Chapter 1 – Shadow
There are people with subdued personalities who do not emit much of a presence and keep a low profile. In many cases, they are negative thinkers, introverts or lone wolves.
There tends to be at least one of them in every class. They’re the poor devils who get forgotten and left behind on school trips.
However, a negative personality does not automatically weaken your presence; I know someone who’s far from being cheerful, doesn’t talk much and always keeps a straight face, and yet she somehow manages to make herself felt.
I would notice instantly if she wasn’t around—because she’s never far from me.
They would often call me a “shadow” behind my back because my weak presence—although you could actually drop the “behind my back” since I heard them talking—and when they noticed me, they would walk away, embarrassed, blaming me for not making my presence felt on their leave.
However, they didn’t bear me ill will; it was just a plain fact they stated. To me, it was not at all rare to be forgotten during roll calls, or to be skipped when it was really my turn to solve a problem, or to be the one who was left after the last exercise sheet had been distributed.
That being said, it’s not like I didn’t feel anything when that happened. On such days, I would always be haunted by the wish to vanish into thin air.
If I’m only bothering people with my hardly noticeable presence, then I would rather just disappear entirely. I would tell myself. If my become more and more unnoticeable, maybe I’ll eventually disappear like a shadow?
Of course not.
Therefore, I would go to the art room on such days and squat in a corner without turning on the lights. The darkness of the room erased my presence, my shadow, entirely; there I could disappear.
There I could relax. Only then could I really feel at peace of mind.
I didn’t like lit places; because they made even a shadow as thin as mine stand out when I really wanted to hide in the dark.
I wanted to disappear, to melt into the shadows. So that everyone could keep on taking no heed of me.
Because my parents were at home on Sundays, it was my routine to go shopping then. Not because I wanted to give them some peace from their jobs but because I wasn’t alone at home; the complaints they made when they told me to clean my room and the sound they produced when they cleaned the house would unsettle me. It was not the noise; it was the sheer presence of other people around me that made me feel cramped.
Therefore I would go outside. Alone, of course.
I hated crowds but I wasn’t too bothered by them because there were only strangers in them. However, in order to avoid coming across someone I did know, I tended to take side alleys with few people around. I especially liked the shadowy spaces between two buildings. Every so often I would find delinquents in such places, but they always ignored me thanks to my weak presence.
It was on such a day in such a shadowy street that, while thinking these things, I came across a small, stagnant shop. It was clear at a glance that business wasn’t thriving.
Its resemblance to myself in the sense of being hidden and ignored caught my interest. I entered the shop.
There were a lot of curious, clearly one-of-a-kind things on the shelves of that shop: a European doll, porcelain tableware, an old wall clock, and so on. I assumed it was an antique shop. I certainly didn’t dislike this kind of store.
“Welcome,” the saleswoman shortly said while sitting still behind the counter. She was breathtakingly beautiful; her presence cloaked this place in a veil of fantasy.
To be honest, her presence was a tad too strong for my taste.
“Are you looking for something specific?”
“Um… maybe something accessory-like?”
“So an accessory it is?”
“Yes, I suppose… one that doesn’t attract any attention if possible.”
While I had only made that request on the spur of the moment indeed, I wasn’t averse to wearing an accessory. But because I didn’t want to stand out, I didn’t like gaudy things.
Suddenly, something on the shelves caught my eye.
I had noticed two small, oval glass phials. There were little lobe-like handles attached on both sides and a protruding lid on each of them. They looked almost the same with the exception of one being transparent and one being black.
Something about their subtlety attracted me; I picked them up and examined them from different angles. Looking through the glass I noticed that there was powder inside. I tried opening the lid and confirmed that it was powdered paint.
“You can have one of them,” suggested the shop assistant as she took note of my interest.
“Only one?” I would like both, but I guess their limited in number.
“Which do you choose?”
Wavering back and forth, my hand alternated between the two phials. I grasped at the transparent bottle, changed my mind and grasped at the black one instead, only to return my hand to its former position again, after which I switched to the black one yet again.
“So you choose this one.”
In the end, I chose the transparent phial.
“The Relic named ‘Shadow.'”
“Note that by ‘Relic’ I don’t mean antiques or art objects . ‘Relic’ is the word we use for tools with special capabilities created by mighty ancients or magicians, or for objects that have absorbed their owner’s grudge or natural spiritual powers.
“You’ve probably heard of it before: things like a stone that brings ill luck, or a cursed voodoo doll or a triple mirror that shows how you are going to die. The Shadow Relic is one of them.”
Its name was “Shadow” despite being transparent. While struggling against the urge to ask about the black one, I exchanged the cash I had for the transparent phial.
“This Relic, Shadow, allows you to weaken your presence.”
“That’s the special power it bears.”
Is this one of those fishy charms or mojos? I thought at first, but if it was true, then it was a perfect match for me, since I felt uncomfortably in this world and wanted to disappear.
“It lies in our nature to contradict ourselves. It seems to me, however, that this tendency is relatively strong in you. This Relic will fulfill your desire in a sense, but it will not in another sense.”
After saying so, she opened the phial I had bought and scattered some of its content in the air around her.
Before I knew it, I was alone and walking along a main street.
By the time I arrived at home, the neat shop and the pretty saleswoman had completely slipped my mind and, as contradicting as it sounds, had been degraded to a “lasting impression without any specifics.”
And the fainter my memory of the woman became, the stronger my faith in Shadow grew.
This powder will dim your very existence—
Even though I’d forgotten her face and appearance, I could vividly remember the purpose of the phial I’d bought. As I gazed at my transparent purchase, the last thing she’d said to me crossed my mind.
She’d given me a warning, which was the single last thing that kept me here.
“Be careful: if you dim your existence too often, you will disappear altogether!”
If she was saying the truth, then this was a tempting opportunity to escape from this world—
“Sleep here tonight.”
It was eight o’clock and we had just closed the shop. The shop owner, Towako Settsu, was elsewhere once again making her purchases.
I, Tokiya Kurusu, and Saki Maino were all alone.
I was about to call it a day and leave, when she suddenly grabbed me by the sleeve and made that request with an upward glance.
—But there was nothing exciting about it.
“Strange noise?” I countered with doubts showing on my face.
That was the dubious truth behind Saki’s meaningful words, “sleep here tonight.” Not that I had gotten my hopes up, of course.
The dated, small shop where we worked at, the Tsukumodo Antique Shop, was indeed located in some back alley and had something of a haunted mansion about it, but that was not reason enough to just nod and buy her story.
“I’m sure it’s just the wind,” I suggested.
“I also thought so at first, but there was no wind yesterday.”
“Maybe it’s a cat?”
“The noise I heard was no meowing.”
“Everything is still where it belongs,” she denied.
“You sure about that? Did you look closely where the sound came from?”
I was stumped. In the case of an apartment or a flat, that kind of noise could originate from above or besides—from other inhabitants—but there lived no one else in this house.
“…it might be a ghost…” speculated Saki with an even voice and an expressionless face.
“It might be what?” I groaned.
“As I said, a… ghost,” she repeated with the exact same face.
Eh? Is she serious now?
Saki had ashy, mid-back length hair that shimmered like silver when exposed to light, and delicate, pale skin. In contrast to these features, the clothes she wore—a black shirt, a black skirt, a pair of black boots—were all her favorite color: pitch black.
A much more defining feature of hers, however, was the fact that her feelings didn’t show on her face. She always kept a straight face. Her jokes were never accompanied with a smile, which made it hard to recognize them.
“Um, just to make sure: are you serious?”
“Why would I joke about something like this?”
I don’t know how you can’t be joking about this, I thought but decided not to share my thoughts.
“I… I don’t know how to serve a ghost client.”
I’m fairly sure that ghosts don’t usually come as clients! That aside, I don’t know how to serve them either. And I don’t care, for what it’s worth, I thought, tearing apart her statement in my mind, but then stopped since I could go on endlessly.
That aside, it seemed like even a self-proclaimed customer-service prodigy like Saki didn’t presume to serve a ghost. Well, her talent couldn’t really shine with normal people, either. Whether or not her customer service was to blame, the Tsukumodo Antique Shop was always empty.
“I guess we should be grateful even if our customers were ghosts.”
“No, the customer is king!” Saki countered.
“You’re missing my point…”
At any rate, I had no reason to deny her story about the noise she’d heard, so I was willing to give her hand in dealing with that problem. After all, if there really was a burglar or something, he had to be dealt with.
Suddenly, we both winced at an unexpected thump. Of course, I didn’t suspect a ghost, but the noise did take me by surprise. Not that I had doubted her, but Saki had told the truth.
“I’ll take a look,” I said as I stood up and turned the way the sound came from, when Saki tugged my sleeve. “Hm?”
“…I’m coming with you.”
Saki was curious, too, it seemed, and didn’t want to leave the matter to me. Still grasping my sleeve, she followed after me.
Part of the first floor and the entire second floor were private and belonged to Towako-san. The noise seemed to originate from the storage room that was located at the end of the first floor and was used to store something certain: Relics.
Not antiques or objects of classical art. They can be tools with special powers created by mighty ancients or magicians, or objects that have absorbed their owners’ grudges or natural spiritual powers after long exposure.
They appear in tales and legends: a stone that brings good luck, a doll whose hair grows night after night, a mirror that shows you how you’ll look in the future, a sword that brings ruin to anyone who draws it.
Everybody has most likely heard of such things, but most people consider Relics mere fantasies because they have never come across any. Even if a Relic were right before their eyes, they’d fail to notice it. If a mysterious event were to occur, they’d dismiss it as a coincidence.
However, Relics are more common than people think.
In fact, I had just recently gotten myself entangled in incidents that involved a chest that would preserve its contents as-is, a key that would breathe life into inanimate puppets, and a incense burner that would let you control your dreams.
Because of the nature of its contents, the storage room was always locked; not even Saki and I were allowed to enter. Needless to say, outsiders had no chance of being granted access.
Saki and I observantly sneaked toward the door to the storage room. There was no sign of life on the way, but once we arrived there, we sensed someone.
Someone was on the other side.
I gingerly pressed my ear against the door and listened closely. There was no sound. But while there was no sound, I could clearly sense someone.
I grasped the doorknob and shuddered for an instant at its chilly touch. Just when I’d made up my mind and was about to push open the door—
I heard some noise from inside.
The best action to take would have been stepping back, considering the possibility that the culprit might come rushing out of the room, but I was so overwhelmed by surprise that I couldn’t move from the spot.
However, the door stayed closed.
The fact that something was inside remained unchanged, however, and therefore I once again grabbed the door handle.
There was a click as I turned the doorknob; the door had been unlocked. The only thing left was to push it open.
With my eyes I signalized Saki to step back, but she stayed close to me regardless.
There’s no time to waste.
I took a deep breath and—smashed the door open.
After briefly making eye contact with Saki, I entered the room. Naturally it was pitch-dark inside and I couldn’t see a thing. My attempt to grope for the light switch proved fruitless as well.
Suddenly, something entered the corner of my eye from a blind spot behind the door.
—It might be a ghost…
Slightly before I could gasp at the memory of Saki’s words—
—a scream split the air behind me.
“Well folks, hahaha! Here I was looking for a Relic and then I got buried under a pile of things! Oh boy, I thought I was done for.”
In the end, the truth behind the ghost turned out to be Towako-san who had gotten back without our knowledge. Even though her straight waist-length black hair and her jacket and trousers had gotten all dusty because of her fall, she didn’t seem to care in the least.
“OK, and what is it that you were looking for?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, ‘was just looking if I could find the counterpart of the new Relic I purchased,” answered Towako-san as she placed a black phial on the table. “This one here’s called ‘Light’. It will strengthen your impression on others if you put on the paint inside.”
“Um, so it’s varnish?”
“I’m not talking about some glossy coating!” she quickly shouted out in response to my mumbled remark.
“So what’s its counterpart?”
“Well, in fact there’s a phial with the same shape—but transparent—that in turn can weaken someone’s impression. That would be this here, called ‘Shadow,'” she explained and placed a transparent phial, Shadow, next to the black one, Light. Inside them there seemed to be powdered paint.
The bottles were equally shaped with different colors, but their characteristics and names were opposing, being in a relationship of yin and yang.
“But then, is it real this time?”
I figured that at least Shadow had to be real, seeing how it was kept in this storage room, but I didn’t know about the new one.
At a glance, both phials looked exactly the same, except for their colors.
Then, spontaneously, Saki reached out for the two phials and, without any hesitation and any time to intervene, she opened their respective lids and put some of their powder on her hand. She then brought her face closer to the black and white powder and, for whatever reason, just licked it up.
“It’s salt and pepper.”
And thus it was that seasoning found its way into the sortiment of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop. You’re cordially invited to the opening of the Tsukumodo Grocery Store. Not.
Obviously, Saki hadn’t discovered two Relics called Salt and Pepper respectively, but merely found out that those phials were fake. In fact, Towako-san was twofoldly shocked to learn that even the supposedly real Shadow was fake.
“Man, why am I just so hapless?” Towako-san groaned as she slumped on the desk.
“You’re lucky that you didn’t end up buried under Relics,” I countered to cheer her up.
Apparently recalling that scene, Towako-san raised her head. “Thinking back, where did that scream come from?”
I just silently turned my head to the side where Saki stood in response, and Saki turned her head to her side as well.
Of course, she didn’t get through with that.
Yes: That scream from behind had been Saki’s. I hadn’t at all expected her to act like that when scared; it was above and beyond all my expectations, actually.
She wasn’t joking when she speculated about ghosts but afraid; she wasn’t indifferent when she kept a straight face all the time but just couldn’t express her fear; she wasn’t just talking idly when she insisted on coming with me to the storage room and having me stay for the night but genuinely didn’t want to be left alone.
Besides, the initial cause for her getting the idea of a ghost was me, because I had told her a ghost story.
Rumors about a ghost had recently emerged at our school because several students claimed to have seen one near the evening. Over the course of the past few days, the number of reported sightings had risen to more than 10.
According to them, the ghost girl, clad in the local school uniform, would just stand there staring at them just to vanish when they noticed her stare and turned around. In the beginning, the consent was that they had just mistaken a student for a ghost, but the likelihood of this theory dropped with the growing number of sightings.
Because the ghost was said to wear a school uniform, the place was filled with all kinds of silly theories; for instance, some were convinced that she was the straying soul of a school girl who could not ascend to heaven after committing suicide some decades ago, while others claimed that she had died in a car accident on her way to the opening ceremony and was since restlessly looking for her classroom, unaware of the fact that she was dead.
There was, alas, no record of such a suicide, nor was there a student meeting with an accident right before an opening ceremony, but when teachers presented this argument to their students, they came up with new conspiracies, revolving around the possibility that the school was hiding the facts or that the girl was holding a grudge against them because her misfortune had gone unnoticed.
I was expecting the fuss to eventually subside in due time, and because I was bored I’d told Saki about all this. I was a bit surprised at how attentively she’d listened to me, but I’d falsely thought that she was serious—not scared.
I hadn’t known that Saki was so scared of ghosts. If anything, I would have imagined that she would be like “So what?” when confronted with one.
“I’m so going to tell her more tomorrow,” I whispered with a broad grin on my way home.
Moments later, however, I stood thunderstruck before the entrance to my apartment.
“I forgot my keys…”
I tried patting my pockets, but my key case wasn’t there. I also took a look into my wallet, but it wasn’t there either.
Then I recalled where I’d left it.
“Oh boy…” I sighed as I stood before the unlit school building.
We’d had PE that day. Because the classroom was left unattended during PE, we would usually deposit our valuables in the PE teacher’s room so that they were safe. As such, I deposited my wallet, my cell and my keys, which I seemed to have forgotten there.
“Man, why did nobody notice…?”
It boggles my mind that I’ve come to school twice a day, I thought to myself. Had I only forgotten my wallet, I would have retrieved it the following day, but without my keys I could not enter my room. The manager of my apartment lived elsewhere, which is why I could not ask him for a duplicate key. I’d had no other choice.
“But still, I gotta say…”
Sneaking into school at the very same night that we talked about horror stories? Sounds like a bad joke to me. I must have been born under a bad star.
I passed the entrance gate and walked across the school grounds.
The time was 10 pm, so there were no students on the school grounds anymore. However, judging by the lights I could see at the gym, there still seemed to be people doing their club activities. Quite the hard-workers, eh? I thought, but I was grateful because thanks to them the entry was still open.
I pushed the entrance door open and changed into my indoor shoes. Unsurprisingly, there were no people in the corridors and the classrooms, nor were they lit. The only light came from the emergency exit signs that were shining weakly. My shadow was projected largely onto the wall.
It was not the first time I’d been at school at night, but I still felt like I had become lost in a miraculous different world.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or the other ghost hovering around here, I thought.
After I had crossed the corridor, I entered the passage that went on to the building that contained the rooms for special classes. The gym was there, too. Since the gym was lit, I assumed that there was someone in the PE teacher’s room, but the room was unlit. I guessed that the teacher who was still here was over in the gym itself.
For a moment, I pondered if I should go there and ask for permission, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered to.
“Excuse me!” I said in a deliberately loud voice and entered the room. I turned on the light and opened the locker with our class’s valuables and found my key case. It was mine, no doubt.
I took it out from there and left the room again. Eager to get home as fast as possible, I crossed the passage connecting the two buildings and tried to open the door to the general purpose building. I clicked my tongue.
The door was locked.
Apparently, the janitor had come and locked the door during the short while I was away.
Dang, how do I get to my shoes now?
Of course, I could still go home with my indoor shoes, but I really didn’t want to do that. I also couldn’t be bothered to go all the way to the janitorial room and ask them to open the door for me.
I hurried back to the other building and went upstairs, hoping that the passage in the 2nd floor was still open.
However, unfortunately the door was locked, too.
“This is getting better and better…”
At this rate, the door on the next floor is probably locked as well.
“Maybe I’ll have more luck on the other side.”
The two school buildings were built next to each other and connected by passages on the north side and the south side. The south doors were closed, but the ones in the north might still be open.
I dashed off and ran across the corridor.
The sound of my hasty steps reverberated at the walls as I ran, underscored tremendously by the silence that dominated the school building.
I had to admit that I was getting a tiny weeny bit frightened. I would have been entirely OK if there was someone else around, but the fact that I was all alone made me antsy.
When I walked past the technical library, the home ec room and the calligraphy room, I grew thankful that the laboratory wasn’t on the way and that I didn’t have to shake off delusions of human anatomy dolls charging at me.
Next, I came by the music room, but it seemed like the renowned musicians exhibited in the portraits on the wall did not mysteriously play the piano when the night closed in; there was nothing to be heard.
In the end, I walked past the art room, and it seemed like I could do so without being attacked by the fine lady in the painting.
However, I had to stop when suddenly a painting caught my eye.
Neither was it painted by a famous artist nor was it a copy thereof; it was just a painting made by another student, but for some reason it stood out from the other paintings hung on the wall.
After a few steps, however, I suddenly noticed that there was a girl standing right next to that picture. I was sure that she hadn’t stood there a moment ago: she had appeared completely out of the blue.
What is she doing here at this late hour? I thought to myself as I desperately tried to suppress the word that came to mind for her. It was then that she turned around, noticing my glance, and our eyes met. I wanted to say something but my throat felt constricted and kept me from using my voice.
After we had stared at each other for a while, she removed her glance from me and dissolved into thin air.
That day I couldn’t fall asleep until dawn.
While I couldn’t put my finger on the exact time, I remembered seeing the first light of the morning. The reason why I still managed to stand up on time was probably because I didn’t sleep deeply to begin with.
The reason for my sleep problems was clear: because of the encounter I’d made the day before.
What was that? I asked myself again. I’d been thinking about this question all night to no avail.
There simply was another student at school besides me. While that was the most plausible answer, it struck me as weird that someone could have such a weak presence as to seemingly appear out of nowhere. So weak as to seem absent and present at the same time. In fact, the painting was much more noticeable.
Another answer was that I had just been seeing things. Maybe I’d seen myself in a mirror or there was a girl drawn on that painting that I’d mistaken for a real person. That made sense. However, in this case I think the drawn girl should have been easier to notice.
Or perhaps…was it a ghost…?
I fiercely shook off that thought.
You’re being silly! It’s not my style to be influenced by rumors.
But while thinking so, my feet were taking me to the art room in the special school building. I couldn’t leave this matter at this. No, more precisely, I wouldn’t find peace until I had an answer, which was something I wanted to be spared from.
The secondary school building was pretty much empty because the cultural clubs at our school didn’t meet in the morning most of the time, and as such, the situation itself resembled that of the evening before. Thanks to the brightness, however, I felt entirely different mentally.
I stood before the art room.
The painting was there unchanged. It was a landscape without any characters in it, and there was no mirror anywhere. I hadn’t been seeing things.
Consequentially, there had really been another student here. I must have been a bit skittish because I’d been alone in the dark and the doors had been locked.
“Yeah, I was overreacting,” I muttered.
“WHOA!” I shouted out as someone suddenly whispered into my ear. I can’t make fun of Saki for screaming.
I jumped back and saw a girl standing there, just like the evening before. I hadn’t noticed her at all, but she was there indeed. It was the same girl.
“So the rumors were true…” I concluded.
“Of a straying school girl who could not ascend to heaven after committing suicide some decades ago, or of a girl who died in a car accident on her way to the opening ceremony and is since restlessly wandering about…”
“What’s with those silly stories?”
“They’re the rumors surrounding the ghost that has been haunting this school… or, well, you.”
“Who is a ghost, you say? Aren’t you being a bit rude to me?” she answered.
“Ah, you’re not one? …Ah, yes, of course you’re not. Just kidding!”
Unlike the day before when it was dark and I couldn’t fully recognize her, she now looked like a perfectly normal girl although not a very remarkable one.
“Besides, did it slip your mind that we were in the same class last year?” she asked.
“You really do not seem to remember, do you, Kurusu-kun?” she remarked sadly.
I’m afraid to say that I’ve never had a ghost as a classmate. Uh, or the ghost of a classmate? Nono, enough of ghosts.
At any rate, I didn’t remember her even though she seemed to remember me. She was probably telling the truth since she knew my name.
“I’m sorry. What’s your name, again?”
“I’m Sana Nishiyama,” she introduced herself. However, her name didn’t sound familiar to me in the least. At most, I had a slight hunch that there was a person like that. “Well, we didn’t come in contact that often.”
“Y-Yeah…” I stuttered and adopted the excuse she’d prepared for me. But what she said made sense: in a class with almost 40 students, it’s only natural that you don’t really talk with all of them. On top of that, I wasn’t in any club or committee, so there was quite a number of classmates that I hadn’t come in touch with. But that’s what school is like.
“W-Well, long time no see!”
“You don’t mean to say ‘pleased to meet you’?”
“Let’s not bring this up again…”
While I didn’t remember her at all, we were quite frank to each other as former classmates.
Suddenly, the bell signaling the start of homeroom rang.
“Oh crap, I gotta get back,” I said as I hurried toward the primary school building but then turned around because she didn’t show any signs of leaving. “Hm? You’re not coming?”
“There’s no place for me in my class.”
Right after homeroom, I went to Nishiyama’s class—which was in the next room as I had just heard for the first time—to sneak a peek. A lot of students were still walking around and chatting because there was still time until the break ended, making it hard to locate Nishiyama’s seat among all the empty ones.
Suddenly, however, someone approached me, “Oh, is that you, Kurusu?” It was a guy called Sasakura who had been in the same class as me last year. Unlike in Nishiyama’s case, I could perfectly remember his face and his name, although we were out of touch as well. “Do you need something?” he asked.
“Ah, you’ve come just right. This is Nishiyama’s class, right?”
“She was also in our class last year, remember? Is she here?”
“…Ah, Nishiyama. Of course,” he replied. It seemed like he had only just remembered. “Wait here a sec, I’ll bring her to you.”
Sasakura returned into his classroom to call for her. Actually, I only wanted to know whether or not she was here, but I gave up and decided to wait. He approached a girl who was standing nearby, exchanged a few words, and came back.
“Sorry dude, looks like she’s absent.”
I concluded that she hadn’t returned to her class after all when we met, but my gut also told me that this wasn’t just the case that day.
“How about yesterday?” I asked.
“Did she come to school?”
“Uh, I suppose? Hrm, really? Maybe she didn’t…?” Sasakura muttered as he gazed into space as if to scan his memory. He gave up rather quickly, however, and shook his head. “Beats me. I don’t know her too well, you see. She’s just too retiring!”
I couldn’t disagree with that. I had forgotten her, too, after all.
“So, did you need anything from her? I can leave a note on her desk if you want,” he suggested.
“No, it’s nothing important. I’ll tell her when I see her,” I said and turned around to go before he could drill me with questions. Before I left, however, I asked one more myself: “Where is her desk, anyway?”
As I had vaguely expected, Sasakura didn’t know where.
“Something wrong?” Shinjou, a classmate of mine, asked me when I was absorbed in thought.
“Just been wondering about something.”
We were on lunch break; the morning classes had been over before I knew. What had kept me abstracted was of course Nishiyama.
In fact, I had gone asking Nishiyama’s class teacher about her during the first short break. According to the class register, she had been absent for the last three day straight. Moreover, the fields denoting the reason for absence were left blank, effectively making them unexcused absences. However, the teacher hadn’t noticed before I explicitly pointed this fact out to him. Paging up the register, I noticed that she had been missing quite a lot in the past, too, albeit irregularly.
The teacher wasn’t the only one not taking heed of her absences, though: the subject of Nishiyama’s missing was never raised among her classmates, either, as it seemed. The girl Sasakura had asked for me hadn’t noticed at first, either.
Nobody was suspicious about Nishiyama’s absence.
Of course, I couldn’t say that I would remember if one of my classmates was absent some day. But was it really normal for someone to be missing for three days in a row and no soul noticing? Retiring or not, I felt that this was going too far.
Most likely, people would eventually notice if she continued to truant.
At any rate, I now knew what she had meant when she said that she had no place in her class.
“Ah, by the way, can I ask you something?”
“Ask me what?”
“Do you remember Nishiyama? She was in our class last year,” I explained. Shinjou and me had been in the same class since our first year of high school. He was more sociable than me; chances were that he remembered her.
“Hm? You sure?” he said, however, having forgotten her as well.
“I can’t believe even you forgot her.”
“Hm… I really don’t remember. Any description?” he asked.
“She’s got bobbed hair and is a bit withdrawn.”
“Oh, she’s a girl?”
“Of course she is! That’s what I’ve been saying all the time!” What? He even failed to realize as much?
“No clue, man. Are you sure about it?” he asked again.
“Of… course? Or was she not in our class…?” I mumbled because I got unsure myself in the face of his upfront question. I’d forgotten her as well, after all.
While I was losing confidence, I recalled that she had told me herself that she used to be in the same class. No use doubting that, I thought. It would have been OK to doubt my own memory, since I had for a fact not been able to recognize her, but she’d remembered me. Her memory could be trusted.
“In which class is she now?” Shinjou then asked.
“Ah, she’s in the class next door, actually.”
“Oh, I see… I haven’t ever gone there because they have no soccer players, you know.”
Indeed, it was quite easy to get out of touch with other classes. Nobody knew what classes all his classmates from last year had gone to in the 2nd school year. In short, it was entirely natural that he didn’t know her class.
“Well, thanks anyway,” I said, giving up on the matter.
“Wait, I have to know now. Let’s go look it up!”
At Shinjou’s suggestion, we went to the library room to take a look at the school’s name register.
We opened the name register of our class from last year. The list contained about 40 names, which brought back old faces to my mind as I went through them. I remembered my old class better than I’d thought.
Shinjou and I silently skimmed through the names, searching for Nishiyama’s entry.
“Found her.” My finger stopped at Nishiyama’s name. It was set in stone: she had told me the truth.
“Aah, now that I see it, I think there was someone with this name. Although her face slipped my mind entirely,” he nodded repeatedly as he looked at the entry. “I’m surprised that you could remember her, though.”
“I didn’t; I only came across her by chance yesterday. She called out to me, but I had no idea who she was and didn’t even notice her at first. Man, I don’t remember ever talking to her to begin with.”
“I haven’t ever talked with her either, I think.”
Apparently, she hadn’t associated a lot with the boys of our old class.
“Hey, nice to see you! What’s up?” a girl who’d been in the library asked, approaching us. Her name was Sakurai. She’d been in the same class during the first school year. We definitely remembered her; neither of us was so dumb as to forget our former class president.
She’s come just right; I’ll ask her too.
“Sakurai, do you remember Nishiyama? She was in our class last year,” I asked.
“Nishiyama?” she said with a pondering look and wrinkled her brow. “Who is that? Are you sure?”
Her answer came unexpected; I’d taken it for granted that the girls knew her. From my perspective as a boy, it always looked like they formed a big circle during the lunch breaks. Toward the end, they split up in groups, though.
“Look, it says so here,” I pointed at Nishiyama’s name in the register.
“Ah, you’re right. Hm… come to think of it… I never talked with her, though.”
It seemed like Nishiyama hadn’t associated a lot with either the boys or the girls. Well, people like that aren’t that rare.
“Can you tell us anything about her?” I asked.
“Eh? I don’t know… I have trouble even recalling her face, to be honest, although I do think that she existed. Did she have a weak presence maybe?”
“Didn’t you have to do with her as our class president?”
“I probably did, but it’s not like being class president makes you friends with everyone, you know?”
“Well, I know, but still.” Still it was strange that Sakurai had forgotten her. Did she have so little of a presence?
“If it’s bothering you, then why don’t you ask someone who knows? Kouzuki-senseeei!” Sakurai shouted at a teacher who was in the library room. Without any restraint.
“Do I have to remind you that this is the library room, Sakurai-san?” Kouzuki-sensei sighed as she walked toward us. Sakurai remarked her blunder by comically showing her tongue. “Oh, long time no see,” the teacher said. She was our deputy class teacher last year.
Though not as bad with Nishiyama, I didn’t know what she was doing at the moment, either. I assumed that she was in charge of some other class.
“Sensei, sensei! Do you remember Nishiyama-san?” Sakurai asked.
“Nishiyama-san? You mean the one who was in your class last year?”
“Yes. Wow, not bad!” Sakurai clapped her hands. I didn’t think knowing the names of one’s students was worth that much praise, though. “What was she like?”
“She was very reserved. Surely, she would never make noise in a library.”
“What’s the matter with her, though?”
“It’s just that Kurusu met her yesterday and we weren’t sure if there was a girl like that in our class.”
“Huh? You met her?” Kouzuki-sensei asked me with surprise all over her face.
“Well, yes, I did.” If you can call that ‘meet’…
“Strange… wasn’t she absent from school yesterday?”
Truth be told, that was unexpected. It surprised me that she knew something even the class teacher hadn’t noticed.
“Maybe she only attended her classes?”
I didn’t understand what she was muttering to herself. Realizing that I was confused, Kouzuki-sensei explained:
“I’m the teacher in charge of the art club, and she’s one of the members.”
I see, I thought to myself as the situation became somewhat clearer. She had slipped the minds of people who had to deal with a great deal of other people, like her classmates or her class teacher, getting lost in the shuffle.
However, this was not possible in a small place like the art club.
This also explained why was in the art room when she told me that she had no place in her class. Because she had one in that room.
I might not be allowed to say this, but I was happy that there were still people who remembered her.
I belonged to the art club. While I had only joined the club because it was obligatory at our school, I did in fact like painting. In addition, the club didn’t have too many members and, depending on the subject, I did not have to work together with anyone; everyone would just silently draw their painting and maybe talk a bit once every so often. This was a perfect match for me.
However, last year, it was decided at the suggestion of our club leader that we all participate at a contest, which naturally also applied to me.
Left with no other choice, I drew a panorama painting and submitted it.
Because I didn’t want so stand out, however, I used the paint inside the Shadow phial for my submission, which I hadn’t used for anything else so far.
I find it hard to tell if I actually believed in its effects when I used the paint. Did I firmly believe it would work its magic? Or was I just clutching at straws? Had my white paint simply run out and there was no one I could borrow some from?
As a matter of fact, however, I had almost completely forgotten about that woman and her shop at that point.
In the end, my submission was left without any praise and never saw the light of day.
I was happy about that.
I’d never wanted to take part in a contest; I’d been forced to. In fact, I was relieved that my painting wasn’t put on display anywhere.
That being said, some teased me a bit because I didn’t even pass the first selection while others sympathized with me. It was obvious that they thought that my lack of presence extended over to my works, too, weakening their impression despite being well-drawn.
One day, I was once again squatting in a corner of the art room.
I had hated to be the center of attention, and yet I sat there wishing for some praise for my painting. Even though my original wish of going unnoticed had come true, I was discontent with the final outcome.
It was a mistake to weaken the impression of a painting, I thought. Surely, I wouldn’t have won a prize, but if I hadn’t used Shadow, maybe I would have passed the first selection at least? Or did that paint play no role in this and the outcome would have been the same?
The setting sun was shining through the window.
Soon it would be getting dark and I could hide in the shadows. My existence would fade into the dark like always.
However, I did not have the patience to wait.
I put some of the paint inside the Shadow phial on my palm.
Whether or not I actually believed in its effects I do not know, but at that very moment, that did not matter. I was simply filled with the wish of disappearing from this world.
And with that wish in my heart, I crumbled some Shadow paint over myself.
As soon as I arrived at my apartment, I dug out some photos from my chest of drawers. Not a full-fledged album, just a few pictures from last year put in an envelope. More precisely, the envelope contained the class picture from the year before.
About 40 students, our previous class teacher and his deputy were lined up in the picture.
I spotted myself standing next to Shinjou, both of us looking somewhat more boyish even though it had just been a year since then. I was not here to wallow in reminiscences, though, and continued searching for Nishiyama.
Her hair was a bit shorter than at the present time, but it was her without doubt. Despite her average height, she reservedly stood in a corner of the topmost row.
I was planning to show this picture to Shinjou and the others who didn’t remember her. Of course, I could have just have them meet her in person, but I didn’t want to ask them to see someone they forgot about. It was bound to be an awkward experience for both parties.
Showing around a picture of her was not going to change anything, but I wanted to make her at least a bit more noticed by her surroundings.
I could not just turn a blind eye to a matter I’d poked my nose into.
I hoped to create an opportunity for her to return to her classroom.
“Hurry up, Kurusu, we’re going!”
“Wait a sec, I’m coming!”
The fifth period was music. While I didn’t particularly like music lessons, I definitely preferred it over math and history for the first class after the lunch break.
A bit behind our classmates, Shinjou and I traversed the passage connecting the primary and secondary school building.
“By the way, what happened to those ghost stories?” Shinjou brought up the rumors the entire school had gotten excited about for the last few days. They had faded into obscurity by now and hardly appeared in any talks anymore.
“They’re clearly about to die out, but I guess they didn’t do too bad?”
“Well, there haven’t been any sightings in a while, after all.”
“How about you, Shinjou? Ever seen that ghost?”
“Nope. But I wonder what she looked like… would have loved to see her once,” Shinjou said, and because he said something tactless and naughty, I decided to tease him a bit.
“I’m so going to tell this that cute first-year girl.”
We had a completely normal talk. But something was off.
“What’s wrong?” Shinjou asked me with a raised eyebrow because I’d fallen silent.
Hm…? What is it that’s bothering me?
“Hey, what’s the matter?” he asked again. “The music room is a room farther, this is the art room.”
“The art room…?” I looked at the wall of the art room, which was adorned with several painting made by students. One of the paintings was labeled with the name of Sana Nishiyama.
“Hm? Did that painting catch your eye? Drawn by… a Nishiyama, eh? Interested to know in what year that person is.”
I gasped and whipped around to Shinjou.
“W-What?” he asked in a confused manner.
“Don’t you remember Nishiyama?”
“Huh? Is that student so famous that I should know?”
“What are you talking about!” I exclaimed, “She was in our class last year!”
“For real? You sure about that?”
What? What is he talking about?
It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t remember her, since she was hard to notice, but this wasn’t the problem here.
This is weird! Didn’t we talk about her just yesterday? No, that’s not it. That’s not the point.
What was really unsettling was that—even I had completely forgotten about her until that very moment.
I stuck my hand into my pocket. Inside was a class photo.
I remember now. I had dug out that picture the evening before just to show it to Shinjou, and yet I had completely forgotten about it—no, about Nishiyama herself. Even while we were talking about those ghost stories I’d failed to remember her—only after seeing her painting, her name, I finally recalled.
What’s the meaning of this? Why have I forgotten Nishiyama? What’s wrong with me… with us?
“Shinjou, go ahead,” I said and left behind a puzzled Shinjou as I entered the art room. “—There she is.”
Noticing my entrance, Nishiyama flashed a smile. It was a smile of relief. She must have been thinking that I’d ignore her like the others.
“Ah, urm, sorry. I was busy.”
“Why are you apologizing?” she asked, “We didn’t have an appointment, did we?”
Indeed, we didn’t. Still, I had a somewhat guilty conscience about forgetting her.
“Thank you very much for paying me some attention,” she said and the 5th period bell rang. “The period is starting.”
I felt that it was wrong to just go and leave her. However, it was then that the door opened and Kouzuki-sensei, the teacher in charge of the art club, appeared.
“What are you doing here? The period just started!” she said.
“Come, hurry up,” she rushed me and chased me out of the room, leaving behind only Nishiyama. I gave Kouzuki-sensei a observant look; she showed no signs of trying to get Nishiyama out of the room.
“What about Nishiyama?”
“Don’t worry about her, but you should hurry up.”
I was relieved. She had noticed Nishiyama; she hadn’t ignored her. Perhaps, she was aware that Nishiyama couldn’t return to her class.
Leaving her to Kouzuki-sensei, I left the art room for good.
“…Wait,” Nishiyama said as she followed me out.
“Are you going to your class, too?”
She shook her head. Maybe it was cruel of me to ask that.
“No, it’s OK. I’m sorry,” I apologized.
“It’s fine. But may I ask you to come again after school? I’d like to ask you a favor.”
“OK, got it.” I accepted because of feelings of guilt and because I figured that I was the only person she could rely on.
“Would you go back to your class now? Or do you want to make me angry?” Kouzuki-sensei scolded me, standing behind me before I knew.
“Later” I said with a wave and headed toward the music room.
“Kurusu-kun, there’s some dust on your shoulder.”
Nishiyama stood behind me and brushed my shoulder with a handkerchief.
“It’s a promise.”
I vowed to myself not to forget this promise.
“Excuse me, I’m late,” I said as I entered the music room. The students were lined up and singing, while the teacher was playing the piano.
“Oh, Kurusu-kun? I thought you were here. Anyway, hurry up and line up.”
“Right away,” I nodded and stepped into the group, positioning myself next to Shinjou. “Great, I could’ve just sneaked in if she hadn’t noticed anyway…”
Because we had to stand during choir practice, it was hard to tell who was present and who was not; in other words, I could have waited for an opportunity and secretly mix with the group.
“Hey Kurusu, Where have you been?”
“Hm? At the art room, of course.”
“Caught the wrong room? How lame,” Shinjou laughed.
Contrary to what he claimed, I’d deliberately entered the art room. Perhaps, he did not quite get that part when I had him go ahead.
On the way back from the music room, I had the urge to stop by the art room, but I eventually just walked past the door. This time, I remembered her and the promise to meet up after school.
The 6th period was English. Our English teacher was famous for picking every student once during each lesson, but because the order itself was random, you could not sleep until your turn was over.
Well, at least it’s the last class for today.
The lesson went on with the students who had been picked answering his questions or reading passages in a text. Although I could have been picked at any moment, I was in the art room with my mind.
I wonder what’s Nishiyama doing right now?
To be honest, it was cryptic to me why she would even come to school when she was just sitting in the art room anyway, not evening showing up in her class and accumulating unexcused absences.
Is she waiting for someone to talk to her? If so, am I supposed to tell her to attend her classes? Maybe I should talk about this with Sasakura or their class teacher?
I was still pondering when suddenly the bell rang, ending the 6th period.
I hadn’t been picked throughout the lesson. I had a run of luck, it seemed.
While the class was cleaning the room, I leaned against a broom and killed some time until we could go talking with Shinjou.
“Boy was I lucky today.”
“English class. He didn’t pick me even once,” I explained.
“Seriously? Geez, I had to answer twice!”
“Well, unlike you I’m always behaving well.”
Our chit-chat was interrupted when our class teacher came in. We swiftly pretended to be wiping the floor. Since we were doing this every day, we had already mastered the timing.
But against my expectations, the teacher walked up to us. What he pointed out, however, was not our lazing about.
“Hey, Kurusu,” he said. “Where have you been during the 6th period?”
He made no sense to me.
“Kobayashi-sensei notified me that you didn’t attend his English class. You skipped, didn’t you?”
I exchanged glances with Shinjou.
It was clear now why Kobayashi-sensei hadn’t picked me; he’d thought I wasn’t in class to begin with.
“No, I didn’t. I was there, right?”
“Eh? I, uh, think so…”
“Should I show you my notes if you don’t believe me?”
While I wasn’t studious enough to take proper notes, I’d still written down one thing or another.
“Is that so? Kobayashi-sensei must have overlooked you, then. I’m sorry,” he apologized and without suspecting me any further, he went to his desk to prepare for the homeroom session.
It was then that Shinjou whispered something disturbing to me.
“Were you really here during the 6th period…?”
Have you ever wondered how many people would cry for you if you died?
There aren’t many who would have any tears to spare for an unnoticeable girl like me with next to no friends.
No, “not many” is pushing it. Maybe there wouldn’t be anyone at all.
No, maybe nobody would even notice that I were dead.
I used to be OK with that. I had come to terms with that thought.
However, right now…
I want at least someone to notice me.
I want at least someone to cry for me.
I want at least someone to disappear together with me.
I no longer want to be alone.
What’s going on?
Everyone around me was acting strange; they were starting to forget me. My presence was growing weak like Nishiyama’s.
Why is this happening? When did my presence start to weaken?
When? When did it start? When I first met her?
While trying to calm down, I walked to the art room in search of an answer.
Nishiyama was standing alone before her painting and gazing at the scenery inside. The moment I saw her, all my doubt and confusion was blown away.
I walked up to her but was at a loss for words. I unwittingly rubbed my eyes, but what I saw did not change.
Nishiyama was standing before the painting. Between it and me.
Right; she was standing before the painting and yet I could recognize it was a panorama picture.
Nishiyama had pulled off the remarkable feat of … letting me see the picture through her body.
“Kurusu-kun,” she called as she turned around to me. Her dwindling voice could still reach me, I realized with surprise.
“What… what happened to you?”
Resignation showed on her face when she heard my words.
“I suppose I’m really transparent, right?” she said as she gazed at her own hands. Probably, she could see the floor through them.
I followed suit and looked at my hands as well. They were not transparent yet, but it was probably just a matter of time.
All of a sudden, my eyes met with those of two first-year girls who had come upstairs. They were observing us from afar, slightly startled. Because Nishiyama’s transparent, I guessed.
The two girls awoke from their state of shock and hurried down the corridor, ignoring us. After they had created some distance, I heard them talking:
“Did you see that? He was talking to a picture!”
“Shh! Do you want him to hear you? He was just talking to himself, surely.”
At first I couldn’t make sense of their dialog; I thought I’d misheard them.
Talking to a picture? Talking to himself?
I swung my head around to Nishiyama.
“It’s as you think. Nobody can see me anymore. Except for you, Kurusu-kun.”
“I don’t really know, either…”
“I’m not only talking about your becoming invisible, but about this situation in general. Don’t you think this is weird?”
Not only her invisibility, but also the fact that her whole present and past classes had forgotten about her struck me as weird. Actually, the fact that this very thought hadn’t occurred to me sooner was just plain weird. I suspected that even my concern toward her situation had been strangely bland.
“I did notice that something was strange since a few days, but at first I thought they’d simply forgotten me. I mean, it’s not that rare that a name doesn’t get called during a roll call or that somebody is skipped during a question round, or that a sheet is missing when you’re sitting in the last row, right?”
As she said, such things happen.
“But one time when my name wasn’t called during the roll call, I got curious and took a look at the class book and found that I was marked as absent. When I notified the teacher of this mistake, he told me that he hadn’t noticed me and apologized. But the next day, he made the same mistake again, and continued doing so with increasing regularity.”
That was clearly weird. If done on purpose, then you could easily call it bullying.
“Naturally, I started wondering if I’d done something bad to our class teacher, but I couldn’t think of anything. Besides, other than forgetting to call my name, he acted completely normal and treated me politely.
“—But one day, he walked straight up to me and asked me, “Who are you?” Even though we had talked the day before, he completely forgot about me. When I told him my name, he recalled who I am, though, but the next day, the same thing happened again…”
“He… didn’t do that on purpose, did he?”
Nishiyama wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. “There was no ill will. I wish there had been. But both our teachers and my classmates just… forgot me. They looked at me and genuinely didn’t know how I was.”
That was why she couldn’t stay in her class. That was what she meant by having no place there.
What must it be like to be treated as a stranger by people who should know you? Her trembling was a clear answer to this question.
“Do you remember our promise? May I ask you a favor?” she suddenly said as if to break her trembling.
Promise? I wondered. What promise is she talking about? I can’t remember making one with her. Does that mean that I’m starting to forget her, too?
However, I kept my doubts to myself and nodded with feigned calmness.
“Please make a call to my family. It’s a strange request, I know, but I haven’t gone home since three days.”
I had been wrong; I thought she came to school every day, when in reality she had been at school all day and night. Before I could ask for the reason, she produced her cell phone and showed me her home telephone number on its display. I gave up on the interrogation and decided to accept her request.
With my own cell phone I copied the number and called her family. After a few beeps, a woman answered the phone.
“Hello? Am I speaking with Mrs. Nishiyama? My name is Kurusu and I’m in the same school as Sana Nishiyama.”
“Oh, hello. I am Sana’s mother,” she answered politely. As if the world was in perfect order.
“Is Nishiyama-san at home?” I asked in a natural manner. Nishiyama hadn’t given me any instructions, but I knew what she wanted to know.
“Sana? Just a moment, please.” With these words, she put the call on hold. Apparently, she went looking for her daughter.
The “hold” sound was loud enough to reach Nishiyama’s ears and distort her face with distress.
“I am sorry. She has not come home from school yet. Do you want me to call you back?”
“No, thank you, but may I ask you something?”
“Did she come home yesterday?”
“Eh?” Nishiyama’s mother fell silent and stopped time. “Yes, I think she did…?”
“And the day before that?”
“And a day farther back…?” I continued.
With a click, the call ended. Nishiyama had hung up the phone for me.
“That’s enough,” she said with a soft, fragile smile.
She had probably been scared to learn the truth directly and asked me to do the call instead. Her hopes had been betrayed, however, and the truth was not the one she’d wished for.
“I always knew I have not much of a presence. Nobody pays me attention, be it in class or at home.”
The reason why she had stayed in the art room was because there was no place for her in class or at home.
There was no place where she belonged to, only places where she didn’t belong to.
“I’m going to disappear, right?” she muttered, accepting her vanishing body, her dwindling existence. “But nobody is going to notice…”
She gave up.
“Is there no cause that you can think of…?” I asked her with a certain possibility in mind.
“Did you, for instance, use or pick up something unusual?”
“Something known as a Relic.”
The moment I said this, pure surprise showed on her face.
She had heard of the Relics. She had heard of something only people who got in contact with should know.
At last, she showed me a phial she had bought in a certain shop.
It was an oval phial with little lobe-like handles attached on both sides and a protruding lid. Inside was powdered paint.
She then explained to me that she had painted a picture with that paint. A picture which she then submitted to a contest.
I picked up the utterly inconspicuous phial.
Its color was—
At times, we forget about things because they can be taken for granted. We may forget things that we don’t try to remember, we may forget things that don’t matter. Things like what we had for dinner the other day; things like who was not at school the day before; things like what new class a former classmate is in.
However, it’s completely absurd if a mother doesn’t know whether or not her daughter has come home in the last three days.
That doesn’t only apply to her mother.
People—her classmates, her former classmates, her class teacher, and even me—have been forgetting her way too much.
This has long exceeded the bounds of having a low profile.
This is abnormal.
Everybody is acting abnormal.
This situation is ridiculously abnormal.
At last, I managed to recognize how abnormal all this is. There was no swaying between deeming it normal and abnormal anymore.
It is abnormal.
Nishiyama was in possession of a black phial; not a white one. She owned the black one.
The paint contained in the black phial—known as “Light”—had the effect of making things stand out. And according to her, she had painted a picture with it.
As a result, her submission was valued as poorly drawn but extraordinarily impressive, and earned her an honorable mention.
Needless to say, it was all thanks to Light.
In that case, did the black phial have the side effect of weakening the impression of its owner once it strengthened that of a different target?
That was not the case. I even gave Towako-san a call and she also denied it.
So, why was it that Nishiyama had become so inconspicuous? Because she had been like that to begin with? No, not at all. That was not remotely normal.
This situation had been caused by a Relic, and she was on the verge of ruin.
However, the Relic that was to blame was not her Light, but someone else’s Shadow—
Someone had weakened her presence using Shadow, and most likely I had fallen victim to that someone as well. I was going to be forgotten just like her.
The person in possession of Shadow must have come in contact with both Nishiyama and me, especially during the past few days.
I had no idea about that person’s reasons and purposes, but I had an idea who it could be.
In order to meet that person, I stood in front of a certain door. On the other side of it was the owner of Shadow.
The owner presented the greatest abnormality among all abnormalities that had happened.
Many people had forgotten Nishiyama; her face, her name, mutual memories both old and new, and her very existence.
However, in the abnormal environment that the Relic created, forgetting her was perfectly normal in a sense.
Nishiyama had become a being that was to be forgotten.
The most abnormal thing that happened within that abnormal status quo was—
“That you remembered her!”
I pointed it out to her. To Kouzuki-sensei.
I’d always been an inconspicuous girl.
I was unable to properly integrate into my class and had no friends, even though I had a great class indeed. They never bullied me, they never ignored me.
But sometimes they would just forget me.
The fact that they meant no harm made this cruel kind of forgetting only tougher for me.
Things did not improve throughout the 16 years I spent in school, from elementary school to university. As a matter of fact, I always failed to fit into my classes because of my poor group work skills and was never invited to any of our class reunions; which was natural, considering how I spent my school life.
However, I never wanted this.
I did want to join my classmates and I did want them to pay attention to me. I didn’t ask for standing out; I just wanted them to realize that I was here.
Perhaps that was why I chose to become a teacher.
If I was the teacher inside a class instead of just another student, then I was going to be noticed for sure. People would stop forgetting about me.
However, my hopes proved wrong.
By that I don’t mean that my class fell into a state of confusion, but that I simply failed to bridge the divide between teacher and students.
By assuming the position of a teacher, I had unwittingly enlarged the gulf between the class and me. I wasn’t the type of teacher who would chat with their students or engage in sports with them, either.
I was treated as a “teacher” not as “me”.
My relationship with my students was of a fleeting nature and limited to my lessons and homeroom sessions. Whenever my class changed, they would stop greeting me on the corridors, and when I met an old student in town, they would just ignore me.
Becoming a teacher had been a mistake.
But just when I was thinking of quitting, I met Nishiyama-san.
A year had passed since I’d obtained the Shadow Relic.
One day, I found her looking at a painting of mine that was on display at the entrance to the art room. A year before, the members of the art club—which I was in charge of because the teachers at this school were forced to take care of one—had talked me into participating in an art contest and made me draw that picture.
It was an inconspicuous landscape painting that had received no attention and was made with Shadow paint. My students had urged me to hang it on the wall before the art room.
She was looking upon a painting that was supposed to catch nobody’s attention.
“What a magnificent picture. It doesn’t catch the eye, but it gives off a gentle impression.”
She was the first person to ever find me.
After that incident, we started talking with each other and I got to know her better. She was very similar to me. Like me, she had trouble to integrate into her class and ended up being forgotten because of her weak presence.
She was a carbon copy of me.
I invited her into the art club. The club had been memberless ever since the previous third-year students had graduated, but I was actually thankful of that.
I would teach her how to draw, and she would listen to me. I wouldn’t ignore her, and she wouldn’t ignore me.
It was the one-to-one relationship I’d wished for.
However, one day the equilibrium was broken.
Shortly after she had started her second year, she won an award in a contest. Unlike her, the painting stood out and caught everyone’s attention, but that didn’t stop me from cheering with all my heart.
In all my delight, I invited her to a dinner to celebrate her success.
However, her answer was: “My classmates already invited me to a celebration party. I’m sorry, sensei.”
I will never forget that moment; the moment I saw her leaving through the school gate, surrounded by her classmates.
She changed on that day and stopped being the retiring girl who couldn’t integrate.
She stayed in touch with me of course, but she stopped visiting me at the art room during breaks. She started to come late to her club activities when she used to come right after homeroom had ended.
“I was talking with friends,” she would explain with a beaming smile.
Her once weak presence grew stronger with every passing day.
Therefore, I made up my mind.
I used a Relic on her—Shadow.
“What are you talking about? What’s so strange about remembering her?”
“Right, it wouldn’t be strange at all. Normally.”
At this very moment, the abnormal thing was not the fact that everyone forgot about Nishiyama.
I had forgotten her. Shinjou, Sasakura and Sakurai had forgotten her. Even her class teacher had forgotten her.
Everyone had forgotten her.
Despite that, there was only one person who always remembered her.
Originally, I’d attributed it to their relationship as an art club member and the art club teacher.
But I was wrong. Even her parents had forgotten her, after all.
In a state where she was forgotten despite a relationship of mother and daughter, Kouzuki-sensei managed to remember Nishiyama.
That was the real abnormality in the current state of affairs.
“You’ve come in contact with a Relic, haven’t you?” I said.
Her face contorted with surprise, Kouzuki-sensei asked, “How much do you know…?”
“I think I get the gist of it.”
“Do you also know what my Relic does?”
“It dims your presence and your very existence.”
“Correct!” she nodded.
“When did you weaken my presence with it?”
“Today. Right before the art room.”
“As I thought…” I said and remembered how she had suddenly stood behind me during the fifth period, in front of the art room.
If not for Nishiyama, who’d brushed the paint off, the effects would have been a lot more notable.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Oh, it’s nothing personal,” she explained. “I just felt like obscuring your existence a little because you were getting quite close to her; so that you wouldn’t grow on her. I don’t want to do this, but if you keep caring for her, I’ll eliminate you for good! So don’t get in my way anymore, OK?” Kouzuki-sensei threatened me in a calm tone.
Her answer was beside my point. I had already guessed as much when I found out about her.
“We’re not talking about me here. I want to know why you used the Relic on her.”
“Her…? Who are you talking about?”
“Who…?” I asked in disbelief but I couldn’t recall a name.
“So…” she said as she walked up to me and put her hand on my cheek. “Whose presence did I weaken again?”
……I had forgotten.
Forget her. She will forget you, too.
I will not give her to anyone. She’s the like-minded person I’ve been looking for.
She should exist just for my sake; because I also exist just for her sake.
No matter who forgets her, I will not.
No matter who forgets me, she will not.
Suddenly, a painful noise rang inside my head——
A girl was jumping over the fence on the roof, with a presence as frail as a shimmer of air. Her existence felt so frail, in fact, that I thought that the wind might take her with it.
I was brought back to reality with gruesome vividness.
The girl who had jumped over the fence started to accelerate downward according to the laws of physics and hit the ground in no time.
Leaving behind a big red flower of blood as proof of her existence.
——But that wasn’t reality.
It was but the future my Relic showed to me.
My right eye was artificial. A Relic named “Vision” had been implanted where once my real eye had been.
“Vision” would show me the immediate future. However, it wouldn’t just show me all of the future. I couldn’t foresee the winning number of a lottery, or the winner of a sports match. Not even the weather. Nor could I see any future events at will.
But there was one type of future it would show me without fail.
That is, when I or someone I knew was in danger. At those times, it showed me the moment of their death.
When that happened, a pain would run through my head, much like static TV noise, followed by a cut-in of the future. And then I would take another action than in the future shown, trying to prevent the predicted death.
I had just seen a certain girl’s future whose name I had already forgotten. However, she did without a doubt exist and she didn’t deserve such an outcome.
Fractions of my memories of the girl had been momentarily restored by Vision.
She was going to despair and end her life.
“You have to stop…”
“What do you want me to stop? Geez…”
“You have to stop her before it’s too late!” I shouted.
“Huh?” she gasped puzzledly and inclined her head.
“She’s going to die! On the roof!”
I stuck my fingers into my right eye socket and scooped out my artificial eye: Vision.
“You’re not the only owner of a Relic. I have one, too. This Relic is called Vision and it lets you foresee death. I saw hers. At this rate she’s going to die!”
I couldn’t even recall her face anymore; chances were that I wouldn’t be able to catch her by myself.
Only you can stop her.
Kouzuki-sensei however fell to the ground and couldn’t seem to move.
I dashed off toward the rooftop, running through the corridor at full speed and taking several steps at once on the stairways, and eventually pushed open the door to the roof without losing momentum.
I looked around.
“There’s nobody here…”
There wasn’t a soul in sight.
Did you see that? He was talking to a picture—
Shh! Do you want him to hear you? He was just talking to himself, surely—
The talk between the first-year girls suddenly crossed my mind.
I could no longer see her. I could no longer perceive her.
Despite all that, I shouted:
“Hey! I know you’re here!”
I could no longer even remember her name.
“Kurusu-kun…” a voice answered.
I could still hear her. It was not too late.
However, I couldn’t locate where the voice was coming from because of the wind.
“Where…? Where are you?!”
“You can’t see me anymore, either, can you?” I could sense despair grow stronger in her.
The fence clanked.
What should I do? How do I stop her?
—Remember! The vision you’ve seen! Where was she? Where did she climb over the fence?
“Thanks for remembering me.”
I had taken the wrong measure: I was not supposed to find her whereabouts, I was supposed to find the words to stop her.
But by the time I finally realized that—
—Kouzuki-sensei had already ran past me.
She could still see her. As the only one here—as the only one in the world—she could still see her.
Kouzuki-sensei ran across the rooftop, climbed over the fence and clutched at nothing.
Her hand grasped something.
Her hand grasped something that I could not see and pulled it back. Or so it looked for a moment.
I didn’t wish for this.
I just didn’t want to lose you. Not in my dreams would I have thought that my own ego was going to make me lose you for all time.
The words of the shopkeeper whose face I forgot came to mind.
Be careful: if you dim an existence too often, it will disappear altogether—
How many times have I used Shadow on you?
I didn’t care. You would not disappear from me, after all, I thought.
Everything was fine as long as I remembered you, I thought.
Such filthy egoism.
It’s no use apologizing, but I’m sorry.
It might become another bad memory for you, but—
The days we spent together were the sole prime of my life.
It was a solemn funeral.
Both teachers and students came to bid her farewell. The second-year students who had known her were complete, while first and third-year students were free to attend or not. But even though attendance was voluntary, they still came in fairly big numbers.
Counting the attendees may offend decency, but their numbers proved how well-liked she had been during her lifetime.
She was valued as someone reserved but kind.
We were there as well, having known her during the first school year, and bade her farewell.
We lined up before her coffin and went on with burning incense for her and praying for her.
In my head, I called out to her:
Look how many people are crying for you!
Especially Nishiyama, who was standing next to me, couldn’t hold back her tears.
Looking at Kouzuki-sensei’s funeral portrait I was reminded of her soft smile. I’d had no idea that she was fighting with such negative feelings inside, with such an obsession.
However, no matter how wrong her ways, she did without a doubt hold Nishiyama dear.
Otherwise, she wouldn’t have pulled Nishiyama back to safety without fear of risking her own life.
Otherwise, she wouldn’t have worried about Nishiyama while confronted with her own death.
Before she died, the moment when she ran past me, Kouzuki-sensei left me with the words, “The rest is up to you.”
Kouzuki-sensei had taken on the role of saving Nishiyama’s life, and I had taken on the role of saving Nishiyama’s existence.
When I pondered about a way to save her, a certain painting came to mind. The painting that had promoted her from an inconspicuous girl to the center of attention and that had made me stop with awe that night.
I took Nishiyama’s painting off the art room wall, scraped off the dried paint, and went back to throw it where I thought Nishiyama was.
As a result, she became visible again, lying before the edge of the roof, and I regained all my memories of her, both fresh and old.
The others, too, recalled who she was and were dazzled how they could’ve forgotten her in the first place.
Neither her class nor Nishiyama herself knew why. Only Kouzuki-sensei and me knew.
However, I had no notion of telling them the truth.
It was an undeniable truth that Kouzuki-sensei had driven Nishiyama to suicide, albeit unwittingly. But if Nishiyama were to learn about Kouzuki-sensei’s reasons, she would blame herself for neglecting her.
For taking advantage of her Relic, Light.
I was sure that Kouzuki-sensei didn’t wish for that, either, so I kept the truth to myself.
However, once she had digested Kouzuki-sensei’s death, I would tell her the truth and how beloved she’d been.
Love and obsession had killed her.
I’d seen many people who had suffered the same fate.
I can’t say I’m jealous, I thought.
But could I ever feel so much love and attachment for something as to be willing to sacrifice myself…?