The Summer UFOs in Iriya’s Sky – Volume 1 Chapter 2 – Love Letter
(after NanoDesu‘s translated portion)
Although her current condition troubled him, he felt that sticking too close was probably even worse, and so Asaba decided to take a walk in the shelter and look around.
The room he was in had three large doors, and these were made of the same material that constituted the walls of the entrance – it wasn’t the type of material that could easily be opened or closed by normal human strength. In the first place, this “Sonohara District 4 Bomb Shelter” wasn’t merely for accommodating students in a time of emergency – it extended to the residents in the vicinity as well. In other words, there was space enough to accommodate whatever was on the other side of those doors, and space enough to ensure that many people could live here for a long time.
The floor had, altogether, 26 hatches cut into it, and thanks to whatever it was that Iriya did, 8 of those hatches had opened, and 8 storage containers rose up from them. It seemed to him that these containers were, undoubtedly, formed in the shape of cargo trailers. Underneath the floor was what seemed like a 3-dimensional rail construction. When you operated the panel, there must have been some place underneath where they came from – a structure where the express purpose was to allow a person easy access to a wide plethora of goods.
The container that Iriya had used the gray card to open had “B-09” indicated at the side. It was full of fully-loaded small arms, including automatic rifles.
He pulled some out, one by one.
Asaba was never really into guns, but he had some knowledge. The composition of a Magnum 44 is made out of such unbelievably heavy iron to the point where if an untrained individual were to open fire his wrist would surely snap in two – somehow that thought floated in his mind – and now the ‘real thing’ was right in front of him, lined up like toys sitting on shelves. They were lighter than he thought – almost like plastic. The word “Atare” was written on the grip. If this kind of thing was a joke, he felt that there surely had to be a limit to it.
But they were definitely real.
Those nail clippers were really nail clippers, and that coffee mug was really a coffee mug, and so this was also a real gun.
It felt awesome, so he held the rifle by the hip and started mowing down invisible enemies from right to left while making “BhBhBhBhBhBhBhBh” noises with his mouth.
And as he was doing that, his muzzle pointed straight at Iriya – who suddenly stood in front of him.
“H-hey… is this ‘Atare’ written here a good luck charm or something?”
She replied clearly and immediately:
Perhaps it was done to gloss over the embarrassment. Or was it because there was some awkward look on his face? – she had an air of fluster around her,
“That’s the selector. A is for safety, Ta is for single-shot, and Re is for rapid-fire.”
On seeing that “air of fluster”, Asaba was tickled with a slight happiness. But he thought it would be creepy if she saw the smile loosening up on his face – so he quickly turned away, stifled it down, and turned back, only to find her looking at him as if she wanted to say something. She shyly pointed at his nose.
He touched his nose, and felt something really sticking there. Akiho’s bandage was already half peeled-off. As he pinned it down with one finger, Iriya let out a voice that was almost as soft as a buzzing fly:
“You love cats?”
For a moment, he didn’t know exactly what she meant.
“Could it be that you dumped that cat in my locker!?”
Thunderstruck. Iriya’s faced turned red and she shook her head left and right and left and right rapidly, and turned away completely.
“Oh, but it’s okay though. I’m not mad at all though…”
With her face turned away, she shouted.
“That’s not it!”
That’s not it… which probably meant that she wanted to say “the one who put the cat there wasn’t me” – but her lying skills were poor and so she decided not to say it. No matter how you looked at it, the culprit was obviously Iriya.
“Do you like cats?”
With a bit of thought, he asked that.
Iriya still had her face turned away, and was silent – but soon
“That was my first time touching one.”
He was surprised.
“You’ve never even touched a cat before? Not even one?”
She made a small nod.
“And when you did, how was it?”
And slowly, she turned to him.
Looking up at him.
“Does Asaba hate cats?”
“No, I like them.”
And she smiled slightly.
In that mood, he felt as though he could have gotten various things out of her. At that moment, he saw something on the floor, close to the phone.
“Hey, is that yours?”
Looking at where he was pointing at, Iriya made a small gasp.
It was her bag.
Come to think of it…
Just before the siren had rung, at that moment when he wanted to talk to her, he remembered that Iriya was holding on to that bag as she stood up.
They totally didn’t realize it at all, and when the sirens blared she had frantically held it all the way until now, and brought it into the shelter. Asaba lightly giggled. It’s so much like an old manga – he thought. When a fire broke out, there was always a character dressed in pajamas and running around cradling his pillow.
“That’s right. There was a game console inside wasn’t there?”
With a bit of boldness, he stepped in further.
“Can I try it out?”
Iriya had a troubled face, but nodded. Asaba ran over to the handbag, and took out the game console. He turned it over. The rom-pack in the slit had “BARCAP-S06” scrawled on it.
She sat with him, clinging tightly to his back.
“Use headphones. Or you can’t hear anything.”
While saying that, she pulled out some headphones from the console’s reel and plugged it into his ears.
“What kind of game is this? What’s BARCAP?”
“Mission. Barrier Combat Air Patrol.”
I have no idea….but let’s try it out – he thought, and pressed the power button. The LCD screen lit up, and within the circumference, three laser-fields were projected.
And, nothing else happened.
Is there supposed to be a title screen? – he thought, but the LCD remained in a blank state, and the laser fields remained as light green squares.
Bending over his shoulder, Iriya whispered in his ear.
He felt her breath.
There was a sensation in his back. There was a more than 99% chance that those ‘areas’ touching him – were her breasts.
His heart pumped.
Pressing the start button.
In the four frames, things that looked like letters and figures appeared.
It reminded Asaba of a flight simulation. The front laser-field was probably the Heads-Up Display. That much he knew. He saw it in a film before. But that was all he knew. The left and right laser fields in the LCD display, and the data they indicated, was all complete Greek to him. The headphone started to play strange music – it sounded like a pipe-organ playing a bunch chords in one go.
Iriya pointed to the main screen first. And then the sub screens. Explaining one by one.
“HUD, MFD, MFD, DED. ADI, VVI, HSI.”
Afterwards, she pointed at the various elements in the HUD.
“Above Sea-Level Altitude, Airspeed Velocity, Compass-Gauge, AOA Gauge, Flight Path Marker, Tadpole, Funnel, Gun Cross”
It was like a kind of incantation. But he sort of understood what Altitude, Velocity and Gun Cross meant.
“In other words, when enemies come I just match up the Gun Cross and fire?”
There can’t be any mistake about that – he thought, but the feeling of Iriya shaking her head was transmitted to his body.
“The current mode is EEGS. This curve is the funnel, and the Manta’s maneuver data is displayed. You have to guide them here.”
As he expected, it completely went over his head.
“Then, firstly should I…”
“Contact AWACS. Change the channel on the Sonohara TACAN from Vector-027 to Cross-01. Request a picture call.”
Anyhow, he pressed it. Some completely incomprehensible change occurred on the LCD.
“What the heck is this?”
“JTIDS update information. Target direction, range, and altitude. Bullseye is at 020, range is 40 nautical miles, altitude 120,000 feet, with 3 hostile objects. One unknown identity. That’s probably a Seed. The current Bullseye is Sonohara.”
“B button to transmit commands to the command element, missile carrier and dummy takes priority heading at 020, around 700 knots of increased speed. If a predator spike breaks at 30 nautical miles incoming, then the seven missile carriers go chainsaw. The brevity code for that is ‘fox’.”
At any rate, he tried it out while listening to Iriya. The result was that he began to put a few things together.
In her explanation, the thing she frequently called ‘Manta’ or ‘Black Manta’ was the name of his own fighter. ‘Missile Carrier’ and ‘Dummy’ were unmanned ally units under the Manta’s control, while ‘Seed’ and ‘Predator’ were the enemies. When the allies had tracked down the boss character Seed then you had to ‘Fox’ – or set off your missiles to destroy it – that was the basic task.
You played BARCAP-S06 like this. You were the pilot of the Black Manta, with 14 Dummies and 27 Missile Carriers as a contingent named ‘Parabellum’ – appointed to patrol the airspace for sixty minutes at a 120,000 altitude. It was hard to imagine what it was like at 120,000 feet, but Iriya explained with a barrage of obscure jargon that it was the very height of the stratosphere. That supremely high altitude where the atmosphere was thin and one’s aerodynamic controls were limited. It was a game that tested one’s Stoicism – there was no fast-forward button, and within those 60 minutes enemies could appear many times in the airspace, or they might not even appear at all. In any case, the patrol had to be continued, and if one saw any enemies one had to deploy an attack formation. Under TWS, you had to lock to the target, seize the TD box within the reticle, and get the enemy into the carets of the DLZ bracket…
And until this point Asaba couldn’t follow anymore.
“Rightrightright! Right break! Reverse! No, not that – reverse! Getting closer… There! Theretherethere! B-button! B-button! B-button! Left! Left break! The TD box in the reticle… it’s coming… Fox! It’s coming! Fox! Coming! Hurry hurry chase it chase it chase it! No no – you’re too close! Coming! Now! Chase! A…ah…”
In a stroke of (un)fortune, just a few bare minutes after starting up, he encountered an enemy cluster of three Seeds surrounded by Predators. Whatever Iriya said felt as if it was covered in code, and he couldn’t exactly understand the meaning, but it sounded like “we don’t have the equipment to handle this, so let’s suspend our duties and get out of there” – but the moment he vaguely caught that, it was all too late. However, despite losing all his Dummies and 22 of his Missile Carriers, above all that, and anything else for that matter, it was the clinging force of Iriya, who was bending herself forward and transmitting her body temperature and weight to his back – that painted itself all over his mind. Iriya had decided that she would get Asaba back to home base at any cost, and that determination was matched up with her boldly pressing her own body even farther – shouting with a loud voice that was too distant from her usual state to be imagined:
“The Predator just spiked! Right Break! If you hear the Trace Alert, drop a flare and do a Beam Maneuver to get out! Break! Run! Get out get out! Run run run run! AH! Ah… ah, ah, ah, ah… aaaa…”
With her chest, and the firmness of her bra pressed into his back, and her cheek stuck to his – and, in addition, Iriya’s “Coming! Coming!” and “Ah, ah, ah…” and all that kinds of stuff making her sound like an AV actress – Asaba couldn’t take it anymore. Already, gaming was out of the question. His eyes couldn’t see anything on the screen, and his fingers couldn’t press buttons properly. I want to feel that breath on my ear forever, he voiced in his head, and I should probably get away from the feeling of her chest, he contrastively voiced in his head, and that completely tore him up. He was driven to the verge of fainting – but at that very moment,
The screen completely stopped.
Was he killed? What happened?
Suddenly, the weight of Iriya’s head pushing down on him increased. Her body was leaning on his back. Her head hung down – crestfallen. With a ‘whoknows-whatnow?’ kind of intention. Her mouth pushed up close to the nape of his neck as if approaching for a kiss.
He couldn’t distinguish right from left anymore. Alarm bells ringing, closely closely overlapping as the distances thinned. Either his own palpitations, or her palpitations.
What was she up to?
What could he do?
Almost a kiss.
As he thought that, immediately…
Those undistinguishable palpitations continued – then he felt as though something was shot into his heart through his back, and a billow of shock caused him to startle up.
What was it now?
He intuitively moved, and that slight balance between him and Iriya, hanging on his back, was thrown off, causing her to slide off his right. There was a thump as her head struck against the floor, and she was slumped sideways in a mess of her own hair. A considerably thick stream of blood ran out from her nose, and her eyes were turned up slightly till the whites could be seen, while her limbs convulsed.
“Iriya?! What’s wrong?! Hey, can you hear me?! Are you okay?!”
As if replying to his cries, a slight ‘urh’ came out as blood mixed in with her inhalation. He faced her upwards and gripped her hand in the process, and a frail grip squeezed back – but it was most likely nothing more than an unconscious reaction. He took out a handkerchief from his pocket and desperately tried to wipe away the blood. He cursed himself for not being able to do anything more, but, try as he might, he couldn’t think of anything in the first place. It was plain incomprehensible that something like this could happen.
He let go of her hand and dashed to the phone, snatching the receiver. But then he didn’t know who to call and fell into despair… until he looked again. There was no dial button on the phone.
“Hello? Is that Iriya?”
Suddenly, a line connected and a noise was heard – it was Enomoto.
“Is that Enomoto?! Hello?! There’s blood! We were playing a game and she suddenly collapsed and she didn’t move… and her hands are shaking! Hello?!”
He knew he was being frantic and unreasonable, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t transmit over the situation in such a state. He was anxious to the point of death. Yet, Enomoto still replied calmly:
“Calm down Asaba. Tell me what’s going on. Is Iriya having a nosebleed?”
“There’s blood… and she suddenly fell over, even though she was perfectly alright before!”
“Blood and falling over hmm? Conscious?”
“I don’t know at all! I don’t know!”
“Calm down. Okay, go and give a good pinch to the inner part of Iriya’s thighs, and confirm her reaction.”
With the receiver in his hand he went over to her, and, deep in concentration, thrust his hand up her skirt and gave her thigh a good pinch.
Completely – no reaction.
She didn’t make any sound, or move at all.
“No movement! No movement at all! What do I do?!”
Enomoto didn’t immediately reply, and those few seconds felt like eternity to him.
“Asaba… listen up. You’re not fault. I have no idea whether you did anything or not, but don’t think that Iriya’s like that cuz of anything you did. We can think of several causes. But this issue is 100% on our side, so you do not have to feel any responsibility…”
“I don’t care about that! What do I do?!”
“The moment you guys got locked it there, Sonohara and Mikage’s Fourth Division began an attack on the RSA code locking up the place. They’ll break through in a bit… but there may not be enough time. We’re counting on you. Firstly, head over to Iriya and fish through her pockets. Find a plain telephone card. It’s grey in color.”
He had that with him. He immediately got it from his own wallet.
“I’ve got it!”
“Good. Next… back at the telephone… probably to your right, should be a container designated ‘C-02’ – you see it?”
With the cordless receiver in hand he ran around, thoroughly examining the containers closest to him. It was the fourth one.
“C-02! I see it!”
“Okay, great. Use the card and put it in the horizontal decoder. It’ll automatically open.”
He put it in. It was automatic.
A strong cool overflowed from the interior.
“It should be a freezer, and there should be many small partitions, as well as many cases as big as first-aid boxes. Is that correct?”
It was correct.
“Inside – try and find the case labeled ‘P-3KI’.”
Despair came again. The container was crammed full of cases. Probably around a hundred of similar looking boxes.
“Which?! I don’t know which is which!”
“Find it! We only put it in July, so it should be quite close at hand!”
Asaba thrust himself into the freezing container. From the frame of the partitions, he took out the cases one by one. It was cold to the point where his breath was stilted, and the metallic surroundings were dangerous in the sense that skin could have easily stuck to them. But, he couldn’t care about that. Was the case really in here? Or was it in some other container? He could cut himself away from those anxieties.
“It’s here! It’s here it’s here it’s here!!”
A cloud of white breath emerged from his mouth as he shouted into the receiver.
“Take out the power cord and bring it over to Iriya.”
He grabbed the case, pulling the cable from the socket. Then, from inside the container he tumbled out, and headed over to her.
And, the moment he peered in, he started to wonder if there was any possibility that he could really do this, and he was completely overwhelmed.
Inside was two cylinders the length of relay batons. Stainless steel syringes.
“I-I can’t! I can’t do this!”
He heard Enomoto take a deep breath.
“For this – you’ll have to inject it into Iriya’s heart.”
A wave of darkness washed over him.
“Look here, it’s not difficult. The syringe was made for any kind of situation similar to hers, and so it’s designed to be usable by anyone close at hand. The drug is automatically administered thanks to air pressure, and the needle is exactly the length to fit the heart. All you have to do is to thrust it with all your strength. But if you don’t do it right it could be bad. There’s a mark on Iriya’s chest showing where to apply it. Confirm it. Turn over her shirt and unfasten her bra.”
“Her breasts?! That’s…”
Enomoto shouted, enraged:
“You’re too wimpy to look at a classmate’s chest?! What happened to the man who was perfectly okay with getting in the tub together with his Lower 6 sister?!”
Asaba returned the rage:
“How do you even know that?!”
He was on the verge of crying.
Of all people – why me? Why did I have to go through this?
He looked at her with teary eyes. The face of Iriya, currently stretched out on the floor. There was no more blood – only the haphazardly-wiped traces of her nosebleed sticking on. From her right eye, still peeled back to the whites, came a wet trickle running down her cheek.
That eye told him that she wished he could save her.
She was, at that very moment, asking him to save her.
When Nakagomi and her friends questioned her, he was also at a loss with what to do, and it was the same as when they were at the pool – she had clung so fiercely to him that he almost drowned. Eagerly clinging to him.
And at that moment, he fled to the toilet.
So, he couldn’t run away now.
There wasn’t anyone else to help him, and it was something he couldn’t run away from.
Asaba got on top of her waist. A transmission of body temperature. The real body of a girl. It was right here. In order to pluck up his wasted nerve, he violently pulled her shirt all the way up to her chin, and in one tearing movement, unfastened her bra.
Exposing the swells of her breasts.
And over there, exactly at the heart area or so, was a blood type indication, as well as a reverse triangle fitted inside a circle, tattooed on her chest.
He announced to the receiver.
“All right. I’m moving in.”
He threw the receiver to the side.
A head full of white. It wasn’t the white of a blank sky, but the white of white heat.
Raising the injector overhead.
A body spouting with sweat.
If you don’t do it right, it could be bad.
With the injector raised overhead, in a single breath…
A weight dropping like a stone. A vibration rattled throughout his belly, and the air was trembling as well.
Sounds came from the barrier. The bulky door opened up to the outside, bit by bit. From the receiver he had thrown on the floor, Enomoto was shouting something. The crack of daylight broke through the small gap, and the rough summer heat surged in with a force that caused his hair to quiver. Voices of people. Cries of “What’s going on?” or “Why did the alarm go off, is it poison gas?” – as well as cries of “I repeat. It’s dangerous. Please return to class!” – a tumult of noises that caused the colors of the background to deepen. And, that entire field of voice, as if a ripple of water had spread upon them, completely fell into silence.
Asaba slowly looked over.
Outside the shelter was no small amount of white vans and military trucks, surrounded by chemical disposal squad personnel fitted in protective gear, soldiers in field uniform, and a mass of students. The moment the chemical suits came in, they stopped as still as sticks. Within their gas masks, their eyeballs grew round as marbles. The soldiers who were trying to push back the busybodies, and the busybodies who were trying desperately not to be pushed back – all of them had their mouth hanging half open It was like one of those “your fly is open!” type of faces. Their gazes were concentrated in a single direction, strongly resonating to the point where even compasses would have spun that way rather than being fixed Northwards… straight towards transfer student Iriya Kana with her breasts exposed lying on the floor, and, on top of her, was none other than Sonohara Middle School’s Class 2-4 Attendance Number No. 1 student – Asaba Naoyuki.
This was quite a deadlock – he thought.
What happened afterwards was, in his memory, a little messy.
“Scuse me! Coming through!” – pushing through the busybodies, and rushing straight in, was the rather famous face of Shiina Mayumi – who then proceeded to pluck out the injector from Asaba’s stiffened hands, and, like cutting vegetables on a chopping board, slammed it right into Iriya’s chest as if it was no big deal.
And then, this Shiina Mayumi turned over to Asaba and brought her lips near to his ear, where she whispered:
“Don’t tell this to anyone, but we’ll totally arrange for the American Air Force to award you a Silver Star.”
Or, it was possibly misheard.
But, surely, it was something along those lines – those dim memories floated inside him.
The rumors sprung at the front of the barrier reached Asaba’s class before he himself did.
Afterwards, the memory of exactly how he got back to class was entirely purged from his head. But, the everyday normal life outside the shelter wasn’t razed by nuclear fires, nor did aliens appear in an invasion, and after lunch was the 5th period, and after that was the 6th period.
As for the contents of these lessons, nothing remained inside him.
Iriya spent 5th period in the infirmary, and came back by the start of the 6th period with total diligence. She didn’t look at anyone else, not even Asaba, and silently sat at her seat, as if her previous nosebleed coupled with the peeling whites of her eyes coupled with twitching convulsions were a complete lie. In that brief respite she had returned to being normal expressionless Iriya.
That whole story about her being dragged away by an ambulance was a completely separate thing then.
And – her spending a brief period in the infirmary and returning to class was, to everyone else except Asaba, indeed an act of profound significance. The expressionless Iriya was expressing the “expressionlessness of a girl who wanted to express that she had been violently pushed down and violated”. Not a single person could see it in any other way.
6th period ended. Cleaning ended.
“Akiho, I think the prez had something to say about the layout of the stories…”
And, suddenly, as she turned towards him she swung a strike from overhead, diagonally downwards across his cheek, and Asaba stumbled back two steps as the slap caused his eyes to flutter.
She glared at that Asaba with the splendid maple leaf seared onto his face, and kept that glare all the way to the end, in a sidelong stare, as she walked away, finally turning away and disappearing from the class with a light pace.
As he held his cheek and stared dumbfounded, hands reached from the back and planted themselves on both his shoulders.
“Cool aren’t you – Asaba?”
That was Hanamura.
“Shit, that was the first time I saw a girl slap a boy – raw.”
That was Nishikubo. Asaba finally came to his senses, and with a longing stare as if towards a distant horizon, gazed at the door that Akiho just walked out of.
He had the brief thought that he really needed to get to the clubroom earlier – specially for today.
“…buy me Ramen.”
With a grave look, Nishikubo nodded.
After preparing whatever they needed, they headed for home. As they walked towards the entrance, the normal reaction towards catching sight of Asaba’s face was a small “Ah.” of recognition, and no small amount of people made this reaction as they passed by.
“You’re becoming famous.”
Hanamura laughed as he said this.
I really wonder… – Asaba thought to himself.
If he were to make an excuse for himself, in the end it would have been that meeting at the pool. Starting from that very start, and explaining all the way to the point where he could only have said sincerely “I have no idea what the hell exactly I’ve gotten myself into”.
Nishikubo replied as he fetched a pair of sneakers with smashed heels from the shoe-rack, and flung it to the ground.
“Whatever kind of crap those bastards will spout – I’ll be on your side.”
Ever since whatever happened at the pool he seemed to have missed his footing on the path of reality – Asaba thought to himself. He had no idea what exactly was going on, and there was always anxiety, and sometimes even terror and panic. But, those inquisitive eyes and the siege of rumor-mongers were survivable – he had at least that much self-awareness.
He was deeply drawn into the large root at the bottom of the matter, and, somewhere in his heart, was Iriya’s secret that he shared – their relationship which, up to this very day, he did not want to relinquish. That was what he thought.
“And as your ally, I have one small question…”
With a single exhalation, Nishikubo faced him with a solemn expression.
“…have you done it?”
And it had to be this.
Asaba considered that showing a bitter smile was the best approach to cut through the matter, and that was what he did. And then Hanamura suddenly turned around and shouted:
“ANSWER YOU FUCK!”
“What the hell are you seriously angry about?!”
As he said that, the bitterness faded off his light smile. Even more than those whispers in the back, to take a sincere and honest approach required guts that he didn’t have. The truth was still the truth after all, which made it all the more difficult. He told himself “some flowers bloom best in silence”, and opened the lid of his shoe cabinet.
The open shoe cabinet.
Nishikubo and Hanamura replied at the same time:
An act. He rolled into himself while clutching his stomach, making exaggerated grimaces.
“My stomach is killing me right now! Sorry – you guys head back first! Ramen some other time!”
As he blurted that out, he put on the school-slippers he had just kicked off, and left behind the dumbfounded Nishikubo and Hanamura. In a confused half-jog, he ran away from the entrance.
Since he said it like that, he really headed for the toilet.
Considering the two he had left behind, Nishikubo and Hanamura were both impatient types who most likely weren’t the kind to wait for him at the entrance until he had finished his business. But Asaba still had a slight concern inside him, and he courteously pulled down his trousers and briefs and sat on the porcelain throne, proceeding to kill some time in his own stall.
He bared his rear-end for 30 minutes.
Asaba pulled up the trousers he didn’t have to pull down, flushed the toilet he didn’t have to flush, and washed the hands he didn’t have to wash. He headed to the entrance. Unconsciously and unaware, he was making stealthy steps. With every step his pulse quickened. He passed by the entrance, making a sidelong glance to confirm that Nishikubo and Hanamura weren’t around.
Halting, and making a U-turn back over. Stopping before his own shoe cabinet, clutching it with his hand, taking a deep breath, and opening.
As he thought, he wasn’t mistaken.
An immodestly pink colored envelope was set nicely against his unwashed size-25 sneakers.
For the first time in his life, ever.
Snatching the envelope. Turning it over. Lower right corner – a name jumped out right at him.
Let’s take this rationally.
He told that to himself.
He had been wrapped up in a lot of stuff regarding Iriya today. There was the brouhaha at the shelter, which was plenty enough to seal the deal. At present, his very being was wrapped up together with hers in a wave of rumors.
In other words, couldn’t this be someone’s prank?
And furthermore, it was most likely Nishikubo’s or Hanamura’s wasn’t it?
Asaba did a quick survey – glancing a few rounds – of his surroundings. Wasn’t it that they had just pretended to go home, and were actually somewhere in the area peeking at him from under cover and trying to muffle their laughter? For example, if the contents were to be “I’ll never forget today. You went so rough on me – pushing me down like that! But it’s okay. We’ll meet next Sunday in front of the army at 3pm. I’ll be waiting. Let’s make it unforgettable. Mwah. Love… Kana” or something along those lines – and in the midst of his own “she loves me, she loves me nots”, he would be standing blankly in desire like a stallion in the heat, and they would be looking at each other and tittering in giggles – wasn’t something like that really the case?
And yet, they had all been together for the fifth period, and the break time afterwards, and the sixth period, and the cleaning period as well – which left no chance for them to do something like this. And furthermore, wasn’t it possible that other people were involved as well? Suspects included everyone in class, and also all of those busybodies who had gathered at the barrier. It was merely slightly over a hundred people – to be interrogated at the rack, that is.
Wait a moment. Wasn’t this pink envelope quite familiar? It was sold at the school store. This kind of unreservedly uneducational color was located at the stationery corner, where it had attained the status of “whether a teacher or anyone else – make the smart move – with this unmistakably unreservedly uneducational designated Love Letter” through rumors and whatnot – a famous fixture amongst the student body. This was the love letter that was unmistakably used by the female students within the school itself.
No, wait a moment… didn’t Iriya just arrive yesterday? Which means that this envelope – famous among the students of this school – would be completely unknown to her wouldn’t it? Without previous misconceptions, wouldn’t selecting this pink envelope designated-love-letter that was found in the stationery corner of the school shop be a matter of simply picking it up and thinking “this works” – a high probability of something like that happening?
Wait a moment, wait a moment… the story’s still strange. “Iriya went to the stationery corner in the school store to buy a love-letter-designated envelope in this way” – is that really right? You could say that. But, so what? This kind of hypothesis, still doesn’t exempt the possibility of it being someone’s mean prank – does it? To pick up this envelope from the stationery corner of the school store, especially right after the air shelter brouhaha – seems like a hastily made decision – you could even suspiciously say it’s suspicious. There’s the problem.
No wait a moment wait a moment wait a moment… isn’t it the reverse of this train of thought? For argument’s sake, if I were to commit a prank against myself – how would I do it? In the first place if I were to commit a prank and I saw this supplied at the school store – would I really go “this works” and choose it? After all, this letter is famous here, and the other person would surely know about it. And furthermore the “letter placed inside the shoe rack” is symbolic enough for the other person to consider it a love letter. So, rather than something that was too absurdly suspicious, despite being plain wouldn’t it give an impression like “oh, she must be quite docile” – which makes that kind of letter the choice one should take. Right? If I were to prank myself I’d definitely do that. In reality I’d harbor such suspicions towards such a letter. If the school provided it I’d avoid it at all costs. Therefore “Iriya went to the stationery corner in the school store to buy a love-letter-designated envelope in this way” is the most probable hypothesis.
As expected, his thoughts were stuck in a rut.
With pale sweat on his brow, and the pink envelope in hand, standing like a scarecrow – Asaba was caught in the mire of his own thoughts, sludging through determinedly in recursive circles. Although he suspected in his mind that Iriya wasn’t the kind of person to write a love letter, his heart told him that she was the crazy type who liked to lay these sorts of things onto people. If it was real, it wasn’t a problem. He’d be ridiculously happy. Not only ridiculously happy, but he could also say to himself – “Today is the day that a boy transforms into a man”.
But, if it was a prank.
If, in the midst of such worry he failed to see through that and opened the letter, there was the sense of a ridiculous defeat at hand. Since he couldn’t make any move yet, for the sake of finding the truth, he brought the envelope up close to his own face and gazed at it with a detective’s fervor. I wish I had X-ray vision – he thought. The Suizenji Theme for this winter had been ESP, and had he seriously attempted to train his psychokinetic skills, it might have been possible that at this very moment he would have been able to read the exact wordings contained in the letter.
He turned over the letter once more, and stared at the “Iriya Kana” written on the lower right corner with devouring eyes.
It was burnt in his eyes, that moment when Iriya had first transferred over, and her form appeared in front of the blackboard with those beautifully written strokes of “Iriya Kana” written on it.
The blackboard’s “Iriya Kana” and the letter’s “Iriya Kana” were the same – weren’t they?
He decided to bet it all on that fateful day’s memory.
He made his choice.
This was definitely Iriya’s letter.
And that was how Asaba was freed from the mire of his own thoughts, and exactly before people started to take notice of him standing there, he stuffed the envelope down the collar of his shirt.
I’ll open it, and I’ll read it.
In a place with no people around.
In a place where only the cicadas are chirping.
Asaba took a single large breath, and then ran. With hallway slippers still on, running from the entrance to the field, cutting right through the back of the clubrooms, entering through the window of the gym’s toilet, passing through the darkness of tool storage below the stage, leaving through the west emergency exit, clambering up the rain gutters, tracking through the uneven passage of the roof, and kicking a long-forgotten basketball caught into the uneven spaces of the roof. Entering school through the second floor window, blazing down to the end of the corridor in a straight line – exactly right pass the staff-room where vice principal Tashiro bellowed out a “don’t run in the hallway!” – and then going up the stairs, and stopping for a moment to take a necessary breath, and then once again going forward.
And he reached the engine room of the clock tower.
The clock tower, with its antique-looking dial shining proudly on the exterior for whoever to see, was unexpectedly narrow and dirty on the inside. Graffiti scrawls on the wall, and a destitute stench that was coming, no mistake about it, from the scattered cigarette butts strewn all over the floor, and there was only one window on the south side. Sunlight barely had an entrance as the window was covered in dust and the corpses of dead worms, and through that yellow dimness, the internal framework of the clock seemed to be harshly gnashing its gears, as the mechanisms moved with a sleepy grumbling.
And there was the heat.
Asaba hunched over with his hands over his knees and took one more breath. Beads of sweat trickled to the floor, and in that moment he cut his inhalation – standing his body upright, finally settling on opening the window of the engine room. It was normally locked, but each time a new padlock was placed, someone else would always break it.
He climbed over the window-sill.
It was the school roof, underneath the summer sky.
Unmindful of the dried pigeon dung, he sat right down on the scorching tiles. This area of the roof, located at the south side of the clock tower, had a steep slant down, and if you had gone three meters forward you’d be walking on nothing but empty space – but the view of the countryside stretched out before one’s gaze. This was the reason why the lock was always broken.
From the inside of his collar, he took out the pink envelope that was now covered in his sweat.
One long sigh.
If his courage froze for a single moment, he would surely slip over the edge and fall to his death. It was that kind of location.
But he opened it.
Inside was a thin sheet of paper.
The signature “Iriya Kana” was the first thing that jumped straight into his attention.
And that signature “Iriya Kana” – why exactly was it surrounded by a square box with ‘full name’ indicated? And, above that field, Xerox copied over how many generations to the point where, if you had looked in detail, the ink was full of holes, were three words lined up in order.
He read them.
On the roof of the school, Asaba fell over sideways.
Baked by the light of the sun, the tiles emanated a severe heat, but he paid it no large mind. From the depths of some deep swamp in his brain, it rose up like a zombie.
That was definitely not a love letter.
She was definitely the crazy type who liked to lay these sorts of things onto people.
“…………………………………………. I sliiiiiipped up diiidn’t iiiiiii………………………”
Eventually, the heat burning his cheeks was too much to bear, and he flopped over to the front.
As he closed his eyes, he felt the bright tinge of the light penetrating through the lids. He used his sunburnt arms to shield his eyes. And in that state, lying on the roof, Asaba was, as always and eternally, completely overturned.
Might as well look over it again – he thought.
In his brain-dead condition, what Asaba had in his hand at the present moment was completely and definitely a cheap copy. There was no room for argument – it was a club registration form, and it was definitely an official document for joining a club coming from a female student that he happened to know named “Iriya Kana”.
In the first place, the Newspaper Club was a formally unrecognized guerilla group, made out of close friends that were regarded above the school regulations and treated it as such – so from the start there wasn’t any need for a club registration form or whatever damn else. This fact was insufficiently explained by Asaba and Suzenji. Iriya had probably went up to some teacher and asked “what should I do to join a club?” – and that teacher had given her the form and told her all the important details.
Such persistent honesty.
Looking over the form, the very head had “Club Application Form” written, and the full name field below that had “Iriya Kana” written, and the “which club do you wish to join” below that had “Newspaper Club” written in that pretty lettering. And below that were two small rectangles standing next to one another, which were the fields where the club advisor and the class form teacher could affix their seal. Her form had no club advisor seal, which was quite obvious since it was a guerilla group, but the form teacher had “Shiina” printed in the field.
So that was the name of the person behind the black curtain.
And, the very bottom field was the large field that read “what reason do you want to join the club?” In truth, no one would have earnestly looked at this, but it was very much like a school to require students to fill it in in full detail. This kind of field was usually filled with clichés and platitudes. Like for the sake of forging one’s heart & soul, or to develop one’s spirit by engaging with the world. The main thing was that you could write anything and it would be okay, and a friendly teacher would just plant their seal into the space.
From the look of it, though, the woman in the school infirmary who had arbitrarily stamped her own seal onto the form must have bent over Iriya’s shoulder and saw her looking over the “what reason do you want to join the club” field without a single movement or twitch of the pen nib, and lightly laughed.
That’s not good – you have to do it properly.
It had to be absolute. Whatever it was – was okay. She whispered that in Iriya’s ear. Although it was a few words in the field – how much time had he really spent on it? She had probably approached it, initially, slowly, and had written that single truthful thought with unexpectedly smoothness.
On that roof, he was no longer as always and eternally, completely overturned.
In his hand, Asaba had held Iriya’s form with her reason for joining the club – that small sentence. He read it.
Because Asaba’s there.
Under the sky of summer UFOs, the cowardly Asaba was neither overturned, nor did he move. He felt as if he had to stay. The wind calmed, and the tiles were heating his back. From the music room, the brass band played the same tedious melody, and the sounds of balls striking against metal bats came from the school field.
But, the only thing he could hear, at this moment, were the sounds of the cicadas.
End of Chapter 2