opponent we might as well wait till we get our hands on that technology first. The stalemate dragged on for a long time, and the aliens finally took action.

They released, into every corner of human society, a multitude of agents that assumed the form of humans. Their only mission was to ascertain the true nature of humans with their very own eyes, whether they were an intelligent peace-loving race or an uncivilized race spending all their time killing each other. If the investigation concludes the latter, Earth will immediately be blown to smithereens by the alien force’s superweapons. There was no doubt about that. The girl who identified herself as Iriya is definitely one of those agents.

One who oversaw “middle school students”.

 

He remembered practically nothing about the following lesson. The bell signaling the end of the second period rang, Iizuka returned to his graveyard, and the blackboard eraser wiped away the numbers above his right shoulder.

Asaba was unable to escape the quagmire of his thoughts, frozen in position as he held on to his cheap-looking mechanical pencil with the eraser missing in his sloppy grasp. He stared at the blank pages of his notebook which he had opened but could not write a single word in, feeling as if he had been clipped off from recess time, from reality, and stuck firmly to his seat by the window in a poor-quality collage. No matter how hard he tried, he was unable to wipe the words ‘Iriya Kana’ from the blackboard inside his head.

“Oi, Asaba!”

Someone poked his forehead. Right in front of his eyes was Hanamura’s face. Hanamura, who was sitting on his chair, turned back to face him, leaning himself so far out so that he loomed above Asaba. “Heh heh,” he guffawed evilly as he peered into Asaba’s face.

 “What are you looking so zoned out for? Is it that? The beginning of a chapter titled ‘That girl was the transfer student who caught my eye’?”

Speak of hitting the bull’s eye. Well, he did, but then again it wasn’t too far a shot.

“S-Shut up.”

Nishikubo suddenly plonked an arm onto Asaba’s shoulders.

“Show some restraint, okay? If you do something like invite her to join the Journalism Club, Sudou might stab you.”

Asaba became even more flurried. He shook himself free of Nishikubo’s arm.

“A-Akiho doesn’t particularly care.”

Hanamura dropped his chin into his hands. He had a ghost of a smile on his lips and, like the clammy fingers of a molester, his lascivious gaze searched the back of the classroom.

“You can’t. That sort isn’t the correct type for the Journalism Club. Even more so now that your newspaper is called the ‘Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper.’”

Nishikubo followed Hanamura’s line of sight and muttered: “Ah well. He’s right.”

Asaba tried to summon some courage from the pit of his stomach and lifted his head, slowly turning to face the back of the classroom.

There she was.

There was a seat right at the back of the classroom, in the second row from the corridor. Beside that seat, “in the third row from the corridor” was a seat that did not exist just an hour ago. In it sat neither dream nor illusion, but Iriya.

She was just sitting there without doing anything. With downcast eyes, she stared, almost unblinkingly, at her empty desk. She gave off the vibes of an animal that would not resist capture, but one that would not grow accustomed to her captors, either.

—my name is Iriya, Kana.

“Ah, want to hear something surprising? Iriya-kun has just returned from abroad.”

So claimed Kawaguchi Taizou, single and thirty-five years of age, from beside Iriya, who had her head lowered in a bow.

With the callousness of someone dissecting a frog, he went on to give a brief explanation of her past. Both her parents have passed on, he said, and she lives with her brother who works in the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. That was the reason why she had been living in an army base up till now, but, with the permanent transfer of her brother back to Sonohara, she returned to Japan and now she resides in the living quarters of the Sonohara Air Base. —ah, since that’s how it is, I think Iriya still hasn’t gotten used to the life of a middle school student in Japan. I hope that everyone will give her advice when it comes to things like that. Understand?

Asaba did not.

He did not think that Kawaguchi’s explanation was altogether false.

However, that explanation did not at all mesh with what happened at the pool last night. The sirens blasting from the patrol cars from the very beginning, Iriya’s slim shoulders as she watched the surface of the pool, the appearance of the mysterious man who called himself Iriya’s elder brother, the group of men in black surrounding the pool, his lapse in his memory after that, and hidden behind wristbands, those silver-…

“—want to try licking them?”

“—I wonder if we could taste electricity,” muttered Asaba, and both Hanamura and Nishikubo exchanged glances before exclaiming, “Huh?” at the same time.

“Eh? Oh, no, that was…”

From behind Asaba, Nishikubo abruptly laid both his hands on Asaba’s head and started pushing apart his hair at where it parted.

“You know, perhaps there’s a chance that your brains got fried too after your trip into the mountains?”

“Stop it, you ass-face,” said Asaba, shaking free of his hands.

It was then Hanamura went “Oi, look at that. Which class are those guys from? Looks like the rumors have already spread.”

Peeking through the door at the entrance of the classroom were the faces of boys from some other class throwing hungry looks Iriya’s way.

Hanamura snickered.

“They look exactly like they had a treat snatched from right under their noses.”

Upon hearing that, Nishikubo suddenly made a face that said “Ah,” as if he had suddenly recalled something.

“—I see, I see. I remember now. Those guys are probably from Class 2-1.”

Nishikubo and Hanamura looked at him with expressions that clearly said, what’s that about?

“Like I said, having a treat snatched from right under their noses. Do you know Mogami from Class 2-1?”

Asaba shook his head.

Hanamura replied, “Nope, don’t know him.”

Nishikubo continued quickly, “Before summer vacation, he was blowing his own trumpet, saying that he knew of plans for a female student to transfer here once vacation ended.”

Before Asaba could say anything, Hanamura interjected:

“—huh, then, was Iriya actually supposed to join Class 2-1?”

“Probably. Remember how her seat wasn’t prepared beforehand? Kawaguchi had to make the person on duty get it for her. If they had decided to have her join our class from the very start, they would prepare her seat in advance, right? I’m sure there was a sudden change in plans for some reason.”

“What reason?”

“As if I’d know that much!”

For some reason, he had said. To Asaba, those words held tremendous weight, making him bow his head as the terrifying things he had imagined earlier on coiled themselves around his thoughts. Unbeknownst to anyone, an unhealthy sweat was slowly trickling down his back.

Maybe it was because of what happened at the pool last night.

Maybe the reason was that he was “the first middle school student she had met”. Therefore, he had been assigned to Iriya as her “first significant subject of investigation”. What should he do, no, what could he do now? He wanted her to investigate someone else instead. Like Nishikubo. Hanamura may be a prickly one. If Chief had been chosen as a subject of investigation, the annihilation of mankind would have taken place five seconds ago.

Despite Asaba’s anguish, Nishikubo and Hanamura continued to gawk at Iriya as they continued:

“—somehow, she seems strange.”

“I’ll forgive her for that since she’s cute.”

“Maybe her Japanese isn’t that good?”

“I’ll forgive her for that since she’s cute.”

“Oh, oh. Look at that. They’re trying to land in the face of the enemy. As one would expect of our esteemed class president!”

Asaba couldn’t brush that one aside.

Reflexively, he turned back to look. A combined friendly fleet of four girls with the class president of Class 2-4, Nakagomi Makiko, as their tactical command ship was marching resolutely through the sea of desks, chairs and hushed voices with their sights set on “Iriya” island.

Alerted to the presence of an “enemy” about three desks away, Iriya lifted her head abruptly and fixed her unfathomable gaze on Nakagomi.

Yet, Nakagomi did not flinch away from that gaze.

Everyone was following them with the corners of their eyes, waiting to see how things would unfold. They lowered their voices in order to not miss a single word, causing the break-time din in the classroom to seemingly melt away into the distance.

Amidst all that, Asaba was beside himself with worry. Stop it Nakagomi, what do you plan to do with our planet Earth?

Nakagomi then stood right in front of Iriya:

“Erm, hey.”

Her voice trailed off, and Nakagomi secretly took a deep breath. She put on a smile, which seemed awfully strained.

“I’m Nakagomi Makiko, the class president, so if you have anything to ask feel free to look for me.”

Iriya remained completely silent.

Assertive as Nakagomi was, she faltered, and her three friends hurried to back her up. They took turns introducing themselves before launching successive impromptu attacks.

Where did you live before this? My English is really bad so teach me sometime, okay? I also transferred over here when I was in primary school, you know. Is your brother good looking?

Iriya looked down.

Perhaps that stirred up the girls’ feelings of “we have to do something for her”, as rapid-fire questions continued to fly back and forth.

Yet, Iriya maintained her silence. Not knowing what to do without a response to their questions, the girls started talking among themselves, occasionally brandishing a “Don’t you think so too?” at Iriya. However, Iriya seemed to withdraw deeper and deeper into her trench with each successive remark and the girls who were chasing her down somehow lost sight of when to pull back.

Just looking at them would make your insides hurt, but Asaba felt like his hair would completely turn white. It felt like an eternity had passed when in actual fact, only the length of time one would have taken to go to the washroom and back had edged by.

Iriya finally lifted her face.

The girls’ conversation broke off, and it was plain that every eye in the classroom was fixed on Iriya’s next move. Wincing at the attention she was getting, like a person who was drowning, her desperate gaze searched the classroom and somehow came to rest on the seat next to the window shortly after.

Buzzing noises begin to fill the classroom.

It was immediately obvious who she was looking at.

Iriya was clearly looking at Asaba, as if she was asking him for help.

“Oi,” whispered Hanamura. Nishikubo cast him a sidelong glance. Yet, for a brief moment, Asaba could not locate his tongue. He dropped the mechanical pencil which he had been holding throughout the second period onto his notebook, quietly pulling his chair back as he stood up. In the midst of all the attention that seemed to have been transferred from Iriya to him, Asaba said, to no one in particular:

“Washroom.”

 

🌀

 

After that, Asaba really did go to the washroom.

Even though no one was looking at him, he holed himself up in one of the washroom’s cubicles and sat on the toilet bowl with his pants and briefs neatly pulled down. Perhaps he simply wanted to compress his lie into something as small as possible.

With his bare ass sticking out, Asaba sat there, brooding.

With a ratio of nine parts to one, he was thinking about how pathetic he was, and how annoyed he was with Iriya.

However, he had not been brooding for long before the bell signaling the start of the third period rang. With a heavy sigh, Asaba pulled up pants which he did not actually need to pull down, flushed the toilet which did not actually need flushing, and washed his hands, which did not actually need washing. With unsteady steps, he made his way out of the washroom.

“You big coward.”

Akiho was lying in wait for him outside.

“A-About what?”

Asaba put on a brave front. What could he have done? “It’s easy for you to talk, since it didn’t happen to you,” was what he felt like saying, but the scary look on Akiho’s face made him decide not to say anything unnecessary.

“—The bell rang and we really need to go back to the classroom, so…”

Akiho paid no heed to what he said.

“Do you know that girl?”

“No, not exactly…” said Asaba, before his tongue became so thick he could hardly breathe.

“Then what was that just now?”

In any case, he must throw Akiho off his scent for now.

“I really don’t know her. I was away in the mountains with Chief for the whole of the summer vacation, and Kawaguchi said she had just recently returned from abroad, right?”

Akiho glared at Asaba with a deeply suspicious look and out of the blue, she said:

“It was the pool, right?”

Asaba thought his heart would pop right out of his mouth.

“Before first period started, you were asking this and that about the school’s swimming costume. And, unlike Chief, you did return home every now and then, so I guess you must have met her at the municipal pool or somewhere else. And, she must have been wearing a swimming costume without a name tag at that time. Huh—so was that what happened? Hmmm?”

Well, Akiho could think whatever she liked. Or so Asaba thought.

Perhaps satisfied by her own explanation, the severe look on Akiho’s face softened a little.

“Is she weak in Japanese? Did you talk to her?”

She was asking something similar to what Nishikubo had asked.

Most people would think the same way, with her reticence on top of the fact that she was a student who had returned from abroad.

Asaba’s head was reeling.

“I wonder—“

He was getting wobbly on his feet.

“What’s that? Speak clearly! You spoke to her at least once, right? Hey, hang on Asaba, are you okay? You’re white as a sheet.”

It happened in a flash.

He was assaulted with a wave of dizziness so intense that the sky and ground seemed to switch places. Unable to stand, he dropped into a crouch. He felt really sick, like he was having a combination of both motion sickness and influenza. Desperately, he fought to overcome the mounting nausea.

“Are you okay?! Hey Asaba, what’s wrong?!”

Akiho was panicking. At the very edge of his fast narrowing field of vision, Asaba could see the other students walking along the corridor stop in surprise. Somewhere in his heart, he thought, it’s embarrassing, don’t yell like that, but Asaba had not the strength to say so. A cold sweat broke out on his face.

He took deep breaths, one after the other.

And, as suddenly as it came, the nausea quickly ebbed away.

Somehow managing to stand up, he wiped the sweat from his brow and was surprised at how cold his face felt. He still felt the aftereffects of the dizzy spell, but he felt a lot better now.

“I’m fine,” said Asaba, but, to Akiho, he was now deathly pale instead of just pale.

“No you’re not! Let’s go to the infirmary! I’ll take you there!” said Akiho as she grabbed onto Asaba’s hand.

It was true that he should probably go to the infirmary.

But he didn’t think it was so bad that Akiho had to accompany him there.

“Class is starting soon so go back to the class. Please, I can go there by myself.”

Akiho paid no heed to his words. She started walking at a brisk pace, tugging on Asaba’s hand.

Sonohara Middle School’s corridors was traditionally messy. Empty boxes of teaching aids sat in piles along the walls, mops and buckets which couldn’t quite fit into the lockers stood in a row, and ‘we are looking for new members’ posters which were never taken down fluttered in the wind, beckoning at everyone who passed them by.

Before the door to the infirmary lay a stretch of connecting corridor, which lead to the gymnasium. The door was hard to miss as there was a signboard over it with a logo that read “Refined Sake・Tenouyama”. That signboard was what was left of the girls’ basketball team’s matchmaking pub from last year’s school festival. By the side of the door was a label that read, ‘Fire Warden・Shiina Mayumi’.

Akiho pushed opened the door with all her strength.

“Excuse me!”

Tugging Asaba along, who stumbled in after her, she rushed into the infirmary and nearly ran straight into three male students standing on the other side of the door.

“There now, the next lesson is starting soon so run along. Shoo!”

Shiina Mayumi was pushing on the backs of said three male students with both her hands. Standing in the middle was Funatsu, who was Asaba’s classmate last year. He greeted Asaba with a genial “Yo,” but his eyes grew round when he noticed how Asaba looked.

“What’s with that face of yours?”

Was he still that pale? Asaba thought to himself.

Shiina Mayumi took one look at his face and went, “Whoops, this one doesn’t look like he’s pretending.”

“Uwa, that’s mean, we’re sick too okay,” protested Funatsu and his gang with soppy smiles, but Shiina Mayumi ignored them as she said:

“You’re really annoying. Idiots pretending to be sick should leave now, so go!”

In a blink of an eye, the three of them found themselves kicked out of the infirmary, the door shut firmly behind their backs. She was quite used to handling them now since they did the same thing every recess.

When asked for their opinion of Shiina Mayumi, most students in Sonohara Middle School will claim that she is ‘a great beauty if you look closely’. She does not stand out very much for she wore no makeup and was always in her white coat. On top of that, she often uses rough language and would say things like ‘butt’ and ‘dick’ without batting an eyelid.

She came to this school about a month before the beginning of the summer vacation to replace Kurobe-sensei, who took a long leave of absence to recuperate from an illness. Male and female students alike would say to her, “If only you would dress up a little more, you’ll look really good”, but she paid them no need. Day after day, she would stuff both hands into the pockets of her white coat and happily walk around the school with her slippers, making slapping noises on the pavement as she walked.

“Erm,”

Before Akiho could finish her sentence, Shiina Mayumi interrupted her loudly.

“Wait! Let me guess.”

She scrunched up her forehead as she stared intently at Asaba’s face. After ten or fifteen seconds of careful deliberation, she nodded as if she had come to an indisputable conclusion. Pointing a stern finger at Asaba, she said flatly:

“Paint thinner.”

“N-No that’s not it!” said Akiho, raising her voice, before throwing Asaba a sideward glance.

 “It’s not, right?”

“No, I haven’t been snuffing thinner.”

He thought he should probably explain his situation himself: “—erm, I suddenly felt really sick just now, and I even felt like throwing up.”

Akiho cut in, “It was really sudden, and he was even paler than he is now.”

Shiina Mayumi calmly made Asaba sit on the stool. She sat down on a folding chair, facing Asaba.

“There isn’t much color in your face even now, you know? Did you eat breakfast before coming to school?”

Asaba nodded, and said, “But I feel much better, and I don’t feel like throwing up anymore.”

“I think it’ll be better if you lay down for a bit. What’s your name and class? I’ll inform your teacher for you.”

Before Asaba could open his mouth, Akiho answered her.

“Asaba Naoyuki from Class 2-4.”

Shiina Mayumi pulled out a ballpoint pen from her pocket and started to leaf through the pages of her string-bound name register, but then she suddenly furrowed her brows. She muttered, “Asaba?” and without warning, she bellowed, “You’re kidding me, Asaba-kun? You’re Asaba-kun? Asaba-kun from Class 2-4?”

Her voice was so loud that Asaba and Akiho unwittingly leaned away from her.

Shiina Mayumi seemed to have come to some sort of understanding as she muttered, “Huh… So that’s how it is…” She leaned forward, eyes brimming with such curiosity that Asaba unconsciously shrank away from her. With a smug smile on her face, she continued to mutter to herself, “Huh… I see, I see, so you’re Asaba-kun. Hmmm…”

Suddenly, she exclaimed “Oh!” as if she had suddenly recalled something very important. “That means, you are that Asaba-kun, aren’t you?! That Asaba-kun who wasn’t feeling well?! Are you okay?!” she asked.

—what is wrong with this person?

Asaba sat there in dumbfounded silence. Akiho probably got worried upon seeing Shiina Mayumi in her flustered state.

“E-Erm, is there anything wrong?”

“Huh? Oh no, it’s nothing. Erm, I’ve now placed Asaba in my custody, so you should return to your classroom now. Lessons should have started already anyway. Okay?”

Making full use of the skill she honed every day, she pushed on Akiho’s back with both hands. Akiho looked like she still had something to say, but she was chased out of the infirmary, and the door was firmly shut on her.

Shiina Mayumi spun around to face Asaba, and, with a grim expression on her face completely different from the one she wore up to then…

“—I shall ask you this again for good measure. You are Asaba Naoyuki-kun from Sonohara Middle School, Class 2-4, seat number one, am I correct?”

 “Yes. That’s right.”

Her dour tone was making Asaba feel uneasy. Shiina Mayumi bit on her lip and looked up at the ceiling, seemingly engrossed in her own thoughts. Once again, she turned to Asaba and asked:

“You suddenly felt unwell and experienced nausea, right?”

“—yes.”

Shiina Mayumi plopped herself down on the folding chair facing Asaba. With some rough handling, she measured Asaba’s pulse and pulled up his eyelids to look into his pupils. A sigh escaped her as she sat back into her chair.

“Now, I’ll be doing a check. I’ll be asking you a couple of questions, and I would like you to answer them. These questions are different from the ones asked during a normal medical examination. But, in a sense, they are alike in that the results of the test won’t be correct if you don’t answer the questions honestly. Understand?”

Asaba nodded.

The first question was:

“What’s today’s date?”

The sudden question caught him off guard, and he couldn’t answer her. Her stare only made him even more nervous. He thought, how sly you must be to catch me by surprise with that, and the seconds ticked by while he entertained that thought.

“Ah, erm, today is, oh, the first day of the second semester, so it’s the first of September.”

It took him a full ten seconds to finally come up with that answer.

The next question came before he had even the time to take a breath.

“Do you have any chronic ailments?”

“Huh? Ah, I don’t have any. None.”

“Then, you don’t take any medicine regularly, do you?”

“Erm, I occasionally take things like Vitamin C. The powdered sort. My father likes stuff like that.”

“C, as in ascorbic acid?”

“Ah, erm, I don’t really know much about things like that.”

“What do you get when you add seventeen to twenty-six?

Once again, he was caught off guard, and he could only answer her after twenty seconds.

“—thirty, no, forty. Forty-three? Erm, excuse me, you won’t ask me to re-do all the questions from the beginning, will you...”

“Do you have any allergies?”

“Eh? No, I don’t, I think.”

“Tell me who the head teacher of this school is.”

“Murayama Kanji.”

He somehow managed an immediate answer to that one. Without any time to even pat himself on the back,

“When you started to feel unwell, did you also experience a severe bout of dizziness?”

“Eh, yes.”

 “Did your face and limbs grow cold?”

“They did. It’s better now, though.”

And then…

 

“What day is the twenty-fourth of June?”

 

Asaba was sure that it was a test to assess the psychological condition of the patient.

It was likely that dummy questions were mixed in with the real ones so that the patient would not know which were which. Either that, or there were no ‘dummy’ or ‘real’ questions. Instead, questions on different topics were asked one after the other with the aim of making the patient think. Maybe the answers didn’t really matter, and what was important was the patient’s reactions to the questions. Without them knowing, their hands might start shaking. Or their eyes might start looking around restlessly.

However.

Even so.

“—that, about that question, does it really have to be the twenty-fourth of June?”

His question was answered with another question instead.

“Did you experience heart palpitations when you started to feel unwell?”

 “I don’t think I did.”

“Which will you take a photo of, spherical plasma, mirages, or weather balloons?”

“—huh?”

“Mantell. Chiles Whitted. What comes next?”

Asaba seemed to have heard of that before, and the answer to that question rolled about his head before rolling out. These were the three greatest UFO sightings in history; the Captain Mantell plane crash, the Chiles Whitted eyewitness report…

And the Gorman air battle.

“When you felt unwell, did your vision go white, did you see lights blinking in your vision, or anything like that?”

“—no.”

“Who’s that person who has been standing behind you since just now?”

Asaba couldn’t move.

“What about hallucinations or voices in your head? Have you ever thought that you might have seven fingers? Have you ever heard a voice negotiating for the extraction of your viscera? Do you feel like you have heard of the term ‘Coiled Adamski Spinal Receptors’ before?”

Outside the infirmary, the cicadas were warbling.

—what’s wrong with this person?

Outside the window, the sunlight was so harsh and pervasive that any silhouettes seemed to melt into its whiteness.

The interior of the infirmary was dimly-lit and unnaturally cool. Floating in the air was the faint smell of old medicine. Without a sound, the curtain at the window billowed in the wind, fluttering about like a ghost. The Red Cross symbol which he saw everywhere could very well be traps designed to give victims a false sense of security. There were notices warning about the dangers of smoking alongside colored photos of lesion-covered lungs pasted everywhere, tiled walls reminiscent of operating rooms, beds containing no hint of warmth whatsoever, cupboards containing rows of glass bottles in colors so garish they looked venomous, a large pair of tweezers which held neither blood nor tears, distilled water from East Asia which you would not want to even approach, and a white sink which had, with a straight face, captured perhaps a couple hundred people’s worth of vomit and excretion.

Just think about it.

Before he knew it, Kurobe-sensei had disappeared.

On a long leave of absence to recuperate from an illness.

Even though he seemed so healthy.

Shiina Mayumi came to this school to replace him and became an instant celebrity.

Was this all an alien conspiracy?

Perhaps, this was an antiseptic hell reeking of medicine? Who knows, maybe the person in front of him was an agent for the aliens, too. Shiina Mayumi really was a great beauty if you looked at her up close. She seemed to have understood what he had said, and she was also popular with both the boys and the girls. But.

Just maybe, when no one was looking, her head would crack open and wriggling tentacles would pop out.

And maybe, when night falls, this infirmary is where UFOs bring people they have abducted. Then, Shiina Mayumi-sensei, with her slippers making slapping noises and her tentacles wriggling about would perform hair-raising human experiments and blood will splatter and spray as she—

 “—Asaba-kun? Hey, Asaba-kun, are you feeling okay?! Are you feeling unwell again?!”

What made Asaba come to his senses was not the loud voice calling his name, nor was it the fact that Shiina Mayumi had grabbed his shoulders, and was shaking him violently, but the faint whiff of shampoo from Shiina Mayumi’s hair. That was how close her face was, but she brought her face even closer still. Her forehead was now touching his, checking if he had a fever. Suddenly feeling embarrassed, Asaba pulled away.

“—I-I’m okay I’m alright. Err, I was just in a bit of a daze, that’s all.”

“You sure?”

Shiina Mayumi stared intently at Asaba, with an extremely worried expression on her face.

“—okay then, look at this.”

A ballpoint pen was pushed in front of his eyes. The ballpoint pen had a clear plastic body, and on it was a blonde-haired girl in a red swimsuit. That swimsuit was made from fine sand, which was stained red, and before Asaba’s eyes, the sand flowed down and the girl became buck naked. Asaba began pondering the meaning of life.

“I’m going to move this ballpoint pen, so follow the movement of the pen with your eyes.”

Shiina Mayumi moved the pen upwards, downwards, left and right, and observed the movements of Asaba’s eyes.

Asaba tried his focus his attention on the tip of the moving ball point pen. However, after just a short while, pain began to ooze from deep within his eyes.

“Does your head hurt?”

Asaba nodded.

Shiina Mayumi placed her right hand on Asaba’s face, as if to blindfold him. Her left hand went onto the back of his head. The moment she tilted his chin upwards, the pain in his eyes seemed to fade away.

“It doesn’t hurt now, right?”

Asaba nodded.

Shiina Mayumi once again looked up at the ceiling while mulling over something, breathed a small sigh as she seemed to have come to some sort of conclusion. Looking all fired up, she went “Alright!” as she stood from her chair.

“I think you’re okay now. But, it’ll be better if you lay down and rest for a while. You should do that, and drink this, too. You’ll be able to sleep well.” It was a tone of voice that suggested he had no say in the matter.

Two yellow tablets and a cup of barley tea were held out to him, and, pressured by the forcefulness of her tone, he did as he was told. Slowly, he laid on the bed and covered himself with the laid-out blanket.

“Rest for a while, okay?” said Shiina Mayumi as she drew the partition curtains shut with a flourish.

He began to feel sleepy the instant his head touched the pillow. It was too soon for the medicine to have taken effect, but perhaps it already had. Either that, or he was unaware of how physically exhausted he was.

On the other side of the partition curtain, Shiina Mayumi muttered under her breath, “— Oh for fuck’s sake.”

Asaba heard her shuffle across the room with her slippers and sit heavily in her chair. He also heard her pick up the telephone, and the sounds of her pressing the buttons so violently that the telephone rattled with each jab. Asaba was slowly succumbing to drowsiness, but from somewhere within his disappearing consciousness, he strained to catch every sound from the other side of the curtain.

Shiina-sensei was calling someone.

He thought she was going to contact the teacher of his third-period class to tell him that he will be absent, but he was wrong. The number she punched had too many digits. She had called someone outside the school, but, of course, he didn’t know who she called.

He was so sleepy.

The receiver of the call was immediately identified.

“—hello. I’m Shiina from the back-up team. Yes, the one from the infirmary—I know, you don’t need to tell me that. Just get me Enomoto, and—excuse me? Hello?!”

“The cheek of him to hang up on me,” Asaba heard her muttering to herself. She slammed the phone back down on its hook, and started to violently punch another number. A little while later…

“Don’t mess with me, you bastard! Look here, you must have a death wish for hanging up on your superior you shithead!! Oh, shut your trap I don’t need your concern, just get me Eno-, Ah — fuck!! Fine!! I’ll take responsibility if someone says anything to you about this so just get me Enomoto, now!!”

Under a thick layer of sleep, Asaba felt a twinge of dazed surprise.

He wondered who Enomoto was.

A long time passed before ‘Enomoto’ answered the phone.

“—do you have any idea why I’m calling?”

Almost immediately after…

“No, you idiot! The only person who would do that during work hours is you!”

A pause.

Shiina Mayumi laughed scornfully.

“So, you’re going to play dumb. That’s fine, I’ll give you a hint. Who do you think is here now, at the infirmary?”

 A short while after…

“There should be a limit to how much you can feign ignorance! You used the Mist Cocktail on Asaba last night, didn’t you?! Why did you do something so dangerous?! Because of that thing many people have already—”

Asaba was already sinking into sleep, but his consciousness resurfaced a little upon hearing his name.

“Saying that you didn’t know won’t solve anything!! If by any chance that should happen, how were you planning to take responsibility for it?! If you wanted to plant a bug in him there should be other, better ways—”

She was suddenly cut off as the man on the phone tried to explain himself, and Asaba cocked his ears in order to hear him. It was a very, very long explanation.

Not long after.

“—and? What did you put in him?”

A one-word answer.

“I see.”

Another pause.

“—no. I think you chose the safe option. I would have done the same, too.”

The chair scraped against the floor as she stood up. Her slippers slapped against the floor as she paced the room. Perhaps she was walking while holding onto the phone as her voice started to drift towards the window.

“Eh, that’s not right. If the bug had hit, he would have been dead a long time ago. I’d have to do a thorough investigation before I can be completely sure, but I think those were flashbacks from the mist.”

Yet another pause.

The sound of the window being shut.

A while later.

“Of course, you moron! Anyway, let me just tell you one thing. Right now, I’m merely a school nurse in a middle school and I hide in the toilets and shoot glucose up my veins to deal with my hangovers in the mornings. I’m perfectly fine if you’re fine with everything going public and your plans going to waste, but it’ll never work out if you were to ask me to somehow try to treat shock due to Mist overdose with antiseptic fluid and dyspepsia medication. It’ll only create trouble for me if you think I’m that reliable. And let this be the last time, ever, that I’ll have trouble trying to contact you. You got me?”

And, without waiting even a second for his reply, she slammed down the phone with the force of someone landing a punch.

The infirmary returned to silence.

With her back facing the light streaming in from the window, one could faintly make out Shiina Mayumi’s silhouette from the other side of the partition curtain. She seemed to be looking at Asaba through the curtain, as her silhouette stood there staring down at where his pillow was.

Finally, she said:

“—Asaba-kun? Are you awake?”

Silence.

“You know, about Kana-cha-”

She hesitated to finish, before continuing, as if she was talking to herself.

“Please be good friends with Iriya-san, okay?”

By then, Asaba was already sound asleep.

 

🌀

 


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