The Summer UFOs in Iriya’s Sky – Volume 1 Chapter 1 – A Close Encounter of the Third Kind
It felt crazy and good – someone had said.
So I’ll do it – he decided.
After living so long in the hills, I’ll take the road back, and sneak to the pool at school for a swim – Asaba Naoyuki thought.
The last day of summer vacation for Middle School students, and furthermore, around five minutes after 8pm. Stopping his bike at a nearby video-store, with a bulging and swelled-up duffel bag slung on his shoulder, he ran down the dimly lit road – and headed for the school building.
Climbing over the northern side-gate,
And passing through the back of the clubroom houses on quick feet.
With the mood of a spy infiltrating enemy grounds – he crouched in the shadow of the incinerator and peeked out, scanning the surroundings. A country school had merits only in the size of its yards, and the sloppy lines that some clumsy shithead from some club had drawn up seemed thoroughly trampled from all throughout summer. To eyes that weren’t yet used to the dark, they looked like Nazca geoglyphs. To his left was the old gym, and straight ahead was the even older (to the point of being distinctive) stink of the Sonohara Middle School (of the Sonohara municipal) wooden main building, and to the right was the newest newcomer to the school’s overall structure – the Sonohara District 4 Bomb Shelter. The area was gloomy, and, of course, there was nobody about – far away sounds were surprisingly distinct to the ear. The constant ring of phone. Sirens as something was chased by a patrol car. Somewhere, the few rounds of a motorcycle’s starter motor. Someone buying juice from a vending machine and the corresponding ‘thanks’. Suddenly, his eyes caught, within the night sky, a towering red Kanji symbol in the middle of a circle – denoting Buddha (仏). It was quite a recent addition to the outskirts of the town – the billboard for a Buddhist altar shop.
The clock-tower in the very center of the school building. It was 8.14pm.
It was no ordinary 8.14pm.
It was 8.14pm on the last day of their summer vacation.
For a person like him who hadn’t touched his homework at all, the clock-fitted school building, that split the grounds, and was sunk into the summer night – was surely none other than a three storey wooden time bomb. A detestable clock-tower. Were one to choke the very life out of those gears, he had the feeling that time would have stopped at 8.14pm all over the world. If that had happened, then neither would summer vacation end nor would the second semester start. Over the past month and a half, that dial on the clock had, at the very most, only been glanced at by the sports club members with their spiky chestnut heads, and beyond them no one else – so no one would have known if it had played a bit of hooky. It had a missing second hand, and, in that month and a half that felt like eternity, had sluggishly shaved off time second-by-second.
And today, Asaba was left with less than 13 hours.
When those 13 hours ended with a bang, the second semester would start with neither compassion nor sympathy. Science teacher and form teacher of Class 2-4, Kawaguchi Taizou (35yo bachelor), would line up those without homework on the platform, scowling with his scientific eyes, smacking those heads in succession with scientific efficiency (attendance-book in hand), and demanding a scientific explanation for the lack of submission.
“But siiiir, it can’t be helped. I was taken away by a UFO to a pyramid on the other side of the moon where those bastards set up a secret base for world-domination and I was crammed into a jail where I found out that they had taken seven guys and girls from every country. We escaped and stole their rayguns and went around blasting away until the pyramid collapsed and we got away in a UFO – we just got back yesterday night, saving the earth by just a nick, and there completely wasn’t any time to do homework at all. Thanks to us, humanity wasn’t destroyed and that’s why you and I are still around today – oh, no no no this isn’t sunburn at all but radiation exposure from their anti-gravity fields. Take a long good look sir, don’t I look like I just came back from the Lucky Dragon nuclear incident?”
He would certainly be torn apart in the eight cardinal directions.
Though – “I was with newspaper club prez Suizenji snooping around in the hills behind Sonohara base the whole summer looking for UFOs” – despite being the complete truth, would also probably result in the same kind of consequence. That reality stuck with him as he hid in the shadows of the incinerator. In less than 13 hours, that modest historical truth would be determined.
Asaba Naoyuki’s summer vacation was entirely consumed in the hills behind Sonohara base.
A mere 13 hours.
He felt like having a last smoke before the firing squad.
So, he thought it would be okay to go for a night swim in the school pool.
It was the natural thing to do.
Somewhere close, an off-point cicada cracked a single bar of noise in the dark. Asaba confirmed the lack of presence in his surroundings for a final time. There was only the open windows of three-storey school building glaring at him as if to say “I’ve caught you and your dirty deeds!”. To the slight left of the middle was the staff-room, and next to that was the so-called ‘Nap Room’ – which was a small & narrow tatami-matted inconspicuous room. He happened to know it existed. The teacher on night-watch duty was probably there, he thought. So, none of the windows bore any lights in them, but he also didn’t really know if their school had a night-watch duty in the first place.
His primary goal, the pool, was lined up to the gym, and was about 30 meters from the incinerator. There was no fence around it, but synthetic resin panels joined together into a wall. It was the notorious impregnable Berlin Wall that stood with unshakeable stature and absorbed the resentful cries of “We can’t stare at those hot bods!” from male students. But, today it was his ally. He could enjoy his night-swim without anyone seeing his form from outside the wall. There was also an easy access point. The locker room entry had a completely worn-out door, and, key or no key, it was privy to immoderate force applied with a few twists of the knob, causing the lock to snap apart.
All you needed was guts.
There was definitely no one there. He absolutely couldn’t get caught.
But, he couldn’t wipe the anxiety.
If someone had seen him – they’d surely give him the evil-eye, and much else.
Duffel bag flapping by the side, undertaking that last 30 meters without cover, tumbling into the shadow of the L-shaped concrete wall that hid the entrance, taking a breath, peeking out once again at the environs – and finally feeling a bit of relief. He turned the knob with both hands, forcing the wear as the metal chafed with a clack, and feeling the sensations that ran through his palms. The lock snapped open without much resistance.
At that moment, the siren of a patrol car was heard.
Certainly it didn’t involve him – he knew that – but a reflexive stiffening ran through his body, and he stopped.
“Those cars are sure lively. Did something happen? Come to think of it, wasn’t there something going on before the vacation started when they announced that “it was probable that a Northern Spy has entered the premises – please, be vigilant” – or some circular notice like that that was going around? – Spies just don’t give a shit about summer vacation.”
A deep breath.
Gently opening the door, and peeking inside.
It was too dark.
In that darkness, to change his clothes was madness. Turning on the lights was bad. A bit hesitant, he decided to change his clothes right there, in the shadow of the concrete wall. It would hide him, and there would be no one coming around. Taking down his bag, he pulled open the zip, and realized what a massive mistake he had made.
It was totally obvious since he had been living in the hills.
In other words, inside the bag was camping stuff, like a toothbrush, or a towel, or a change of clothes, or bug spray, or a camera, or a small radio. But, it made no sense to bring swimming trunks up there.
Thus, at that very moment, he didn’t have any.
And so he was struck with earth-shattering disappointment.
He sank into the ground right there. It reminded him of that night when he had, in the grandeur of a momentous decision, entered a video-store that was outrageously outrageously far away where he had picked up a porno disc to rent, and, at the exact moment when he was about to buy it, with package all-ready in hand, he realized that he had forgotten his purse and uttered a loud “Of Course!”. That ill feeling had carried itself all the way to the present.
A wild thought came up.
How about I just go skinny dipping?
It’s totally crazy, but why not?
The idea that “skinny dipping in the school pool at night would feel kinda good, wouldn’t it?” churned within him for a moment, and then he suddenly felt a slight unease that the inklings of an exhibitionist was budding inside him. Definitely, nudity was bad. Trying to find whatever stand-in for trunks he could get, he recklessly rummaged through the contents of his bag.
He found a crumpled up pair of shorts.
It was worn when he was sleeping in a sleeping bag – a pair of school-designated gym shorts.
He checked that there was no one around again, and hurriedly stripped off his trousers and boxers, then tried out the shorts. He took off his T-shirt and looked down at himself. The pockets were quite unusual, and there was no inner layer (unlike swimming trunks) – which meant that a cool wind blew around his privates.
But, it wasn’t that bad.
I mean, I took so much pains to get here after all.
He puffed out his chest, kicking whatever he took off into his bag and heading into the locker room. Barely distinguishing the contours of the lockers, he traced around them, groping through the damp and dark with the smell of chlorine entering his nostrils. He passed by the showers and the sterilization tank, all too aware of the wet and slippery floor under the soles of his feet – it was last summer, he recalled, when Miyake had flopped on the floor all blood-stained in a totally funny way. “Teacheeerrr! I’ll dieeeee! I’ll dieeeee!” – that crying voice was raw in his memory. Sorry Miyake, you were just too hilarious that time.
Forcing open the swing doors, he came to the poolside at night.
And, his humorous reminiscing was put to a halt when, at that moment, he was inattentive of his feet, and almost tripped over the squirming length of hose that proved hazardous to his balance.
And, that night, the poolside had another visitor.
It was a girl.
There was the normally large 25×15 meter pool. Magical calm settled the water’s surface, where the depth of so many light years had been reflected, and the starlight drew the focus of his eyes easily to it. It was as if the pool had contained a strip of the night sky within itself. From the darkness of the lockers, the scene was unusually bright. And within that unusual brightness, the girl’s back was turned away from him – crouching at the right corner, tightly gripping the handrail next to her, wearing a school swimsuit and swim-cap. She stared into the pitch metallic blackness of the water’s surface, earnestly.
Who was that? – he didn’t even think that thought.
It was too surprising a turn of events. He didn’t think of anything.
As if he were an upright stick, Asaba stood in his position.
(to be cont.)