Volume 1 – Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, Sono Ichi
Chapter 4 – Since This Is How Things Are (Bangaihen)
Barely ten minutes had passed since she started unpacking when the newspaper seller came by. He had the toe of his safety boot wedged between the door and the doorframe, with the door chain still in place, spouting one ingratiating sentence after the other.
“I’ll throw in some detergent,” he beseeched her. “I’ll throw in some beer discount coupons as well. Just one month will do! What about I just give you a month’s worth of these for free? Our business is such that each salesman gets a little bonus every time he closes fifty contracts. Since you’ll be my fiftieth contract, it’ll still be a plus for me even if I paid for this out of my own pocket. You’ll get all of these without needing to pay for it, I get a bonus, and my performance record at work will improve! Everyone will be happy! Okay? I beg you, please!”
She would very much have wanted him to leave.
Sticking the metal bat back into her umbrella stand, she retreated into her room that spanned six tatami mats to breathe in the scent of fresh, brand new tatami mats, but she still couldn’t quell her anger.
—oh, for fuck’s sake.
Every newspaper door-to-door salesman sang the same tune. I will throw this and that in for you if you would so kindly take custody of these troublesome things, they always went, almost pressing the papers into her hands as they pleaded with her.
The very least a salesperson could do when trying to promote their wares was to speak of their good points, but those salesmen only did things like brandish stuff like detergent and beer discount coupons or whatever it is they had in her face without so much as a mention of how good the newspaper they were selling was. It was fairly obvious that the salesmen were of the opinion that what they were selling were ‘just’ newspapers. She felt like they were pressing on her something they felt had too little worth to bother making recommendations for to her, a customer, and she found that very disagreeable indeed. On top of all that, they didn’t even try to be affable. They were simply persistent, and, depending on the situation, they might try to threaten her into accepting their wares simply because she was a woman.
She wondered who it was that said it: In Japan, the intelligentsia wrote newspaper articles, but those who sold newspapers were low-level gangsters or hoodlums.
Shiina Mayumi scanned the room and let out a sigh. All around her were cardboard boxes, scattered all over the room.
“—I guess that’s okay.”
As long as she had a place to sleep, that is. At least for now, she had one.
She could do the unpacking tomorrow instead.
Shiina Mayumi picked up the plastic bag from the convenience store that she had flung into a corner of the room and then promptly forgot about. Three cans of beer lay sweating inside the bag. She took one out and stuck the other two cans along with the bag into her refrigerator, which was still empty.
The melody of ‘Tōki Yama ni Hi wa Ochite [The Sun Sets in the Mountains Far Away]’ began to play from a public announcement speaker somewhere in the distance. Over it, a monotonous female voice that sounded like someone reading an essay out loud started to make multiple echoes down the streets. It’s already seven, so be careful on the road on the way home. When you reach home, remember to do your homework, help out around the house, take a bath, brush your teeth, and sleep early, it droned.
—mind your own business.
The glass door didn’t have any curtains, but she opened them wide and stepped out onto the veranda while still barefoot.
Before she knew it, her days were becoming longer. From the veranda of Room 202 in Fukuhara Manor, one could see the deep colors of sunset in the sky. One could also look out at the row of shabby-looking houses and look down at a tiny park which wasn’t large enough to be designated as a place of refuge in times of war. A wind ruffled past her, her white tank top clinging to her body, which was moist with sweat.
She pulled the tab off the can.
A bitter laugh escaped her lips despite herself. She had just moved into a room six tatami mats large, her things are in cardboard boxes which she hadn’t unpacked, and she was on a veranda, watching the summer sunset. What is this, a playing card combination1? It was a scene straight out of an uncreative beer commercial.
She took a sip.
On the last day of June, in other words, three days later, she would be taking up a new post as a school nurse at Sonohara Middle School. Most people usually got sent to the ‘front line’ much earlier than this, but due to the indecisiveness of the higher-ups in US Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s desire to butt into their affairs, she was posted out behind schedule. She was to gather detailed information after assuming her new position, but summer vacation came almost immediately and she didn’t have much time to do so. After summer vacation ended, ‘Alice’ was also posted to the ‘front line’, and she was put on the backup team.
She took another sip and finally remembered.
That she had forgotten to call the base to report that she was now in the safe house.
After yet another sip of beer, she went back to her room with the glass door still wide open.
Sitting with legs crossed on the floor, she pulled the phone towards her.
The phone started ringing, just then.
Shit. She hasn’t contacted them for quite a while, so someone from the base may have started to fret and decided to call her up to lecture her, she thought. Hurriedly taking up the receiver in her hands—
“Oi, turn your TV on, your TV!”
It was Enomoto.
“W-What’s this, out of the blue? Hey. Is Sakisaka with you now?”
“Put that aside and turn your TV on now, would you! A super interesting program is on right now!”
The first three electrical appliances Shiina Mayumi plugged in when she got to her new place was her refrigerator, her phone, and her television. Her 17-inch television sat atop a cardboard box right beside her, but the remote was somewhere else, mixed in amongst her stuff.
She leaned forward and pressed the power button on the television.
“26!” Enomoto yelled in reply, before bursting into a loud guffaw.
Really? Was it that funny?
Shiina Mayumi pressed the channel change button repeatedly until the number on the top right corner of the screen read ’26’. An extreme close-up shot of a middle-aged man with a beard and a bald head appeared on the screen. He was highly agitated and in the middle of an impassioned speech.
“Since that is how things are! Since that is how things are! Since that is how things are, you all are unable to truly see anything! Your eyes are clouded by the tinted glasses of what you all call ‘common sense’! Look here, we already have that many eyewitnesses, you know. Amongst them are elementary school students, Buddhist monks, and even policemen! Do you think that an elementary school student would be able to get a lie past a scientist or a journalist? What on earth would a monk or a policeman gain by risking their reputation and their place in society to spout rubbish? There can only be one explanation! They’re all speaking the truth!”
“Since that is how things are! Since that is how things are!”
On the other end of the line, Enomoto chanted in tandem with the man on the television before bursting into laughter again.
She had seen that man before.
That repeated utterance of “Since that is how things are!” sounded familiar, too.
She couldn’t place the name, though. She thought it was Aoi something, but maybe she got that wrong as well. In any case, it was a name that sounded like a pen name an overly self-conscious middle school student would choose when handing in an entry to a poetry competition.
He was a researcher that dealt extensively with the paranormal and appeared frequently on shows such as these.
The camera switched angles to show a middle-aged lady, who launched a counterattack.
“You’re being rude when you speak of elementary school students that way. You shouldn’t look down on them. There are tons of elementary school students who can deceive adults. That being said, any kid out there could say “the Earth is oblong” to someone like you and you would still believe him. That’s because you wanted to believe that the Earth was oblong from the very start. The same goes for the monk and the policeman. Saying this might hurt your feelings as you seem to be awfully lacking in worldliness, but could I say it, still? Could I? There are people in this world who would say, or do anything, no matter how senseless, just so they could gain attention from others. It’s sad, but there are lots of people like that. They don’t even mind dying if they could be acknowledged by others. Such sad, sad creatures we humans are.”
She had a hairstyle like a galea, a Roman soldier’s war helmet and a mole so large it looked like she had a chocolate chip stuck on her chin.
Shiina Mayumi had seen her before too.
She couldn’t remember the lady’s name, but she was someone who always made an appearance on shows such as these. She carried the title of ‘Science Journalist’ and wrote columns in several conservative magazines. At least, that was what she thought.
Through the receiver, “Mannn, that is gross. That hairstyle is gross.” Enomoto sounded like he was thoroughly enjoying himself.
On the U-shaped conference table sat three polemicists from each camp. Someone had put together a set that was almost as gaudy as a pachinko parlor behind them. Paper models of Adamski-style UFOs lay around, bathed in a waterfall of smoke.
In other words, today’s show was a ‘UFO Special’.
Mayumi Shiina felt slightly disappointed. Enomoto had asked her to switch her television on with such great élan that she was expecting something very, very interesting indeed, but UFO specials aren’t that uncommon, and she usually didn’t even feel like watching them.
“A heated exchange has broken out in the studio, but right now we would like to check in on someone who is currently at the Sonohara Air Base! Ōitabashi-san! How is your experiment coming along?”
The screen switched to show a different location and Shiina Mayumi could identify it at a glance. It was Apron No. 2 at Sonohara Air Base, but the filming was not being done inside the premises. The shaky camera was pointed all around in a broad sweep to show the crowd of civilians and curious onlookers that had gathered around.
“Yes! This is Ōitabashi, and we are at Sonohara Air Base. Presently, my watch reads 7.16 PM, and a little over ten minutes have passed since we began the telepathic UFO summoning experiment. Right now, we can observe that there are no obvious changes in the sky above us, yet look at the number of people that have assembled here! This is what one would expect of Area Sonohara, the UFO Town with a military base in it. Look at how interested the townsfolk are!”
Shiina Mayumi could no longer stay quiet.
“I-Is this live?!”
“Right-o. The people from Security were running all over the place just now and I was wondering what the commotion was all about, and it turned out to be, well, this. I wanted to go out there and make a peace sign or something but that idiot Kimura—”
“Aren’t you the idiot here instead?! Look, make sure you don’t move from where you are, okay?! This is being broadcasted throughout the country, isn’t it?! If they manage to even catch a fleeting glimpse of your face on film even a court-martial won’t save your ass!”
“Sheesh, there’s no need to yell at me, I was joking. Oh look, look, he’s coming on now! That, what was his name again? Ah anyway, the man who can summon UFOs using his telekinetic powers is coming on now! Whoa, it is still interesting no matter how many times you’ve watched this fellow do this!”
What was being filmed was a man who looked like he subsisted on just plain water, raw vegetables and marijuana. He so tall it was almost creepy. He eyes were closed and his face was tilted upwards. He stood there with his arms held open, elbows bent. Shiina Mayumi remembered him as someone who called himself some sort of ‘Channeller’, and he often appeared on television to do telepathy or prophecy-related performances. Some organization called Brothers from Outer Space or something like that conferred to him a special title which he goes by, a lengthy, tedious-sounding name which Mayumi Shiina tried to recall but couldn’t.
“Eh, according to Canrinaflakymam Freycorte Shia-san2 here, it takes around thirty to forty minutes to summon a UFO, and, if a UFO were to appear, it would come from N-N-E direction, 30 degrees east of north.”
“Bulls-eye heading 030, huh. He’s not completely off the mark.” Enomoto muttered.
“As you can see, it would take a while for something to happen. We will get in touch with you immediately if we see anything, but let’s return to the studio for now!”
Clouds appeared in the sky as dusk deepened to dark as night started to close into the room. The six-tatami matted room had no light fixtures, which made it half-dark inside.
Light from the television screen flickered across her face as Shiina Mayumi sat there watching it, almost in a daze. She laid the receiver on the tatami, picked up the can of beer beside her and gulped all of its contents down. Throwing herself on her back, she reached out her right arm to extract a lighter and pack of cigarettes, which she hardly smoked, from the messy pile of items she had stuffed in her bag. She then lighted her cigarette, the flame glowing red in the half-darkness.
Drawing up a knee and sitting up, she picked up the receiver once more.
“—it’s really alright, you say?”
“I guess so. We’ve contacted the mothership. Plus, those fellows are only outside Apron No.2 because our guys from the Third Section expertly led them there.”
Shiina Mayumi sighed while exhaling a cloud of smoke, flicking the ash off her cigarette into the empty can of beer. On the screen, Bearded Baldy was jabbing a finger at a dashboard and fervently trying to talk his audience around. On the dashboard was an artist’s impression of a ‘Foo Fighter’ which some people say they’ve witnessed around Sonohara Air Base.
From the receiver came a bubble of laughter.
“We don’t have that. We don’t have anything that in the house. That’s, without a doubt, a UFO. Twenty points!”
Shiina Mayumi laughed dryly too.
The UFO that was shown on the dashboard was more or less how George Adamski imagined them to look like, with all its more outlandish features removed.
“Look at this semi-circular portion,” Bearded Baldy explained. “This is where the so-called ‘Dean Drive’ is housed. It produces some sort of anti-gravity field, and it is believed that all UFOs witnessed thus far was equipped with a propulsion device like this.”
“He got the name right! Twenty-five points,” the receiver chirped.
“Of course he would get the name right. We named it after that, didn’t we?”
Chocolate Chip shook her head from side to side as if to say that she could hardly take his shit anymore. “Anti-gravity. Aaanti-gravity. Force acting in the opposite direction of gravity? With all due respect, did you mean to say, ‘anti-gravity’, just now?”
To which Bearded Baldy retorted, “I did. What of it?”
Chocolate Chip took a sip of water from her cup before saying, “And which scientific principle is your, so called, ‘anti-gravity field’ formulated from or based on?”
Bearded Baldy replied, “My apologies. You’ll have to ask the aliens.”
The receiver went, “Sorry man. You’ll have to ask the Skunks.”
“You have no idea, and yet you dare to speak so shamelessly of ‘built-in anti-gravity equipment’?!”
“Then, pray explain to me how the UFOs come to a complete standstill in mid-air or fly around in zigzag patterns!”
“That’s why I’ve been saying, from the very beginning, over and over and over and over again that those UFO accounts were either visual misjudgments, figments of someone’s imagination, or just downright falsehoods!”
“Since that is how things are! Since that is how things are!”
Both camps started to throw things at each other.
“What this person’s name again?”
“Aoi Seien. I’ve spoken to him twice, you know.”
Her breath hitched in her throat.
“Don’t worry. In both instances, there were guys from the Third Section with me. This fellow often loiters around the base, so the Third Section guys said they had him marked and have been following him around for quite a while. I met him in the waiting room of a place where they were filming something.”
“So, is he really as nutty as they say?”
“No, not at all. If I put it kindly, I would say he was a professional, but, if I put it unkindly I would say that he’s a sly old fox.”
“—what’s that supposed to mean?”
“We put him through a little test. I showed him a photograph and said something along the lines of ‘Sir, this is a photo a friend of mine took and I would really like you to take a look at it.’ He knew that it was fake at a glance. Said, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you that this is a typical ‘glass work’ photo.’”
“What’s ‘glass work’?”
“It’s a certain method of taking bogus photographs of UFOs. You stick a paper cut-out in the shape of an ellipse onto a glass window and set your focus to ‘infinity’ on your camera. It’s the most common trick that people use.”
“You mean, you could take genuine looking photographs just by doing something like that?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised if you saw the better ones around. Anyway, when I acted all concerned and went, ‘Harh, is that so?’ he said, ‘Would you let me borrow this? I would like to use it for the show.’ The show he was going to do that day was a panel discussion similar to today’s TV special. During the discussion, he triumphantly pulled out my photo while saying, ‘A certain person has submitted to me conclusive evidence of the existence of UFOs!’ The cheek of him! Then, when the opposing camp said, ‘How is one photograph conclusive proof?’ it was ‘Since that is how things are! Since that is how things are!’ all over again.”
In the half-darkness, the column of ash on her cigarette had grown rather long.
“It’s not just him. Mishima Satoko, that’s the name of the middle-aged lady on the show just now, yes? Her title of ‘Science Journalist’ is not a bluff, but, truth is, she’s also very much the entertainer from a production firm. On that day, she too appeared on the show to cross swords with this baldy. But, when the cameras stopped rolling during the interval, she appeared to be on friendly terms with him and they were talking to each other about their pets. Apparently, they hit it off after finding out that both of them kept Somali cats. They were going on about which brand of pet food was good, and which pet hotel was good…”
Some ash fell from her cigarette.
“In a certain sense, you could say that both of them actually lack worldliness—I guess?”
Those were the same words that Chocolate Chip had taunted Bearded Baldy with.
“Have you ever thought that most naïve of them all might actually be, well, us?”
The only light illuminating Shiina Mayumi’s form in the half-lit room was the television screen.
“—and we would like to invite contestants for the next episode of this show. Please check the telephone number to make sure you haven’t called the wrong one! Let us now show you the entries that our viewers have faxed to us.”
“—it wouldn’t be too good for us if someone managed to take a picture of your face, but.”
Light from the screen flickered across Shiina Mayumi’s face as she managed a thin smile.
“If it’s just for a bit, why don’t you try going out there and get yourself on camera? You could make peace signs with both hands, like a kid.”
“Nah, I won’t. I’d look stupid.”
“This is an entry from a Kawaguchi-san, a school teacher who lives in Sonohara Town—I am watching your show right now. The UFO phenomenon could be the largest collective fantasy that humans have ever thought up. As there are still many people out there who believe in things that do not exist, I hope you will come up with TV programs that appeal to reason and show logical restraint, so that these people may be educated.”
From somewhere out of the camera’s frame, an AD stuck in an arm to hand the anchor-woman a document.
“Uhhh, yes. We have received yet another fax from someone living in Sonohara Town. It is entitled ‘Top Secret Information’, and it says here that a large trailer that is being guarded by armored vehicles have arrived at Gate No. 2, south of Sonohara Air Base, and it is carrying—erm.”
A troubled expression appeared on the anchorwoman’s face as she directed her gaze to someone off the camera, like she was seeking for instructions.
“The trailer is carrying four frozen alien cadavers—or so this says. Erm, this was a fax from someone from the Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper.”
The receiver muttered, “—oh shit.”
On the screen, Bearded Baldy looked overjoyed to hear the news. He was calling for the team of reporters on-site to rush down at once. The studio was filled with the tense atmosphere of the impending unplanned live broadcast, and the mic in the studio began to pick up the orders that were being barked to the crew. The program host had his eyes on the sub-monitor as he asked, uh, could we get through to Ōitabashi-san at the Sonohara Air Base right now?
“Look at what happened!! That was why I told Kimura that idiot to ship that here by air freight instead!!”
“Wait, what’s going on?! Don’t tell me,”
That there really were alien carcasses on that trailer?
“Of course not!! He planned this, knowing that if he wrote something like that the filming crew would take action!! It’s not as if Suizenji knew what was on that trailer, he simply intended to throw the reporters at us to find out!! Sakisaka!!”
“Hey, who’s Suizenji? Wait!”
Enomoto did not reply, but she could hear a chorus of loud, angry voices flying back and forth in the background.
“Sorry! It’s going to get busy real soon so I’m hanging up now!!”
He slammed the phone down and the line was cut off.
Mayumi Shiina had no idea what was going on.
After that, the show entered a commercial break.
There was nothing Mayumi Shiina could do except to lean towards the screen as she stared at it.
However, the commercial break lasted more than fifteen minutes. In her impatience, Shiina Mayumi thought of giving her television a good shake.
Then, “This is Ōitabashi! Eh, we are now at the freight terminal in front of the Sonohara Air Base, Gate No. 2. Would you look at that please, as per that tip-off, a large trailer that is being protected by armored vehicles is now parked here! It appears to me that this is a transfer of cargo from the trailer to another truck. The number plate on that truck seems to be of a different format. Please look over there, the soldiers are now in the midst of unloading metal shipping containers from the trailer! Cameras, over here!”
The scene was in chaos.
The cameras were shaking so violently that one would think there was an earthquake taking place. Members of the crew were running here and there while the onlookers who had reached the scene were creating a ruckus at the gate. Ōitabashi-san, with his back to the camera, broke into a run with the cameras chasing after him. He was heading towards where an enormous military trailer and a truck that was used for transporting goods around the base was parked. Although there were guard soldiers trying to hold the onlookers and film crew back, they seemed terribly outnumbered. The ‘Channeller’ with the horribly long name was nowhere to be seen, at least on camera. Perhaps everyone had left him behind at Apron No. 2.
“Excuse me! Please show us the inside of this shipping container!!”
Breaking free of a guard soldier, Ōitabashi-san threw himself at one of the shipping containers. Lunging at the few soldiers who were unloading it with the ferocity of someone taking a swing at them—
“Oi you, what are you trying to do? It’s dangerous, so keep away! Keep away, I say!!”
“What’s so dangerous about your cargo?! Is there something inside that you cannot show our viewers?!”
“The container may collapse on you so get away immediately, you moron! Heyyy all you bastards!!”
It was almost like a riot. One by one, the people started climbing onto the shipping containers and the truck rocked on its suspension. Finally, one of the containers tumbled off the trailer’s load-tray and onto the road. In the shock of the impact, its lock came undone. As the container rolled down the asphalt slope, several human-shaped things spilled out.
They were life-sized, inflatable sex dolls.
And this was being broadcasted live for the whole country to see.
Someone’s hand covered the camera lens and the screen switched to a display that said:
“Please give us a moment.”
In the half-lit room six tatami mats large, the phone rang.
Shiina Mayumi, who had her eyes fixed on the screen of her television, slowly reached out her left hand to pick up her phone receiver.
She could hear Enomoto’s sigh from the other end of the line.
“Hey. Can I ask you something?”
“—did your efforts pay off? Or is this the end for you because you were too late?”
After a short silence, Enomoto snorted in laughter.
“—what do you think?”
—it, it’s rough being in the army, isn’t it?
—I-I guess so. They have to go on dispatch missions to many different places, after all.
That was what they concluded in the end, wrapping up the TV special with both camps coming to some sort of reconciliation.
By then, night had permeated the six-tatami-large room. A sunblock lotion commercial was playing on the television that was left on and the cardboard boxes in the room were faintly awash with the color of the sea.
“A school nurse in the infirmary, huh,” Shiina Mayumi muttered.
She had plopped herself down cross-legged on the veranda. In her left hand was a second can of beer, and her right arm was curled around a metal bat she had rested against her shoulder.
A slack wind was blowing at her as she sipped her beer while looking out at the early summer night sky. Venus was out in the sky. It was a rather troublesome planet that humans often mistook for a UFO both back then, and even now.
She tightened her grip around the metal bat and readied it in a stance to strike.
Up till now, she had moved countless times for all sorts of missions.
And she would be assailed by newspaper sellers in the midst of her unpacking every time she did. Shiina Mayumi, with this very bat, had emerged victorious every time. She had never lost a fight with it, not even once. That was why she had unwittingly picked up the habit of pulling out the bat from a box and assuming an offensive stance at her front door whenever she reached a new place before doing anything else.
“Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper, huh,” Shiina Mayumi muttered with the bat held high above her. As she looked up at the summer night sky, she thought to herself.
Perhaps the next newspaper seller she met might be a slightly more formidable opponent than the ones that came before.
1 Yaku: a playing card combination in a Koi-koi game using Hanafuda playing cards: Wikipedia link here
2 カンリナフレキマム・フルエコルテ・シアー, kanrinafureki furuekorute shiaa, or whatever this weirdo’s name was supposed to be… We can only imagine how it is meant to be spelled.