Chapter 3 – Dream

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I had a nightmare.

A horrible nightmare.

Despite that, I can’t remember what it was about.

Despite that, I do clearly remember how horrible it was.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience, or in other words, I feel that I have seen and forgotten this dream many times already. I can’t recall it no matter how hard I try — the dream leaves behind only a lingering, bad but vague aftertaste.

That bad taste turns into a sticky, vicious lump rasping on my heart.

Desperate to spit out all the discomfort that has bottled up like coal tar inside, I try to recall the dream.

But like always, I fail.

The discomfort will eventually fade away; until the dream haunts me again, giving me once more the same feelings, and this keeps repeating.

What’s the deal with that dream?

I don’t know.

But every time after I’ve had it—every time when I awake from that fleeting dream—there is one thought that crosses my mind without fail:

Thank god it was just a dream.

We used to go to a fast food restaurant every day after our club activities.

He was the player, I was the manager.

He was my senior, I was his junior.

But those comparisons are not suitable to describe our relationship. The most suitable expression must be—

He was my boy, and I was his girl.

The one who had taken the initiative was me. My heart was racing like crazy when I asked him to go out with me; and I was on cloud nine when he accepted.

My life was so colorful from that day on.

I loved how he would run across the playing field.

I loved how he would laugh together with his friends.

I loved how he would stuff his mouth with food.

I loved how he would stroke my head while praising me.

I loved how he would hold his head because of bad marks.

I loved how he would shed bitter tears whenever he lost a match.

I loved everything about him, and I thought that I didn’t need anything except him.

It may sound terribly corny, but I was really thinking like that at the time.

“Do you want to go on a trip with me during the weekend?” he once asked me out in a slightly timid manner.

It was the first time he invited me to go somewhere overnight, and I wasn’t so dense as to not understand what his request implied.

I also realized that this must have been the reason why he had seemed so restless that day. He must have been thinking about a way to ask me all the time. No, perhaps he had been practicing all night long.

I couldn’t help finding him adorable, even though he was my senior.

I also loved this side of his.

I really loved him with all my heart.

“Something wrong?”

“Mm, I was just thinking that I’m so lucky.”

“Oh come on.”

“I wish this time would last forever.”

“It will! You have my word on it.”

“Mm.”

Truly.

If only this time would last forever—

A…dream…?

I was looking at a blurry ceiling.

There was no trace of him. Neither before my eyes, nor anywhere else in the world—

“Maya? Are you awake?” my mom said as she knocked at the door.

Her solicitude reached me through her voice and past the door, but even such warmth was terribly uncomfortable to me at the moment.

“Won’t you try to eat something?” she asked.

No.

Too listless to utter just two letters, I responded with silence, but my will had been conveyed nonetheless as I realized when I heard her leaving.

But mom could return. She could return anytime.

Unlike him—

I was in the city. I had gotten fed up with my mom’s hourly calls at my door. I wanted her to leave me alone, but it was on such days of all days that she wouldn’t let me.

I wasn’t in a state to deal with such obstinate approaches that practically screamed “Look, I’m worrying about you!” That said, I couldn’t blame someone for worrying about me.

Therefore, I’d escaped.

How can I be so rational…

I was a bit put off by my own behavior.

“Ah…”

I had walked about completely aimlessly and without heading somewhere in special. Despite that, before I knew it, I found myself standing before the fast food restaurant we used to frequent.

My eyes automatically turned to the restaurant’s windows where I noticed a high school student sitting at our table, apparently waiting for someone.

“…What’s wrong with me?”

For just a moment, that student looked to me like him.

But that’s impossible.

I turned away to leave. However, I stopped, turned my head around and gazed at the student, just to be carried to the entrance by my feet.

But that’s impossible. He can’t be there. And I know it. There’s no need to confirm.

And yet, I was rushing to the table we would usually sit at.

“Shiga-senpai?”

“Huh? No, you’ve got the wrong person.”

It wasn’t his face.

It wasn’t his voice.

It wasn’t him.

My hopes were denied easily and mercilessly.

I knew it. Better than everyone else. There was no need to confirm.

And yet, a tear escaped from my eye and slid down my cheek.

Dear God,

If my tears can bring him back, I shall cry until I have no more tears to spill. So please, give him back to me.

Taken aback by my suddenly crying, the student hasted away and an employee rushed here to see what was going on. Comforted by that staff member, I left the restaurant.

I know that crying won’t solve anything, and tears won’t bring anyone back to life.

And still, I had cried like crazy.

Like crazy—that doesn’t mean that I really turned crazy. If I had, everything would have been so much easier. For once, I could understand the people who resorted to drugs.

Can’t I buy some somewhere around here? Seriously.

I left the main street and entered a back street, but not a soul was there, let alone a drug dealer.

Clearly, I had watched too much TV. On top of that, I had gotten lost because I’d wandered around too aimlessly.

There was no one in the vicinity, and the city noise seemed far somehow. It was as though I had strayed into another world.

Is this the world after death or some world in between? I wish it was.

Here I am thinking such things again…

I decided to enter a small shop nearby to ask the way.

“……?”

I was looking at a blurry ceiling.

But it wasn’t the ceiling of my room, nor was it a familiar room in the first place. I pulled away the blanket and sat up. I had a hard time collecting myself, but that had nothing to do with the drowsiness everyone has to fight against right after waking up,.

I left the room and walked around a bit until I came across a large room.

It seemed like I was in a shop.

All kinds of things were lined up in a disorderly fashion on the shelves. There were beautifully crafted glass vases and jars, and silverware, and a framed painting by an unknown artist. There was even a camera that looked very old, although I had no clue of how much value it was. The shelves were filled with things that could show up in a show about antiques. Perhaps, this was really an antique shop.

Why would I enter such a shop…?

But then I recalled that I had intended to ask the shop attendant the way, and at the same time I also noticed that I had no memories after entering.

What happened after I entered this shop?

“You’re awake?” a woman in her late twenties asked with a clear voice as she appeared before me.

She was so pretty that I wondered if I were still dreaming. With the gorgeous dress she was wearing, I couldn’t help suspecting that she had appeared out of that painting.

“I was really surprised! You just collapsed the moment you entered the shop.”

“…Ah,” I uttered, finally realizing why there was a gap in my memory, “I-I’m sorry.”

“Don’t mention it. But more importantly, are you all right? It seems like you haven’t gotten much sleep lately?”

“That isn’t really the case…”

In fact, I had slept a lot, but no matter how much I did so, my exhaustion didn’t seem to go away. Maybe all the energy and will power in my body had drained out already.

“Really? You were groaning in your sleep, you know.”

I see, I was groaning. I can’t remember anything, but I must have been dreaming of him. What a shame—looks like it wasn’t exactly a good dream, but I don’t mind as long as I can meet him.

“Ah, um, what kind of shop is this?” I asked impulsively after noticing the shopkeeper’s gaze on me.

She didn’t seem to mind and answered, “I’m dealing with Relics here.”

“Antiques, I take it?”

I already thought my conclusion made perfect sense, but she slowly shook her head.

“I may have said ‘Relics,’ but I do not refer to antiques and objects of art. ‘Relic’ is the word we use for magical tools created by mighty ancients or magicians, or for objects that have absorbed a human’s grudge or natural spiritual powers.

Surely you have heard of them before. Things like a stone that brings good luck, a voodoo doll, a triple-mirror that shows your death, and so forth.”

“Uh-huh…”

She was probably talking about those gadgets in movies. At least, I understood her words like that and was a little surprised that one would call those things Relics, too.

“But let’s leave that aside, my dear, how can I help you?”

Since she had even looked after me when I collapsed, I found it hard to tell her that I just wanted to ask for the way. That said, I wasn’t wealthy enough to buy expensive antiques.

“I am sorry. There is nothing I want.”

Yes. Nothing.

The one thing I want the most will never come back to me.

Except maybe… in my dreams.

Yes. Only in my dreams can I obtain what I want.

But I wouldn’t mind. Even if it were just a dream. As long as I could see him again…

“You can make do with a dream?” she asked.

“—Huh?”

It was as though she had read my mind.

No, she hadn’t read my mind—there was no need to do that.

A hole must have opened in my heart. A hole so gapingly wide that it was obvious to everyone.

“…I miss him.” The insides of my holey heart started to leak. Drop by drop. “I miss him. I miss him. I want to see him. Even if it’s just a dream!”

Be it a dream, be it an illusion, be it a ghost. Whatever it is—I just want to see him.

I want to meet him.

“Are you sure that you are fine with a dream?”

“…Yes.”

She replied with a silent nod and took something out of a shelf.

“Take this.”

Tsukumodo_V3_183

It was a censer as used in aromatherapy. Despite many traces of usage, there was something about it that captivated me.

“Put it next to your bed and light it whenever you sleep. It doesn’t matter what type of incense you use.”

“?”

“If you do so, your dreams will be under your control,” she explained.

“Under my control?”

“Yes,” she assured.

I asked the one question that came up right away. With a trembling voice.

“…Can I also see him?”

She nodded silently: “But be careful that you don’t lose your grasp on the boundary between dream and reality,” she warned me at the end.

“Welcome back,” Saki said, but despite the thoughtful tone that showed in her words, I could only give her an empty reply.

I was not in the mood for my usual jokes and rude remarks.

However, I didn’t want to spend time alone at home either, and had come to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop even though I had gotten the day off.

I had been at a classmate’s funeral that day.

It was a traffic accident. A drunken driver bumped into him and he died almost instantly because his head was hit badly. A horribly quick death somewhere far away from me that wasn’t even shown to me as a Vision.

“Are you all right?” Saki finally asked worriedly, but she quickly apologized. Because she felt bad for asking or because she couldn’t console me properly?

That said, there was no need for her to be so worried about me.

Of course I was gloomy and in low spirits, but I wasn’t that sad: I hadn’t known the victim so well. Had we not been in the same class, we wouldn’t have known each other to begin with. He had been an acquaintance of the level that I would maybe greet in the corridor once we changed classes.

But still we had spent time together.

Sitting in the same classroom, attending the same classes, relaxing during the same breaks, sometimes talking together, sometimes laughing with each other, sometimes getting a scolding together from the teacher.

But the time I could spend with him, which I had taken for granted, had gone lost forever.

I still had to figure out how I was feeling about that.

I was unsure how to express my feelings at the time. I couldn’t find appropriate words. In a way, the feeling was similar to learning about a stranger’s death on TV.

…Am I sad?

The class was coming to terms with his death.

Step by step, the gloomy mood returned to its former state, we stopped mentioning his name even without having to deliberately avoid it, and the absence of his name, “Shiga,” at the morning roll call stopped leaving an off taste.

Without mercy our daily lives went on, changing their shapes and pulling us along even when there was a piece missing.

By no means had Shiga been irrelevant to our class; that’s just how life is. Sort of.

“Excuse me,” our school janitor said as he entered the classroom.

Our gazes focused on him, and he seemed to know why. Without looking in our direction, the janitor approached a certain desk at the back and dispassionately started carrying it away.

It was Shiga’s.

His family had already taken his personal belongings, and we had been told that the desk itself would be removed today. Some felt that we should leave the desk until the next class change, but nobody objected when our class teacher decided that we had better remove the desk and move on. Therefore, nobody complained even while looking at the janitor.

The janitor paused for just a second, unsure as to what to do with the flower on his desk, but he wasn’t so stupid as to throw it into the trash, and took the flower away along with the desk.

The flower had been replaced twice after withering but disappeared along with the desk before the third time arrived.

With that, I thought, there will be no empty desk anymore that calls him back into our minds.

As soon as the desk had disappeared, the students returned to their respective breaks. The slightly cheerless air vanished immediately.

“Things move so fast,” Shinjou suddenly said, sitting at the desk before me. “Our girl manager, you see, is a friend of Shiga’s girlfriend, and according to her she’s still not come to school.”

I had previously heard from Shinjou that Shiga had dated a junior who was also the manager of his track and field club.

“Well, that must have been a shock for her,” I commented.

“I’ve also had the pleasure of talking with her; she’s a very cheerful girl. I hope she gets well soon…” he said.

I hope there will be a day when she can talk about him without pain—just like us.

Although I don’t know if that’s truly good.
“Jeez, he’s gotta be kidding me,” I sighed as I looked at my memo, searching for an apartment.

After classes had ended, a teacher had bothered me with an additional task to take care of. Just when I finished, however, I received a call from Shinjou. He asked me to bring him something he had forgotten at school and told me where he was.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t normally mind doing him a favor like this, in exchange for a free lunch or something along these lines, but this time, I wasn’t happy at all.

I was supposed to bring that item to Shiga’s girlfriend’s place.

Shinjou had accompanied the girl who managed his team on a visit to Shiga’s girlfriend. It’s all fine and dandy that he paid her a visit, since they knew each other after all, but was there a need to get me involved?

“Hah…”

After I had notified him of my arrival, Shinjou opened the door.

“I’m sorry, Kurusu!” he said as he made an apologetic gesture with his hand, and grabbed my arm. “Keep me company!”

“What?”

“I don’t want to be alone with them!”

“Hey, give me a break!”

Unable to shake him off, I was pulled into the apartment.

Hey, that’s got to be a bad joke! I do feel sorry for her, but I definitely don’t feel like being around a girl who has just lost her…

“Huh?”

Contrary to my expectations, there was a bright mood in her room.

One of the girls was sitting on her bed in her pajamas, sure, but the two of them seemed to be engrossed in a cheerful chat.

It almost seemed like Shiga’s girlfriend had just recovered from a lingering cold, and was now talking away the frustration from being bored.

Suspecting that Shinjou was pulling my leg when he told me this were Shiga’s girlfriend, I gave him a look, but he seemed just as confused as me, pulling an awkward smile. By the look of it, the bright mood had surprised him as well. Did that mean that she had already gotten over the loss?

Anyway, I could understand only too well that he would feel out of place, alone with two chatty girls.

Shiga’s girlfriend and the other girl noticed me and greeted me with a nod. I returned the greeting.

“This is Kurusu. A classmate of mine.”

“I see, thanks for the delivery.”

Shiga’s girlfriend introduced herself to me as Maya Nanase, and her friend as Sarina Akanuma.

Nanase wore her long black hair in a braid that hung from her right shoulder, giving her a rather mature appearance. She had put a cardigan over her pajamas, but I could still see that she was slenderly built.

Akanuma, on the other hand, had a ponytail that was slightly shifted to the right, and gave off an overall livelier impression than Nanase. Her short height and partly childish appearance made her a cute junior student through and through.

“That’s what he forgot? Mind if I take a look?” Nanase asked, pointing at the envelope I was carrying, which was what Shinjou had forgotten at school.

Without giving it a second thought, I handed it to Nanase, who then quickly opened it and took out—a bundle of photos.

I startled at the sight of what was in the first photo and turned my head to Shinjou. Not only he, but also Akanuma, who had appeared cheerful so far, were beholding Nanase with strained faces as well.

Their behavior made perfect sense: besides Shinjou, Nanase and Akanuma, the photo also showed Shiga himself. The four of them were smiling at the camera, striking up poses in front of an animal mascot. They had probably taken these photos during a visit at a amusement park.

Even Shinjou isn’t so insensitive as to just show her these—Nanase must have asked him to bring them. Perhaps, he had forgotten them on purpose because he wanted to avoid giving her them.

Ignorant of the three gazes on her, Nanase laughed happily: “Ph! Look at this! Shiga-senpai’s face’s all twisted!” She looked at Shinjou. “Can I have this one, Shinjou-senpai?”

“Sure. Those are for you, anyway.”

“Thank you. But you should really stop using something that ancient instant camera! Why don’t you get yourself a digital one? Ah, and once you have one, let’s go to a zoo!”

With who?

I had a feeling that Shinjou wanted to ask such a question. In reality, however, he just pulled a slightly awkward face and replied, “Yeah, totally.”

I couldn’t help observing Nanase.

She was obviously acting way too “normal” for a girl who had recently lost her boyfriend in a traffic accident. Neither did she seem like she was pretending to be cheerful, nor had she moved on from the loss; she just seemed normal to the core. If anyone was trying to be cheerful, it was Shinjou and Akanuma.

I even started to have doubts if Nanase had dated Shiga to begin with, but looking at Shinjou’s attitude, these doubts were ungrounded.

They say women move on fast from a relationship, but…

“Hey Maya, when are you coming to school again?” Akanuma asked, changing the subject a little forcibly. Maybe she was under the impression that Nanase was straining herself.

“School? Hm… I don’t know.”

Nanase paused to ponder over the question. While she did look healthy, it was a mental problem she was facing; I guessed that she might be reluctant to go to school where there were bound to be lots of memories with Shiga.

“But I’d lose sleep time that way…” she said, however, to my surprise.

Well, maybe the shock is giving her sleepless nights?

On further inspection, I discovered an opened pack of tablets on the shelf besides her bed. Under normal circumstances, it probably wouldn’t even have caught my eye.

Under normal circumstances.

“Maya? Are you taking sleeping pills?”

Akanuma, who had noticed the tablets as well, reached out for the package. She must have had the same disquieting idea as me—suicide by sleeping pills.

Her hand brushed an earthenware bowl that was standing right besides the package; the vessel tipped over and started to roll toward the edge of the shelf.

All of a sudden, Nanase started up from her bed, shoved Akanuma away, and caught it in the last moment.

“Be careful!” she shouted in an intimidating manner that made one doubt that she was the same cheerful girl as before.

“S-Sorry,” Akanuma apologized considerately, even though her eyes had widened in surprise.

“Ah, yes. I’m also sorry. This is very dear to me, you know,” Nanase apologized as well, having regained her composure. She sat down on her bed again, still holding on to the earthenware vessel, however.

Maybe it was a memento of Shiga.

Because the air had become awkward, I gave Shinjou a look. Guessing correctly what I was trying to say, he sat up and said, “Okay guys, shall we take our leave?”

“See you at school,” Akanuma added at the end and left the room with us.

When we left, I could sneak a peek at a relieved Nanase looking at that earthenware bowl.
It was then that a painful noise ran through my head—

I saw a plain, cold room.

Nanase was sleeping there on a bed—or so it seemed.

While there were no irregularities to speak of, it wasn’t apparent how this situation came about.

A motionless Nanase lying on a bed was all there was.

The scene was so quiet—so truly quiet—that it could be mistaken for a picture.

That’s how quiet her death was.

“So, what do you think?” Shinjou asked me after we had left. Akanuma seemed to be wondering about the same thing.

There was no need to ask what he was referring to; apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had felt that something was awry. Being close to her, they must have noticed much more than I, being close to her.

“To be frank, that Nanase doesn’t seem like Shiga’s girlfriend at all,” I replied with my honest thoughts.

Because I hadn’t been that personally attached to Shiga, her attitude didn’t leave a cold or heartless impression on me, but while I had no idea what was normal for the four of them, Shinjou and Akanuma seemed clearly sadder than Nanase to me.

Shinjou reluctantly opened his mouth, worried about Akanuma who was walking besides him: “I don’t know Shiga and Nanase too well, to be honest. I wouldn’t have tagged along with them if Akanuma hadn’t invited me. In fact, I hadn’t even known Nanase before that. But you know… seeing them together just once was enough to tell that they were a happy couple, totally. So, I just…”

“You can’t believe that she’s so fine?”

“Yeah. Did she look to you like she was acting, Kurusu?”

“Nope.”

“Mm…”

“Maya sunk into enormous depression when she heard of Shiga-senpai’s death. Like it was the end of the world. Her mom told me that she would shut herself into her room and wouldn’t eat anything,” Akanuma added. I could clearly recognize that she was confused by Nanase’s attitude as well. She had probably asked Shinjou to accompany her because she had been at a loss for words to comfort Nanase.

But against all her worries, Nanase turned out to be acting completely normal.

The shock of seeing that she was alive and kicking even though Akanuma had intended to cheer her up must have thrown her into anxiety.

“But I noticed something weird when Shinjou-senpai left to call you, Kurusu-senpai. I accidentally asked her if she was really okay, and she answered yes,” Akanuma explained, thinking back at their conversation, “because she could meet him any time in her dreams, thanks to the censer.”

“Censer? That little vessel you almost dropped?” I asked, and she nodded. “Meet him anytime in her dreams…?”

Can something as vague as that really let people move on so easily? Dreams are just dreams — they’re not real. She didn’t seem like she had lost her grip on reality, either. She did indeed seem completely normal.

But what secrets were hidden underneath her shell?

I had no idea what had caused the death my ‘Vision’ had shown me. Was it illness? Natural? Or… suicide?

Never before had I seen a death so calm, a transition from sleep to death so soft.

“Akanuma-san,” I said as I gave her something. It was a sleeping pill, which I had borrowed when there was a fuss about that censer that almost fell to the floor. My guess had proved right, unfortunately.

Akanuma gave me a surprised look; not because she thought I were light-fingered, but because I had thought the same thing as her.

“You thought about what she uses these for when you became so jittery, no?”

“Yes…”

“This situation and those pills sure don’t make for a good mix…”

“I don’t think she uses them for that, though.”

She doesn’t want to think so.

“You should absolutely give her family a call and warn them. Just in case, but do it.”

After Sarina and the others had left, I decided to use my censer.

I lit some incense and put it into the censer. Any type of incense would do — from joss sticks to coils — but I had taken to using cones.

I had heard that you should actually use powder incense, koh-tadon, gin-you or whatnot for this, but I wasn’t too well-versed in this field.

Whatever works.

Neither did I intend to enjoy the fragrance of incense, nor did I want to relax. All I wanted was to fall asleep and meet him.

The smell of citrus spread in my room, and in a matter of seconds, I was overcome by fatigue. I had no idea how many hours I had already slept that day, but whenever I burned incense, I would get sleepy.

I quickly lay down on my bed. The door was locked and my alarm clock not set — I wouldn’t allow anyone to disturb my sleep, to disturb my time with him.

“Maya.”

I heard Shiga-senpai’s voice. He was waving me in his school uniform, smiling. I quickly walked up to him.

“Did I make you wait?”

“Not at all,” he replied.

That’s a pity. Not that I was late, but I wanted him to say that he couldn’t wait to see me.

“Look, I got this today when I met Sarina and Shinjou-senpai.”

Oh? Where did I meet them again? Well, not that important.

I showed him the photos of our trip to the amusement park that I was carrying.

“Ah, from the other day?”

“Yes. Look, your face is all twisted!”

“I’m not photogenic, you know.”

Come to think of it, he had said the same thing back then, and in the the photos we took together his face was often contorted. But not once had he refused taking one. He would always listen to my requests, even he was troubled by them.

“What?”

“Mmm, nothing. We also agreed to go to the zoo sometime soon.”

“The zoo?”

“Yes.”

“But I…” he started, but I interrupted him by pressing a finger against his lips. I wouldn’t let him speak any farther. I didn’t know what he was about to say, but my gut was telling me to stop him.

“Don’t worry,” I said without even knowing why I did so.

What is there to worry about, anyway?

“Hey guys!”

Cutting my train of thought, Shinjou-senpai and Sarina showed up, wearing the same clothes as in the photos. For some reason, we were no longer wearing our uniforms, either, and had changed into our casual wear, which we had bought during the date on the holiday after our trip to the amusement park.

“Let’s go, senpai!”

No use racking my brains about things I can’t understand anyway and spoil our date.

I walked to the other two, pulling him along. After we had assembled, we found ourselves in front of the entrance to a zoo. We entered and strolled around, spotting families and couples here and there.

“Is there something you’d like to see, senpai?” I’d love to go see the pandas.

“How about the giraffes?”

Tche… not that I don’t like giraffes, but I wanted to see some pandas. I wasn’t particularly fixated on pandas; I was just unhappy that our tastes turned out to be different.

“Hm? You don’t like giraffes?”

“No, no, that’s not true,” I said in response to my dense boyfriend’s considerate question. “Let’s go to the giraffe area.”

I quickly started walking toward the giraffe enclosure.

“Ah, what do you want to see, Maya?”

“Pandas.”

“Then let’s head there first.”

“You’re too late.”

He made a disheartened face because of the blunder he had made, blowing my discontent away in a matter of seconds with his gentleness.

I spun round and sticked out my tongue.

“I’m fine if we go there after seeing the giraffes!”

Once I had finished speaking, the entire world around us started shaking.

No!

The moment I thought so, my field of vision zoomed out as if I had a fit of dizziness, and finally blacked out.

My eyes were looking at the ceiling.

My ears were perceiving a knocking at the door.

That noise had jolted me out of my dreams.

From my dreams to reality.

From the ephemeral world where he was, to the real world where he wasn’t.

A wave of unbearable disappointment and loneliness rolled over me. I held my arms aloft in front of my eyes, veiling them in darkness — protecting them from reality and distracting myself.

“Maya? Maya? Is everything all right?” I heard my mom from the other side of the door. “Aren’t you feeling unwell?”

I was feeling perfectly fine until right now; because of you!

“I’m not. Don’t disturb my sleep,” I replied.

“Good…,” she sighed in relief.

I wondered why she had knocked so stubbornly that day when she would usually just give up if there was no reaction from me.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Sarina-chan told me to look after you because you didn’t seem to be feeling well.”

Sarina? Wasn’t I completely normal when we talked? Maybe I don’t look so healthy compared to when I was attending school because I haven’t been outside lately.

But her consideration was uncalled for.

Does even Sarina start disturbing me now?

I was really happy about their visit, but somewhere in my heart, I was hoping that they would leave already. And just when I’d thought I could finally spend some time with him, I was pulled back to reality.

I looked at my censer. The incense had already turned into ashes, so I put a new incense cone into it and rolled myself up in my blanket.

Again, I was overcome by sleepiness in no time. That sleepiness, however, would only last until I actually fell asleep, and my sleep would get shallower with every subsequent session.

Even though I didn’t want to be in this world.

Even though I wanted to stay in the other world.

Even though I wanted to stay asleep forever.

“Well, that’s bound to be a Relic.”

The next time I went to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop, I tried asking Towako-san about the censer. When I explained the shape of the vessel to her and told her that Nanase was supposedly able to meet her deceased boyfriend in her dreams, Towako-san estimated that censer to be a Relic, coming to the same conclusion as me.

“What does it do?”

“When you fall asleep while burning incense in that censer, your dreams will be able to control your dreams at will.”

“Control your dreams?”

As it turned out, its original purpose wasn’t meeting dead people in one’s dreams; her wish to meet Shiga must have led to that result.

“She must have wanted to be with her boyfriend, even if it’s just a dream,” Towako-san said.

Even if it’s just a dream…

“The boundary between dream and reality is very vague, after all.”

“It is?” I asked in response to her commentary, because I felt that there is a distinct difference between dream and reality.

“A dream is equivalent to reality as long as you don’t recognize that it’s a dream. You don’t always know that you’re in a dream when you’re dreaming, do you?”

She had a point: While asleep, you are scared in case of a nightmare and happy in case of a nice dream. There’s no relief or disappointment until you wake up and realize it was just a dream.

“Does that girl not realize that she’s just dreaming?” Saki asked a question that had been on her mind.

“She should be aware of that, at least while she’s awake,” Towako-san explained.

That fact was quite obvious, since she had said that she could meet him in her dreams.

“However, she might not notice when she’s actually dreaming.”

Indeed — who would get addicted to that censer if you knew everything was fake while dreaming?

“But in that case, is the guy she’s meeting there just a fake?” I asked.

All characters that appear in a dream are but characters contained in that dream; they’re obviously not real. If the power of that censer was to control one’s dreams, then it shouldn’t be able to revive the dead.

“That’s a difficult question; when you’re dreaming, do you consider everyone to be fake?”

“…No, I probably wouldn’t think that.”

“There you go. She must be under the impression that he’s real while asleep. When she wakes up, however, she will notice that it was but a dream — that he was a ‘fake’ as you put it.”

Regardless of how happy her dreams were, she realized the truth every time she woke up. How could that realization possibly feel? If she was aware that she was just deceiving herself, then she must be feeling literally just empty, right?

Why would she keep doing that?

Did the certainty of being able to meet him in her dreams allow her to endure that feeling of emptiness? Spending happy hours in her dreams, just to experience a great let-down when she woke up, finding hope in the fact that she could meet him again soon, just to fall asleep again.

A vicious cycle like that wouldn’t last for long.

Sooner or later, she was bound to notice that there was no point in that.

If so — we could maybe let her sleep for a little longer.

Just a little.

Until she turned into what my ‘Vision’ had shown me.

A few days after I had visited Nanase, I was about to go home together with Shinjou, who had no club activities that day, when we were stopped by Akanuma.

She was openly crying in front of everyone.

The other students who were preparing themselves to head home gave her curious looks. Shinjou asked her what was wrong, but she only answered with more sobs.

We decided to take her into our classroom for the time being, and after she had calmed down a little, we asked her again. She told us that Nanase wouldn’t wake up anymore.

We had to ask her to elaborate, since she was being very vague, after which she gave us a stuttering but better explanation of the situation.

She had gotten a call from Nanase’s mother just a few moments ago.

Nanase had fallen asleep and wouldn’t wake up anymore, not showing any reaction no matter how many times her mother called her name, no matter how many times her mother shook her.

At first, her mother thought that she was just sleeping deeply, but given that nothing could wake her up, Nanase had to be pretending being asleep. The complete absence of reaction, however, eliminated that possibility.

Disquieted, her mother called a doctor, who couldn’t explain the cause of her sleep, either. In the end, they had decided to wait and see before taking measures because her condition was steady.

“Maybe it’s because of the sleeping pills… I didn’t, I didn’t tell her mom about them when I called her, just that, that Maya seemed to be feeling bad. Maybe, maybe she swallowed a bunch of those pills and…”

Apparently, Akanuma had followed my advise to inform Nanase’s mother, but couldn’t bring herself to inform her about the sleeping pills. I could see how asking a friend’s mother to monitor her daughter in secret of that friend because of a possible suicide attempt was a most disagreeable task. Besides, Akanuma naturally wouldn’t want to believe that herself, either.

Charging her with that task was a mistake. I should have done it myself, even if it was none of my business.

“Maya… Maya… I’m so, I’m so sorry…,” Akanuma apologized, fiercely sobbing all the while.

“Hey, it’s not your fault, Akanuma,” Shinjou carefully comforted her, but she kept blaming herself.

“Shinjou’s right, Akanuma. The doctor would have noticed if the pills had caused it, right? It must’ve been something else; probably something on the mental end.”

I lied. Not regarding the pills, but regarding the assumption that it was a mental issue.

The problem was rather tangible.

Most likely, that censer — a Relic — was to blame.

I hurried to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop and questioned Towako-san about the Relic again:

“Does that censer keep you asleep?”

“Nope, there’s no such effect as far as I know,” she denied my fear.

“But the girl isn’t waking up anymore. Haven’t you heard of some side effect that kicks in after repeated use?”

“I’m afraid no.”

Is she going to wake up after a while then?

I couldn’t bring myself to believe in such a vague hope. Besides, she had been asleep for more than a day already.

“Is there some kind of duration to the sleep induced by that censer?”

“Once you’ve fallen asleep, it doesn’t matter whether or not the incense keeps burning, and you can be woken up because the sleep itself is completely normal.”

Nanase’s sleep, however, was lasting.

Exhausted from a series of all-nighters, it may be possible to sleep through the entire day and night. If a girl, who had been sleeping all the time anyway, wasn’t waking up despite all efforts, however, that was most certainly abnormal.

There had to be more to it.

“Perhaps she is refusing to wake up?” Saki, who had been listening to our talk, suggested. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she wanted to stay there after experiencing the transition from dream to reality over and over.”

“You mean she has wished in her dream to stay asleep?”

“Hm, it would make sense that she would stay there in that case, I guess?” Towako-san agreed.

“But how do we get her awake then?” I asked. If only her own will could release her from that spell, we were powerless. It would mean that we had to wait for her to change her mind.

“Well, there is a way, but I’ll have to advise you against doing it,” Towako-san warned me.

“Could you tell me more?”

“You could enter her dream and persuade her.”

“Is that even possible?”

“Yeah, it is. Needless to say, you have to use the Censer to fall asleep, and you have to be touching the person whose dream you want to enter.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad… But if it’s a persuasion task, it might be better to ask one of her parents or friends…”

“No. That’s way too dangerous. If someone were to enter her dream without any experience with Relics, they would only get trapped there. To put it in familiar terms, they wouldn’t wake up anymore.”

Apparently, it wasn’t so easy. However, I couldn’t just ignore the case.

I recalled Nanase as I had seen her in my vision.

I didn’t know if sympathy or the fact that it had been no gaudy death had led me to turn a blind eye to the vision, but I was getting horribly angry with myself for ignoring the cues.

“Are you going to do it?” Towako-san asked me.

“Yes.”

“Take care. You’ll be the intruder in this case, not the host. That means that she will have the upper hand and control over the dream. If worst comes to worst, you won’t be coming back anymore. You’ll be effectively dead.”

Towako-san added one last warning.

“Don’t get yourself caught in a dream!”

Today, we went to the zoo again because we’d had to cancel our visit the week before.

…Huh? Why did we cancel it last week? Because of some incident? Rain? Was the zoo closed? But I can remember that we were about to see the pandas…

Oh well.

Shiga-senpai was already there waiting for me, waving his hand with a smile.

“Did I make you wait?”

“Yeah, totally! I was so looking forward to seeing you!” he said to my delight. Good thing that he didn’t say the opposite — I was happy that he couldn’t wait to see me.

“The others should be here any moment.”

About the same time as I suggested so, Shinjou-senpai and Sarina appeared. After we had assembled, we found ourselves in front of the entrance to a zoo. We entered and strolled around, spotting families and couples here and there.

“Is there something you’d like to see, Senpai?” I’d love to go see the pandas.

“How about the pandas?”

He wanted to see the same animals as me. I was happy that our tastes turned out to match.

“They should be right over there!” I said, pointing in a direction.

Shortly after we had started walking there, we arrived at the panda enclosure. There were lots of black-and-white bears munching away at bamboo leaves or playing with tires. This sight strongly reminded me of a past visit here, when I had come with my family. Back in the day, their complete indifference to the onlookers and easiness had made them look like a bunch of sluggards in my eyes.

“They’re quite the sluggards, aren’t they?” my boyfriend laughed. “…What?”

“Just surprised that we thought the same thing.”

The previous time I had been here, my great, childish expectations in the animals had been betrayed, leaving me utterly bored, but having entered high school, I could enjoy the zoo to the fullest.

No, I suppose I could enjoy everything as long as I’m with Shiga-senpai.

“What are you thinking right now?” he asked me.

“How much fun it is to be with you.”

I enjoyed seeing the giraffes, just as much as I enjoyed seeing the elephants and the lions.

I was happy just by having Senpai besides me.

If I were to lose him, I would surely despair.

“…”

A tang of sadness crossed my mind for a split-second.

I shouldn’t even be thinking about such stupid stuff. There’s no way that would happen. There’s no way that he would go away.

I shook off those silly thoughts and pulled at his arm. Look! He’s here. He’s not going anywhere. If he does, he’ll take me with him. We’re together forever!

“Hey, Senpai, where do we go ne—” I said until I noticed someone walking toward us. He stopped right before us. “If I’m not mistaken, you’re…”

I have met this person one time before, and that was… huh? Where was that again? I can’t remember his name either. But I think I know him.

“Don’t remember me? We’ve met once, but should I introduce myself again? I’m Tokiya Kurusu. One year your senior and in the same class as Shinjou and Shiga.”

“…Sorry, but where did we meet again?”

“At your place.”

I stared at him in surprise.

Hey, I wouldn’t bring an unfamiliar boy home!

Ah, didn’t he just say he’s in the same class as Senpai? We must have met when I visited his class, then. That’s why I can vaguely remember him…

“I tagged along with Shinjou when he visited you to see how you are, remember?”

A visit? For who? For me? But I’m not even sick.

“Sorry, but I’m afraid I’m not one of your dream characters,” he said.

Dream?

What does he… mean by… that?

Somewhere deep within me, a crack opened, which in turn called forth a certain sensation. Namely, it was the sensation I would get when I realized that I was dreaming.

I was waking.

My head was getting clearer and clearer.

No! another me cried, but the process could not be stopped anymore.

I had realized — that this was just a dream.

Slipping into Nanase’s dream wasn’t as hard as I’d expected.

Since her parents were desperate and busy to find a good doctor and hospitalized their daughter, it was pretty easy to get alone with Nanase. Moreover, I had used the pretense of retrieving something I had supposedly forgotten at her place in order to get my hands on the Censer.

I had been anxious about what her dreamworld would look like. What awaited me there, however, was a simple zoo surrounded by darkness, much like a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling in the middle of a pitch-black room. Since that was all there was, I didn’t have to worry about getting lost.

As I walked toward the zoo, I could recognize Nanase and Shiga, as well as Shinjou and Akanuma. I gathered that they had come here to have a good time together, like they in the photos they’d shown me the other day.

“If I’m not mistaken, you’re…” Nanase said when I stood before her.

“Don’t remember me? We’ve met once, but should I introduce myself again? I’m Tokiya Kurusu. One year your senior and in the same class as Shinjou and Shiga.”

“…Sorry, but where did we meet again?”

“At your place.”

Her gaze drifted off to Shiga.

Well, it’s not like we’ve done anything nasty, right?

“I tagged along with Shinjou when he visited you to see how you are, remember?” I explained, leaving her quite confused.

Looks like she really doesn’t remember what happens over in the real world.

“Sorry, but I’m afraid I’m not one of your dream characters.”

She strongly reacted to the word dream.

From the look of it, she could make various people appear in her dreams aside from Shiga and herself, but I had definitely not been included in that list.

After all, she had only met me after the tough truth. I was no suitable character to appear in one of her happy dreams.

However, the moment she recognized me, she was doomed to accept the fact that this was a dream.

Of course, she could still try to come up with a way to deceive herself, but in order to do so, she would have to use her head, and if she used her head, she would inevitably realize that she was in a dream as well.

You can’t keep on dreaming once you’ve realized it’s a dream. It’s only a dream as long as you aren’t aware of that fact.

“…How did you get here?” she asked me after she had realized everything.

“You’re not the only one who can dream with that Censer, you know?”

Her eyes widened. “You know about the Censer?”

“Yeah. Let’s you control your dreams if you burn incense with it, no? And to top it off, you can even slip into others’ dreams.”

“Would you be so kind as to not enter my dreams without my approval?”

She was clearly aware of being asleep, but not waking up just yet.

“Do you even have the faintest idea what’s going on outside right now?” I asked, causing her to wrinkle her brow. “You’ve been asleep for days and won’t wake up.”

“Several days straight?”

“Yeah. Your parents have taken you to a hospital. They’re worried about you. But nobody has been able to get to the bottom of the problem, which is why your parents are looking for skilled doctors now.”

“…”

“Akanuma is blaming herself.”

“Why…?”

“She’s convinced that your taking sleeping pills is the cause, and she knew that you were taking them. Despite that, she bring herself to tell your mother. She didn’t try to stop you. And now she’s blaming herself.”

“But that’s not true…”

“Why don’t you tell her that directly? In the real world,” I said, completely ignoring the dream-generated Akanuma standing right next to Nanase. “Shinjou and Akanuma are at school right now!”

After I had spoken out, the two of them vanished into thin air.

Most likely, Nanase had become aware of the fact that they shouldn’t be here at this time. Their dream existence hadn’t been that firm as it seemed.

Her dreamland crumbled with every bit her mind cleared up.

I looked at Shiga. He had positioned himself before Nanase, as if to protect her, and was glaring back at me. He looked like no one else but Shiga. So much so that I would have mistaken him for the real one hadn’t I known that this was a dream.

“Wanting him to protect you? Or just thinking that he would protect you?” I asked provocatively.

“…”

“Strange: the Shiga I’ve known was a calm guy who would never pick fights.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe that’s not the real Shiga, but only an idealistic image you have of him?”

“That’s not true!” she hissed.

“Your every wish may come true in this dreamworld, but none of that is real. It’s all fake.” I pointed at the animals in the enclosure behind her. “Didn’t you know that Pandas have white tails?”

“Eh?”

Nanase swung around to look at the pandas. Their tails were black. With her noticing the mistake in her memory, they turned white in a matter of a split-second.

Truth be told, I had no idea how their tails were colored. I’d only needed her to change something of her own accord.

“Looks like I was right, huh?” I remarked. She turned around to me, scowling at me. “I don’t know how you feel, and I think it’s up to you if you want to see him in your dreams! But if you have to, why don’t you leave it at nightly visits?”

“…”

“You shouldn’t be clinging so hard to these dreams that you worry your family and your friends.”

“…It’s… agonizing,” Nanase squeezed out. “It’s not like I didn’t try to put an end to all this, but I just can’t bear it. At the start, I was fine with only being able to see him in my dreams. But every time I wake up and return to reality, I am made realize that he’s not here anymore. That’s just agonizing.”

“And that’s why you wished stay asleep?”

She gave me a silent nod.

That was the reason why she wouldn’t wake up even though she had recognized this dream as such. In order to end it, I also had to change her mind.

“But don’t you feel empty if you know it’s just a dream?”

“I do! But he is here. I may feel empty, but that’s not all: I also feel happy. It’s bliss. Reality, on the other hand, is only crushing. In that case, isn’t it better to pick the dream even if it may come to nothing?”

“You seriously don’t care if it’s all fake?” I asked.

“It’s not fake. Everything you see here is real in the context of this dream. As long as I stay ignorant, everything’s real. If it weren’t for you, it would have stayed that way.”

“You’re wrong! All you’re going to find here is fake. Shiga is no more.”

“What are you talking about? That’s a lie…”

“It’s not.”

“If it’s not a lie, it’s a joke!”

“It’s not a joke either.”

“So it’s just nonsense?”

“Listen, Nanase. Shiga is—”

“Stop it! Stop it! Don’t say it!” she cried in denial as she covered her eyes and shook her head, predicting what I was going to say.

She was aware of the effect my words would have.

For a moment, I wavered; much as I didn’t want to rub it in, it was necessary in order to jolt her awake.

“Shiga isn’t anywhere anymore.”

“That’s not true. It can’t be true! He wouldn’t just die—” she stopped abruptly at her own words.

“—Right. Shiga is dead.”

“Ah…”

The gruesome fact I had stated erased Shiga like an evanescent phantom — like Shinjou and Akanuma — almost as if reality was trying catch up with her.

With a distressed “No!” she tried to cling to her gone lover, but unable to touch anything, she fell over.

Shiga had just vanished even from the land of dreams.

I’d deprived her of him; I had her suffer losing Shiga all again.

However, I was sure that this was how it was supposed to be.

“There are people waiting for you in the real world. Let’s go back.”

Nanase clenched her fists, still kneeling on the bare ground. “…You said that you didn’t know how I feel, and you’re right. Please don’t talk like that if you have no idea of nothing. After all, you would do the same in my place! Absolutely!”

Nanase raised her head.

Her cheeks were wet with tears, and her piercing eyes locked on me.

“You shouldn’t be here. Get out… just, get out!”
——!
I woke up in the hospital room, lying on the ground with my gaze turned at the ceiling.

“Tokiya,” a familiar voice said. A moment later, Saki’s face appeared in my view, obliterating the ceiling. It was also then that I noticed the soft feel below my head.

“Whoa!” I realized that my head had been placed on her lap and started up. “W-What? Why are you here?”

“Towako-san told me to have a look because you were taking so long.”

According to the clock, it was already past three. I wondered if time had gone by faster within her dream — which made sense to me because that was my general impression of dreams.

“Ah, right…!” I gasped as I remembered why I was here, and looked at the bed where she was lying. However, she was breathing calmly like before and showed no signs of waking up. I tried shaking her, but it was of no avail.

“Tokiya, let’s go before we get into trouble.”

While my visit had been authorized, I wasn’t exactly keen to stay in the room of a unconscious girl for too long, so I decided that I would attempt to persuade her again another time. Perhaps, I thought, I was supposed to ask Akanuma or one of her other friends for help.

I took the censer and left the hospital together with Saki.

“How did it go?” she asked me on our way back to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

“It was total flop. I thought it’d be enough to make her realize that she’s in a dream, but turns out it isn’t. We have to make her want to come back voluntarily, but my appeal fell on deaf ears.”

“Well, you are a total stranger to her.”

“But it looks like she knows that she’s just dreaming. Maybe there’s no way around having someone close to her do the persuasion after all…”

“But is that really the way to go?” Saki suddenly remarked.

“What do you mean?”

“Is that really going to make her happy?”

“…No one knows. But I for one am on the side of Shinjou, Akanuma and her parents.”

“I see.”

“Ah,” I uttered as I stopped.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she stopped in the middle of a crosswalk.

“This is where Shiga was run over…” …and passed away.

A flower vase had been put on his desk for a while after the accident, but there was no trace of that anymore.

“How did he…?” she asked.

“A drunken driver knocked him down when he was traversing this crosswalk.”

Although flickering, the pedestrian lights had still been green according to witnesses. He hadn’t jumped onto the street — all he did was crossing the road shortly before the light turned red, like pedestrians from all over the world do everyday.

But that had him get overrun.

Right there in the middle of the crosswalk where Saki was standing right now.

“Tokiya, we should get moving.”
It was then that a painful noise ran through my head—
The traffic lights started to flicker.

A car was coming straight toward us.

I got on the crosswalk and Saki proceeded a few steps.

The car was drawing closer even though the lights were still red.

Its driver didn’t stop, he wasn’t even slowing down.

The car came rushing toward us and — hit the crosswalk.

Saki was right there.

Saki was right in the middle of the crosswalk.

Saki was crossing the road on the green light, like pedestrians from all over the world do everyday.

—Her body was thrown into the air like a rag doll.

The Tsukumodo Antique Shop was as calm as always, cloaked in silence and completely lacking liveliness.

There was not a single customer.

There was not a single smile.

I was the only one at the shop.

But that wasn’t surprising: the shop was closed.

“Tokiya,” I heard someone say and raised my head.

Towako-san had entered without my knowing. She was clad in a traditional black dress and had her hair tied up. How rare, I thought, just to notice that I was wearing a black suit as well.

It was really weird for us to be all black at the same time. No, what was really weird was the absence of one more girl who had a preference for the color black.

“Towako-san, do you know where Saki is?” I asked like a complete moron.

“Tokiya…”

“Ah, she’s gone shopping, right? She should be back in an hour, then. Shall I open the shop for the time being? Yeah, well, not that we’d get any customers.”

“Tokiya.”

“I mean, she really loves this shop, just as much as she loves customer service and all that stuff, doesn’t she? Always thinking about how she can boost our sales, always completely missing the mark… but she’s doing all that because she loves this shop so much, so she might not come back if we don’t open it, right?”

“Tokiya!” Towako-san yelled as she slapped my face. “Get a grip. Saki-chan isn’t coming back.”

“…” I averted my eyes and took a step toward the door to set up the shop.

However, Towako-san grabbed my arm and pulled me back. With a grip much tighter than expected — so much that it hurt.

She locked my head to look straight at me. With eyes much more serious than expected — so much that it hurt.

Stop it.

Stop it.

Towako-san, please don’t say it.

I know; so please don’t say it.

Because if you keep silent, I can keep pretending not to know.

So please don’t say it—
“Saki-chan is dead.”
The cruel truth caught up with me.

Yes, the word truth had popped up in my head and clicked into place. I tore it out again, however, and tossed it away.

“What are you talking about? You shouldn’t be lying about something like…”

“It’s not a lie.”

“It must be a joke then!”

“It’s not a joke, either.”

“So it’s nonsense?”

“Tokiya! Saki-chan is—”

“No!” I cut her short.

That’s not true.

It can’t be true.
she can’t be dead.
I closed my eyes and turned my head away.

How stupid of me.

I shouldn’t have closed my eyes, because I saw Saki on the back of my eyelids.

She flew through the air like a rag doll and slammed against the ground at full tilt, her limbs twisted like those of a broken dummy after a crash.

But the red pool that spread around her motionless body proved that she wasn’t a dummy.

No matter how much a cried, no matter how much I shook her, she wouldn’t move a bit.

Her death was immediate.

Saki flew through the air and fell hard to the ground, and was already dead by the time I reached her. Her death was caused by a strong blow on the head, either when she was hit by the car, or when she fell to the ground. The doctor said that she had probably not even realized what happened.

And I was still unable to accept it.

Saki had died.

While the words made perfect sense to me, my mind and my heart failed to process them.

It had been way too abrupt.

I could understand that something like this would happen to people unrelated to me elsewhere. That’s life. But not to Saki; Saki was a girl related and dear to me, who I was supposed to spend much more time together.

And yet, Saki had died in front of my eyes. Right in front of my eyes, just like the Vision I had seen—

Wait.

Isn’t this still a future scene shown to me by my Vision?

“Right. I’m just having a vision!”

“Tokiya…”

Exactly, I got it!

I’m looking at the future through my Vision.

That means I can still change the outcome.

I am going to change the future.

“Quick, I have to wake up.”

Otherwise, I won’t make it in time.

It happens on the way home from the hospital.

On the crosswalk.

That’s where Saki gets run over.

I have to stop it.

Be it by staying away from the hospital in the first place.

Be it by not crossing the street there.

Be it by jumping at the car in her place.

I have to change the future no matter what.

“That’s weird. Why is this Vision so long? Take me back already. I’ve seen enough. Time’s running out!”

I knocked on my head. I punched against my head. But I didn’t awake from my Vision.

“Come on! Wake up already! Quick!”

This is a Vision.

And I’m going to save her from her death.

That’s the obvious flow of things.

It should be.

I knocked my head against the wall. I tore my hair. But I didn’t awake. I couldn’t.

“Wake up!”

Why does this Vision keep going? It’s almost as though — it were reality.

“Wake up… already…!”

“Tokiya, it’s enough,” Towako-san said as she put her hand on my shoulder.

Warmth.

It was a warmth that did not exist in the pictures my Visions would show me.

“But that’s not possible, is it? That’s just so freaking absurd! She wouldn’t die in front of my eyes. It’s the same thing like always: I have a Vision of her death, and then I save her. That’s the only way things add up!”

“It’s not,” she countered calmly, averting her eyes from me. Her voice was so calm that I cooled down a bit.

I would have been able to lose my composure had she yelled at me; why did she have to treat me so maturely when it didn’t even suit her?

This way, you leave me no other choice but to admit the truth…

“Tokiya. Do you know what this is?” she asked as she showed me something.

It was the Censer Relic.

“With this you can meet Saki anytime. Only in your dreams, though.”

“Ah…”

“But there will be no return once you’ve used it. You will stay asleep.”

“Eh?”

“Remember the girl who used this? The Censer grew too strong when she drowned in it.”

A censer that gives you absolute control over your dreams.

One that enables you to meet even the dead in your dreams.

But one that forces you to abandon reality by choosing it.

“I won’t stop you. The choice is yours,” she assured me with a bitter smile and held out the Relic. “Take it if you will. Otherwise, I’ll destroy it for good right here, right now.”

If I took it, I would have to part with Towako-san, my friend and my family. But if I didn’t, I would have to part with Saki.

What am I supposed to do?

Which one am I supposed to pick?

In this world, I can’t meet Saki.

In the other world, I can’t meet everyone else.

I’m lacking something either way. I have to let go of one of those two.

“But I…”

I can’t make such a choice. But I have to. I have to make a choice that can’t be made.

“I… I…”

“Consider this well. Imagine as well as you can the world of your choice.”

I imagined to myself the real world.

Like I always do, I go to school and show up at the Tsukumodo Antique Shop afterwards. I’m here, Towako-san’s here, but there’s no Saki. There’s no sighing at her ridiculous “customer service” anymore, no pointless arguments, no reading what she is thinking behind her deadpan facade.

I imagined to myself the dream world.

I spend time together with Saki. But I am alone with my self-conceived Saki — neither my friends, nor Towako-san are here… not here? Really? I can design this world like I want. I’ll just have to place them here as well.

And create a world with Towako-san, my friends, my family and Saki.

I reached out for the Censer — and stopped.

Are you sure? Are you really sure? Can you live with such an illusory world?

It was then that I remembered something Towako-san had once said to me.
A dream is equivalent to reality as long as you don’t recognize that it’s a dream.
It would be real for as long as I kept deceiving myself.

Fake would turn into truth.

Why shouldn’t I go for the dream world then?

Saki wasn’t here. That was an undeniable fact and set in stone. Could put up with that? Could I come to terms with that? With a world without Saki? With a world that is missing something elementary to me?

However, in the other world I could have everything. Towako-san, my friends, my family, and of course Saki were there and waiting for me.

Towako-san had said that there would be no return; if I didn’t have to fear waking up, I didn’t have to fear recognizing the dream. I could remain in the belief that it was reality.

The dream would break free from the boundaries of a dream.

I could create the ideal reality.

“I…”

Towako-san hated to see people obtain Relics.

“I…”

Because she had seen many ruin themselves with them.

“I…”

Therefore, she tried to collect them herself and lock them away.

Despite that, she had given me the chance to choose.

She was going against her principles for my sake.

She was willing to see me off with a smile as I plunged into my sweet ruin.

“Farewell.”

“Yes.”

I took the Censer she held out to me.

I regained consciousness and was standing before Nanase.

I felt a peculiar sensation, similar to the feeling when waking up.

“A dream?”

“Yes. I have shown you a dream with my powers in this world, so that you can share my pain,” she explained as she stood in front of me, and then she looked down at me as I was kneeling on the ground. “But I don’t know what you have dreamed of. Nor do I know which one you chose.”

We had felt the same pain — and we had been confronted with the same choice.

Nanase had forced me to choose between the Censer’s fake reality or the unalterable truth by sending me into a dream and making me lose a close person.

“Don’t get yourself caught in a dream!”

The warning Towako-san had given me suddenly crossed my mind.

“Which did you choose?” Nanase asked calmly.
“…the Censer.”
I didn’t even try to lie.

Nanase was closely and wordlessly gazing at me. I returned a look only once, but unable to hold her gaze, I averted my eyes.

“I would like to thank you for all your efforts, but I’m not going back.”

“…”

I decided that I was in no position to disagree with her and struggled to get back on my feet.

“Could you apologize in my place to my… no, never mind. I have to suffer the consequences of abandoning them. Besides, you’re the wrong person for such a task,” she laughed bitterly and continued with a request: “May I ask you to dispose of that Censer and make sure that I’ll have been the last fool to abuse it?”

Shiga was standing next to Nanase again.

Before I could nod, the two of them were already far away from me. She was erasing any reminder of reality and returning to sleep once more.

She hadn’t gone crazy.

She hadn’t lost control over herself.

She hadn’t been blinded by greed.

She had deliberately chosen the path to ruin after thoroughly considering the consequences.

In that case, my hands were tied: neither did I have any words for her, nor did I have the right to say them. If there was anything I could do, then it was to offer my sympathies to her for her bad luck.

Suddenly, I was overcome by the sensation of waking up.

The world around me became deformed, turned black and eventually left me in a veil of absolute darkness. There, I thought back Nanase’s final expression after learning that we had made the same choice.

In her eyes I did not find any hatred against me for tormenting her with Shiga’s death all again, nor did I find any ridicule for choosing the same path despite my know-it-all attitude.

All there was was envy.

Strong envy of me and the relief I had been granted unlike her—

I know that it’s just a dream, but I don’t care; a world without him is much less worth to me than even a dream.

Until realization sets in, I keep wallowing in dreams.

Once realization sets in, I return into my dreams.

That’s the dumb cycle I keep tracing.

Perhaps, there will be a day when I can no longer endure the emptiness of this place and return to reality.

But for now — until I can handle the cruelty of reality — I want to indulge myself in the cozy world of dreams.

I’m sorry everyone.

I won’t forget you.

I will be together with you in this world.

So please forgive my selfishness.

With a heavy heart, I headed back and arrived in front of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

It was a dream, I thought, I’m sure that it was just a dream.

And yet, I was riddled with anxiety because the dream had been so real.

Had it really just been a dream? What was waiting for me on the other side of this door? Would she be there?

I opened the door to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop—

Like always, I was greeted by the store doorbell.

Like always, I was greeted by the silent shop.

And—

Tsukumodo_V3_247

Like always, I was greeted by a deadpan face.

“Welcome back, Tokiya.”

Saki was there.

Before I knew it, I was rushing toward her and embraced her. I pressed her against me without even wasting any thoughts on her delicate physique.

Nanase’s envious face appeared on my closed eyelids, but I wasn’t going to trade with her. There was no way in hell I’d do that even if I could; forget it!

I maintained the embrace, waiting for the horrible anxiety that was riddling me to be pacified, and feeling her reassuring warmth, while Saki was letting me have my way. She just stood there like always with the usual lack of expression.

Towako-san was watching me with a confused look, but as banal as it may appear to others, I had rarely been so thankful of anything before.

From the bottom of my heart, I thought:

Thank god it was just a dream.

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