Volume 1 Chapter 2: Love Letter (Part 4)

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

Chapter 2 – Love Letter (Part 4)


To sum up everything he did understand:

‘Manta’ or ‘Black Manta’, a word that appeared frequently in Iriya’s explanations, was the name of the fighter jet he was supposed to be on. ‘Missile Carrier’ and ‘Dummy’ were unmanned friendly drones under the control of ‘Manta’ while ‘Predator’ and ‘Seed’ referred to the enemy. The boss character of the game was the ‘Seed’, and the main mission was to corner the ‘Seed’ with your drones and do a ‘Fox’, which was to fire your missiles at it and bring it down.

When playing BARCAP—S06, you assumed the role of a Black Manta pilot. Together with a fleet of fourteen Dummies and twenty-seven Missile Carriers, you would fly in a ‘Para Bellum’ formation while patrolling a designated airspace at an altitude of 12,000 feet for 60 minutes. An altitude of 12,000 feet didn’t strike home for Asaba, but Iriya, using a long string of difficult sounding words, explained that one could no longer maintain control of machines via aerodynamic means at this extremely high altitude right in the middle of the stratosphere.

According to Iriya, this game was meant to be a stoic game. Thus, fast forwarding was not allowed in that 60 minutes. Within this time period, enemies could appear several times, or they may not appear at all. In either case, the player just needed to patrol the skies. When an enemy is spotted, the player had to disperse into an offensive formation, lock on to the enemy target on TWS radar mode, follow the T-D box with the missile reticle, and then close in onto the enemy until the caret is in the DLZ bracket…

 Asaba couldn’t really follow her explanation after that.

“Right, right, right! Break right! No, the other way! Not there, the other way! We should be really close by now, so—there, there, there! B-button, B-button, B-button, B-button, B-button! Left! Break left! Get the T-D box into the reticle and do a Fox! Put it in! Quickly, quickly it’ll get away it’ll get away it’ll get away! No, no it’s too close now! Put it in put it in! Ah, ahhh!”

Perhaps he got lucky, or perhaps one would call him really unlucky, but he stumbled upon three groups of Predators with Seeds at their cores within just a few minutes of starting the game. Asaba couldn’t understand Iriya most of the time due to her frequent use of abbreviations. By the time he finally realized that Iriya was saying “We are too ill-equipped to have any chance of winning; let’s abandon mission and retreat!” amidst his confusion, it was too late.

However, Asaba’s head was spinning, not so much due to the fact that Asaba had lost all his Dummies and twenty-two of his Missile Carriers, but because Iriya was leaning on him so hard that she was almost hugging him from behind, communicating her full body weight and warmth.

Perhaps making up her mind to ensure Asaba made it back from the mission alive, Iriya pressed herself even more determinedly on him as she shouted at a volume so loud that no one would expect of her normal self:

“The Predators are spiking you! Break left! Once you hear the Trace Alert, drop the flare while escaping with a Beam Maneuver! Break away! Run away! Run away, run away, run away, run away! Ah! Ah, ahhh, ahhh!”

Iriya was pressing so hard on him that he could feel the firmness of her bra against his back. She was so close that her cheek was pressing against his. Furthermore, her titillating shouts of “Put it in put it in” and “Ah, ah, ah!” rendered Asaba in no shape to do anything, not even play the game. His eyes were no longer looking at any display screen, his fingers not pressing any buttons. He was torn between the desire to feel her breath on his ear and wanting to squirm away from the sensation of her breasts against his back, and just as he was being driven to the verge of a fainting spell—

All movements on the screens froze, abruptly.

“—eh?”

Perhaps he was picked off by the enemy. He wasn’t sure, but that was what he thought.

Suddenly, Iriya’s head lolled forward as her body went lax against Asaba’s, till he was nearly supporting her entire weight. Her lips were pressed firmly against the nape of his neck like she was kissing it. Asaba wondered what she was trying to do.

He could no longer differentiate his raging heartbeat from Iriya’s; she was so close that their hearts seemed to beat in tandem.

He wondered what was wrong with her.

He wondered what he should do.

He thought about kissing her.

Right after that thought crossed his mind, he felt her heart pound once with such force that it felt like her heart was being hurled against his back. Asaba jumped up in surprise.

—what was that, just now?

 “Iriya?”

Asaba shifted instinctively, causing the precarious balance that Iriya had achieved as she rested her weight on Asaba’s shoulders to be lost as she slipped off his right shoulder. There was a loud thud as her head hit the floor. There she lay on her side, in a pool of her own hair. There was a fair bit of blood flowing from her nose, the whites of her eyes were showing, and her limbs convulsed slightly.

“Iriya?! Hey, what’s wrong?! Are you okay?! Can you hear me?!”

With a labored sound, Iriya drew in a breath mingled with blood, like she was trying to respond to him calling her name. When he turned her to face upwards and tried holding her hands, she gripped them weakly in return, but he suspected it was nothing but a semi-conscious reflex.

Asaba pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and tried his best to wipe the blood away from under her nose. He cursed himself for not being able to think of anything else he could do for her, but remained at a loss. Why would she suddenly just—

He remembered.

The telephone.

Shaking off Iriya’s hand, Asaba scrambled towards the telephone and snatched up the receiver. His heart dropped when he realized he did not know which number to call. But, then again, when he took a closer look at the phone, he found neither a dial nor buttons—

“—hello, is this Iriya?”

Enomoto answered the phone, after a sudden and very brief dial tone.

“Erm, Enomoto-san?! Hello?! She is bleeding, she is bleeding from the nose, I mean, when we were playing that game Iriya suddenly collapsed and now she can’t move and her hand and legs are shivering too! Hello?!”

Asaba knew that he wasn’t making any sense, but he couldn’t help it. There was no way he could convey his current predicament to Enomoto in this manner. He was so frustrated that he wanted to die.

However, Enomoto said, evenly:

“Calm down, Asaba. Calm down and answer me. Is Iriya having a nosebleed?”

“After getting a nosebleed, Iriya suddenly fell over, she was perfectly fine before but then she just suddenly keeled over!”

“So she got a nosebleed and then she collapsed. Is she conscious?”

“I-I don’t know, I don’t know if she is!”

“Relax. Okay? Pinch the insides of her thighs as hard as you can and see if she reacts.”

Asaba backtracked to where Iriya was lying with the receiver still in his hand. Forgetting himself in his panic, he stuffed a hand up her skirt and pinched her thighs.

Iriya did not respond.

She did not cry out, nor did she even twitch.

“She didn’t move! She didn’t move! What should I do?”

Enomoto did not answer him immediately, and Asaba felt like an eternity had passed as the few seconds ticked by.

 “Asaba, listen to me. You didn’t do anything wrong. Iriya didn’t become like that because of something you did or did not do. I think I know the reason for her collapse, it is a hundred percent our problem, and you need not feel responsible for anything.”

“I don’t care about who’s responsible! What should I do now?”

“Right after you guys locked yourselves in there, Sonohara and Mikage Second Section launched an attack on the encryption on the lock. It looks like it’ll give if we pushed on just a little more, but we might be too late. We can only count on you now. Okay? First, look through Iriya’s pockets. You should find a plain, blank telephone card. It’s gray on both sides, and—

Asaba had one of those cards on him. He took it out of his wallet in a flash, and:

“I found it!”

“Awesome. Next, look to your right while facing the telephone. You should see a container with ‘C—02” on it. Can you see it?”

Asaba ran about frantically with the cordless receiver in his grip as he went through the shipping containers one by one. When he got to the fourth one…

“C—02!! I found it!”

 “Great. Take that telephone card, and when you see the decoder next to its lid…”

Asaba swiped the card on the decoder, and the door of the container automatically—

“It opened!”

Cold, heavy smoke poured out of the shipping container, and—

“In it you should find a large number of cases as large as first aid kits, frozen and thinly separated from each other with dividers. Confirm this. Is it like I said?”

It was as he said.

“Look through the cases and find one with a label that says ‘P—3KI’.”

Asaba felt disheartened as he ran his eyes through the cases. There were close to a hundred cases packed in that container, and they all looked identical.

“Which is it? I don’t know which one it is!”

“Find it! We put it in sometime in July so it should be somewhere right in front of you!”

Asaba dove into the shipping container and started to pull out the cases, one after the other, from the divider frames. The air from the container was so frigid he was finding it difficult to breathe, and the dangerously cold metal cases clung icily onto to his skin. However, Asaba didn’t have the time to care about things like that now.

Just as he felt that he could no longer bear the uneasiness of not knowing if the case he was looking for was in the pile he was digging through or in another shipping container…

“I found it! I found it I found it I found it I found it I found it!”

He yelled into the receiver, his breath coming out in puffs of white clouds.

 “Pull the power from that case and bring it to where Iriya is.”

Asaba shook the case from side to side and managed to yank its power cable from its socket. He then rolled out of the shipping container and crawled back to where Iriya lay.

“What now?”

“Look below the lid, and…”

He opened the case. When he peered inside, he immediately understood what he had to do and nearly passed out there and then.

In the case were two stainless steel syringes as large as batons used in relay sprints.

“—I-I can’t do this, this is impossible!”

He heard Enomoto’s sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line.

“Inject that into her heart.”

Asaba’s vision turned pitch black.

“Look here, it isn’t that difficult. That syringe was designed such that anyone could use in on Iriya in her current state. The syringe will automatically discharge the medicine pneumatically and the needle is the exact length it needs to be to reach her heart. You just need to jab it down as hard as you can. On the contrary, it’ll be worse for her if you held back. The place you have to inject is marked on Iriya’s chest. Pull up her shirt, undo her brassiere and confirm that there is one.”

“B-But, her chest!”

Enomoto finally lost his shit and raised his voice at him.

“You aren’t someone who will shit his pants after seeing a classmate’s breasts, are you? Who on earth was it who was still getting into a bathtub with his younger sister till Elementary Six?!”

Asaba yelled back at him:

“How do you know something like that?”

He dashed tears from his eyes.

Of all people, why him? Why was he the one to meet with such misfortune?

Through his tears, he looked at Iriya lying motionless on the floor. There was no color in her face, and there were streaks of caked blood under her nose from his haphazard attempts to wipe her blood away. The whites of her eyes were still showing slightly, and a single tear trickled down her cheek from her right eye.

Those eyes had pleaded to Asaba for help.

When Iriya did not know what to do when Nakagomi and her friends approached her, she had appealed to Asaba for help. She had tried to depend on him, like how she had clung to him with all her might when she was drowning in the pool.

Despite all that, he had run away from her, to the washroom.

However, he had no place to run to now.

No one would come to save him; he had to manage this on his own.

Asaba straddled Iriya’s slim hips. Beneath him lay a person with the feel and warmth of a real girl. In order to buoy his sinking courage, he was deliberately rough with his actions. He pulled up her shirt to her jaw in one swift motion, and almost wrenched her bra off her chest.

The twin peaks of her bosom lay bare and defenseless.

He took a deep breath.

Near the middle of the chest, just about where he would think her heart would be, was a tattoo of her blood type and an inverted triangle enclosed by a circle.

He spoke into the receiver, “—here I go.”

And the receiver answered him, “—we’ll be counting on you.”

Asaba then threw the receiver aside, being acutely aware of an encroaching whiteness, not of emptiness, but of white-hot flames, that was slowly blotting out everything else in his head.

He raised the syringe.

Beads of sweat broke out all over him.

On the contrary, it’ll be worse for her if you held back.

In a single breath, he would push the needle of the syringe straight into—

 

Once again, a familiar shockwave ripped through the air, as if someone had dropped a very large boulder, and Asaba’s insides shook in its wake.

 

It was the sound of someone operating the armored door.

Those extremely thick doors were swinging outwards slowly, and Asaba could hear Enomoto hollering something at him from the receiver that he had cast aside. Sunlight shone through the widening gap in the armored door and the harsh, sultry summer air rushed in, rustling past Asaba’s hair. Voices clamored in the foreground; someone could be heard asking about the alarm, and someone shouted something about poisonous gases. Someone else yelled that it was dangerous so everyone should get back to the classrooms. Gradually, the cacophony of voices in the background increased in volume, as the door continued to open.

Then the din suddenly fell dead silent, like someone had thrown a bucket of water over the crowd of people.

Bit by bit, Asaba turned to face the crowd.

Parked outside the shelter were several white vans and military vehicles. There were Chemical Defense Squad members clad in protective suits and soldiers in their field uniforms everywhere, along with a large crowd of students. Those in protective suits dashed into the shelter once the door was open, only to stop in their tracks, their eyes rounding in surprise behind the eyepieces of their masks. Everyone, without exception; the soldiers in field uniforms who were trying to push back curious onlookers, and those onlookers who would not be held back, all stood there with their jaws hanging, wearing a face they would have worn if they had been told to zip up an open fly.

Asaba could have sworn that even a compass would have, at that very moment, turned around to point its needle at where the newly transferred student Iriya Kana now lay on her back, topless, with none other than Asaba Naoyuki, Class 2-4, seat number one, straddled on top of her.

 

It was all over for him.

 

spiral

 

His memories of what happened next were a little scrambled.

 

“Excuse me, excuse me!” said Mayumi Shiina as she pushed past the crowd of bystanders. She then grabbed at the syringe that Asaba was still stiffly holding aloft and stuck it into Iriya’s chest like it was nothing to her; it was as if she was merely chopping vegetables on a chopping board.

And after that was done, Mayumi Shiina brought her mouth close to Asaba’s ear and whispered something in it.

—if you promise me that you’ll keep it to yourself, I’ll negotiate with the US Air Force and get a Silver Star Medal1 for you.

Or, he could have misheard her.

Nevertheless, Asaba did remember, albeit hazily, her telling him something along those lines.

Rumors about what happened right in front of the armored door of the air-raid shelter reached the classroom before Asaba did.

He had virtually no memories of how he returned to the classroom after the incident.

His ordinary life outside the shelter had not been burnt by nuclear fire, nor had the world been invaded by aliens. After lunch break was fifth period, and after the fifth period was the sixth.

He also had virtually no memories of the contents of those lessons.

 

Iriya spent the fifth period in the infirmary but was somehow diligent enough to return to the classroom by the time sixth period was about to start. She took her seat without saying anything or even looking at Asaba, and looked so much like her ordinary, expressionless self that it was almost disappointing. It made her nosebleed and convulsions just moments before seem like a dream.

However, to everyone else except Asaba, her lack of expression took on another meaning: the careful lack of expression of a girl who was pushed down onto her back and nearly violated.

The sixth period ended, classroom cleaning time ended, and:

“Akiho, Chief said he will split the work for the next issue today, so—“

Akiho turned to face him, her hand coming up above him from the side. She then slapped him across the face with the force that Asaba would have applied to a foot-bellow. Her eyes shot to the flaming red maple leaf-shaped mark her hand left on his cheek, and her sideward gaze lingered on that mark even as she swiftly turned on her heels and left the classroom.

Asaba was left in a daze with his hand against his cheek.

An arm came up to sling itself over his shoulders.

Hanamura said, “Aren’t you looking good, Asaba-kun!”

“Mannn, this is the first time I’ve seen a boy being hit by a girl up close!” said Nishikubo.

Asaba finally came to his senses and looked at the door which Akiho exited the classroom from like he was looking at something far, far away in the distant sky.

“Nishikubo—“

He thought he shouldn’t show himself at the clubroom today.

“—treat me to some ramen.”

Nishikubo nodded, gravely.

After packing up, the three of them left the classroom. Along the way to the school foyer, they met several people whose faces perked up with an “Ah!” as they passed Asaba by.

“You’ve become quite the celebrity now, haven’t you?” laughed Hanamura.

Asaba wondered if he really did become one.

If he were to defend himself for his actions, his explanation would eventually have to touch on the incident at the pool. He would then have no choice but to admit that he did not quite know what was going on, from the beginning till end.

“Well,” began Nishikubo, as he pulled out a pair of sneakers with well-worn heels from his shoe locker and threw them down on the floor, “There may people who talk trash about you, but I’m on your side.”

Since that incident at the pool, Asaba felt like he had lost his footing somewhere and slipped out of reality. That was because ever since then, he had not been able to fully understand everything that had happened to him; instead, he had felt uneasy, and at times, fearful. However, after somehow surviving the curious looks and whispered banter all around him, he finally came to a realization.

The biggest reason as to why he waded in so deep was because, somewhere inside his heart, he was unwilling to let go of the ‘mutual secret’ he shared with Iriya.

“And! As someone on your side, I have a question for you.”

 “What?”

Nishikubo sucked in a breath and turned to face Asaba with a solemn expression.

“—did you do her?”

Must he go there?

Asaba thought the best weapon to use to spearhead himself out of the situation was a wry smile, but upon seeing it, Hanamura suddenly started wriggling around like a spoilt child.

“Tell us!!”

“W-What are you getting all worked up for?” said Asaba with a dry laugh, but his smile had a hint of bitterness along the edges. It was less frustrating to be pressed for answers like this than to have people whispering behind his back. Even more so, when the truth about what happened was, well, something like that.

“Some things are better left unsaid,” Asaba declared grandly before opening his shoe locker.

And closed it.

“Washroom,” he said.

Both Nishikubo and Hanamura went, “Huh?”

Asaba decided to put on a show. Rounding his back and hugging his stomach, he creased his brow in a manner he hoped was not too over the top.

 “My stomach doesn’t feel good. Sorry, could you all go ahead without me? We’ll do ramen some other time, okay?” Asaba said in a rush of words, as he stuffed his feet back in his indoor shoes which he had been in the midst of removing.

Leaving Nishikubo and Hanamura with astonished looks on their faces behind him, he half-ran, half-jogged as he left the foyer, acting like he was in a great hurry.

 

After that, Asaba really did go to the washroom.

He had already told Nishikubo and Hanamura to leave without him, and as both of them were rather impatient people, Asaba did not think they would wait for him at the foyer to finish his business in the washroom. But, to be doubly sure, he decided to sit on the toilet bowl with his pants and briefs neatly pulled down in a cubicle to kill time for a while.

He sat there with his bare ass sticking out for thirty minutes.

After which he 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. He then left the washroom and headed back to the foyer. Before he knew it, he was walking on tiptoes, and his heart raced faster with each step. He passed by the entrance to the foyer once without stopping in order to verify, with a sideward glance, that Hanamura and Nishikubo were not around.

Alright.

He stopped, did an about-turn, and went back to the entrance to the foyer. Placing his hands on the door of his shoe locker, he took a deep breath and opened it.

He wasn’t mistaken, after all.

Resting against his 25 cm sneakers which he hadn’t washed in a while, was a pink and extremely inappropriate-looking envelope.

This had never happened to him before. Not once, ever since he was born.

Asaba snatched the envelope up and turned it over. The words on the bottom right-hand corner seemed to jump out at him as he read them.

 

“Iriya Kana”

 

Pull yourself together and keep your cool, Asaba told himself.

Many things happened between him and Iriya today, and that troubling incident at the air-raid shelter was the very last straw. Currently, they were both subjects of rumors flying about the school.

In other words, this might be a prank, and the culprit could be someone like… Nishikubo or Hanamura.

Asaba looked about him restlessly. Perhaps Nishikubo and Hanamura were stealing glances at him from the shadows, muffling their laughter.

Perhaps the letter in the envelope would read: “Today will be a day I will never forget. Naoyuki came on so strong, after all. Kana was so surprised when Naoyuki suddenly forced himself on her. But it’s okay, really. Please wait in front of the main gate of the Sonohara Air Base at 3 PM next Sunday. This time, Kana will be the one giving Naoyuki an experience he won’t forget,” or something like that.

Then, they might lay in wait for him on Sunday just to catch him all dressed to the nines like a stallion raring to go, only to wait in vain, before laughing at him once more.

However, Nishikubo and Hanamura were with him throughout the fifth period, the break after that, the sixth period, and even during classroom cleaning time. He didn’t think they would have had the chance to leave something like this in his shoe locker. That is to say, this was someone else’s doing, and possible suspects include everyone in his class and every student who was looking on from the front of the armored door. That would be more than a hundred people, and this would mean he would have to subject every one of those hundred people to torture inside his head.

Hang on, he thought. He seemed to remember seeing this pink envelope before. The same kind of envelope was being sold at the school co-op. Since the school co-op only carried a very studious-looking and unexciting line-up of goods at the stationery corner, a pink envelope like this stuck out like a sore thumb. Rumor was that the teachers were considerate enough to get the co-op to sell it just in case there were students who want to use it for love letters, thus this pink envelope was rather famous amongst the students. He wondered if there was any female student in this school who would actually use this envelope to contain their love letters.

No, hang on, he thought. Iriya only transferred to this school just yesterday. She must have had no idea how most students view this pink envelope. If she were to, without preconceived notions, choose an envelope for a love letter from the line-up of items at stationery corner, it was highly likely that she would have arrived at this pink one.

No, no, hang on, he thought. That sounded weird. “If Iriya were to pick an envelope for a love letter from the school co-op, she would pick this one”? That might be true, but so what? Even if he were to make that assumption, the probability of this letter being a prank would not be reduced in the slightest. The problem lay in the fact that the pink envelope was something being sold at the school co-op, and also that it looked like it was prepared hastily in the wake of that incident at the air-raid shelter. One could say that the ‘prepared hastily’ part was pretty suspicious.

No, no, no, hang on again, Asaba thought. What if he put himself in the prankster’s shoes? Let’s say he was the one wanted to play this prank. What would he have done? If he had to procure an envelope for a prank by buying it from the school co-op, would he have, out of all the ones he could have bought, chosen this one?

The prankster must have known about this pink envelope since it was a rather famous one. A letter in a shoe locker, by virtue of it being in a shoe locker, would be more than sufficient to make the victim think it was a love letter. Since a drab envelope would more or less do the job, wouldn’t the prankster, in order to not arouse unnecessary suspicion, choose a more docile looking envelope? If Asaba were to execute the prank, that was what he would have done. Right now, he was already having serious misgivings about this envelope. If he had to buy an envelope from the school co-op, he would have avoided buying this one at all costs.

All that is left now was, “If Iriya were to pick an envelope for a love letter from the school co-op, she would pick this one”.

Anybody who saw him now would think he was frightened out of his wits.

Asaba stood there, face slick with grease and sweat, as motionless as a scarecrow with the pink envelope in his hand, fervently crawling around in the quagmire of his own thoughts. He did not think Iriya was the sort who would write a love letter, but then again, he had a feeling that she seemed like a girl who had enough crazy in her to do something like this.

If it were a real love letter from her, Asaba would have absolutely no problem with it. In fact, he would be over the moon. Not only that, he would be so happy that he will consider today to be the day he kissed his days of being a boy goodbye.

But, what if it turned out to be a prank instead?

If he had agonized over it this much and still fell for the trick by opening the letter, it would feel like an ignominious ‘defeat’. Finding it difficult to move, he held the letter up to his face and scrutinized every corner of the envelope, hoping to find some sort of clue. He wished he had X-ray vision. If only he had been more serious about the training they did last winter when the Suizenji topic was still ‘Telekinesis’, which would purportedly help them develop extra-sensory perception. If he had, there was a chance that he might, by now, be able to sneak a peek at the words written on the—

Words.

Asaba flipped the envelope over once more and eagerly studied the words on the bottom right-hand corner of the envelope.

Seared into his eyeballs was the sight of Iriya appearing in his classroom for the first time, her name written neatly on the blackboard behind her. He felt that the words “Iriya Kana” on the blackboard then looked awfully similar to the “Iriya Kana” on the envelope now.

Let’s bet on that, he decided. Let’s bet on that memory, and trust that this was, without a doubt, a letter from Iriya.

Asaba, finally liberated from the quagmire of his thoughts, abruptly became aware that people may be looking at him, and he stuffed the envelope down his collar into his shirt.

He shall open this envelope, and read its contents.

In a place without people.

In a place with cicadas.

Taking a deep breath, Asaba suddenly broke into a run. He ran out of the foyer entrance onto the school grounds in his indoor shoes, taking the long way around the back of the row of club rooms before entering the gymnasium via the toilet window, slipping through the darkness of the tool storage area under the stage, and exiting the gymnasium from the west-facing emergency exit. He then proceeded to scramble up the drain pipe onto the bumpy, uneven roof of the walkway corridor. There was a basketball nestled in one of the bumps on the roof, forgotten, and Asaba kicked it off the roof as hard as he could. Running along the walkway roof, he re-entered the school building through a window on the second floor and dashed in a straight line towards the end of the corridor. Along the way, he bumped into Vice Principal Tashiro who had just emerged from the staff room, and after receiving a scolding: “Don’t run in the corridors!” he continued up the stairs.

He was extremely short of breath by the time he was halfway up the stairs, but gritted his teeth and forced himself to continue climbing anyway.

Only to finally reach the engine room of the clock tower.

Anyone who looked at the timeworn dial on the clock tower from the outside would think that it looked grand, but they might be surprised to find that the inside of the tower was actually rather narrow and untidy. The walls in the engine room were covered in graffiti, and scattered about the floor were the cigarette butts smoked all the way till the end by someone who probably couldn’t really afford them. There was only one south-facing window with patches of dust and dead insect carcasses clinging to the glass. Despite that, some sunlight still managed to pierce through it, tinging the darkness of the engine room with a yellowish hue. Gears and speed regulators in the room turned lazily on their axles, their sharp, knobbly corners reminding Asaba of a skeleton.

It was warm.

Asaba bent over with his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. Sweat dripped from his chin, disappearing into the fibers of the wood as soon as they touched the gritty wooden floor. He righted himself and crossed the room to open the window. There was a written rule that said no one should be allowed to open this window, and in the past, it was always kept locked. However, no matter how many times they fastened a new padlock on this window, someone would break it.

He stepped over the windowsill and came out under the summer sky, onto the roof of the school building, before seating himself on the roof tiles, ignoring the dried pigeon droppings and the heat searing his backside as he sat down.

The south-facing part of the roof on the clock tower sloped steeply downwards, extending out for about three meters before dropping off into nothingness.

However, the view of the countryside surrounding the school was stunning. This was the reason why they persisted in putting a lock on this window, and also why someone would break it each time.

Asaba pulled out the pink envelope, now crumpled and covered in sweat, from inside his shirt.

A long, thin sigh escaped his lips.

The pit of his stomach felt cold. Perhaps it was where he was at right now, he thought. One wrong step and he could fall to his death.

He then opened the envelope.

In it was only one slip of paper.

The first thing he saw, jumping off the page at him, were the words “Iriya Kana”. For some reason, she had written her name in a box. Above this box were three words, fuzzy and indistinct from being photocopied again and again, over multiple generations:

 

Club.

Application.

Form.

 

With a soft thud, Asaba fell sideways onto the roof, all alone. The sun-charred roof tiles were scorching hot, but right now, he didn’t care. The thought which he had abandoned in the quagmire he escaped just moments before resurfaced in his mind once more, like a zombie emerging from a swamp.

Iriya didn’t seem like the sort who would write a love letter.

Then again, she seemed like a girl who had enough crazy in her to do something like this.

“… What a strange girl…”

It was not long before he was unable to bear the heat of the roof tiles against his cheek. Asaba rolled over to lie on his back.

He closed his eyes, but could still feel the sunlight piercing through his eyelids, so he shielded them with a pair of very sun-burnt arms. And there he remained, stretched out on the roof, on his back.

 

spiral

 

If only Asaba, now currently brain-dead, had looked over the form again, and read all the way to the end.

 

Right now, the letter Asaba had in his hands seemed like a flimsy, insignificant photocopied form, but it was, without question, a club application form; a formal document which expressed the wishes of a girl known in this school by the name of “Iriya Kana” to join a club.

However, the Journalism Club was a guerrilla group not formally accepted by the school. Since the school treated the club as how they would treat a simple group of friends, one didn’t need a club application form or anything like that to join such a group. Asaba and Suizenji didn’t explain that part to her clearly, and Iriya had probably gone to a teacher and asked him or her something like, “What should I do if I wanted to join a club?” In response, the teacher would have given her this form and she had filled it up with the necessary information.

How much straighter than an arrow could she be?

On that form was, as Asaba had seen, a heading that said “Club Application Form”.

Below the heading was a line for writing one’s name and the club one wanted to join, and Iriya had written, in neat letters, “Iriya Kana” and “Journalism Club” respectively.

Below those lines were two boxes, one for an advisor and the other for a teacher-in-charge to affix their seals. The first box for ‘Advisor’ was empty, which was to be expected for a guerrilla group that did not have one, but, for some reason, the ‘Teacher-in-charge’ box had a seal that said “Shiina”.

The name of the mastermind who had been pulling strings.

Finally, right at the bottom was a large column called ‘Reason for Wanting to Join”. Only an institution like a school would make students write things that no one would earnestly read. The majority of the student body would write tired old clichés in a column like this. Like ‘I want to train my body and my mind’, or something like ‘I want to use this opportunity to develop richness of spirit’. The point is, you could write anything you wanted to, and a jaded teacher will most likely still put his or her seal on the form for you whether this column was filled in or not.

One could almost see her in their minds now, that woman in the infirmary who had willfully put her seal on the form, standing behind Iriya and leaning forward to peek over Iriya’s shoulder. She would have grinned when she saw that the tip of Iriya’s pen had stilled at the “Reason for Wanting to Join” column on the form.

—no, you can’t leave that blank, you have to write what you really think.

Anyone would be dead sure; one would have bet anything one had. Shiina Mayumi must have whispered that into her ear.

How long then, do you think Iriya took to write down her answer for a simple question like “Reason for Wanting to Join”? She might have hemmed and hawed for a long time, or she might have, against all expectations, written down her answer without much hesitation after being told to be honest about what she wrote.

This isn’t the time to be lying on his back on the roof like this, Asaba.

After all, in the “Reason for Wanting Join” column on the form that Asaba was holding on to, Iriya had written only one sentence:

 

“Because Asaba is in it.”

 

Yet.

Under the summer sky of UFOs, a wimp like Asaba could only lie motionless, on his back, on the roof. How long did he intend to remain in that state? The wind quelled, the tiles against his back were as hot as ever, from the music room wafted a lifeless melody played seemingly at random by the brass band, and somewhere on school grounds a ball was hit by a metal bat.

Despite all that, all Asaba could hear was the warbling of the cicadas.


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Translation Notes

1  Silver Star Medal, or Silver Star: Wikipedia link here