Chapter 14 – ‘This naivety,’

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                The sky is a very bright blue today. I don’t normally take notice of things like that, but today’s an exception. The vivid color flickers between buildings as they pass by. You tend to forget that trains go fast, especially when you take them all the time. I guess it’s one of those things that get taken for granted. The train stops on time – it always stops on time – and I get off at the first stop into the city. It’s starting to get chilly now, so I made sure to bundle up a little with a scarf. I like how warm it makes my neck, it’s nice.

                Now, even if it’s the weekend, I wonder what a middle school student like me is doing going into the city by myself, I mean, not that it’s weird for a middle school student to go into the city by themselves. Actually, it is weird because if I go downtown, I often take the train alongside Rea. But she said she was busy again and had to go on ahead, so it can’t be helped. Also weird because I’m going into city. I’m not against it, per se, but I don’t do it too often. (Close to never on my own volition.) Last time was when I begrudgingly went to the arcade, and now it’s for a more academic reason.

                Research. Ouch.

                Thanks to a certain student council president, the club I recently joined was tasked to investigate alleged ‘hauntings’ taking place in an abandoned shed at the school. Through some… events I wish I didn’t get wrapped up in, we found a photo buried deep amongst the mess in that shed. We found the name, and really that should be enough to wrap things up, at least in my opinion, I’m kind of done with this whole thing already. But curiosity kills the cat, and Ayase has brought her pride – that is, the rest of the S.O.L. – out for the slaughter. She wants to learn more about the girl in the photo, of which I must come to the unfortunate conclusion that she is in fact, dead. Well, truth be told, I’m kind of curious too. Never mind. Why does it feel like I’m going to regret this? Man, if I have to ask… Ow.

                Boryumu station is super crowded on weekends, but I manage to find my group pretty quickly. Darn. Looks like I was the last one to show up. I hate when that happens. Oof! Some businessmen in the middle of a conversation. It’s so crowded I accidentally bump into one of them. I would say they shouldn’t stand around like that, but that’s exactly what my friends are doing. I pass them, and I can see the full lineup:

                Haruko Rea, my best friend of ten years, and unknowingly connected to the stuff that’s been happening around me lately. And there’s Midori Ayase, a ‘super-powered journalist’ who honestly scares me a little, considering how much she seemingly knows about the world and what she’s capable of. And there’s Hinata Megumi, god I hope you’re not a multi-dimensional entity! And then there’s me, Akiyama Lilly, a supposed-to-be-normal girl who’s capable of telepathy and other things I really, really don’t want to think about. My head hurts doing so. If you were to take that order and line us up, we’d look like a split apart matryoshka doll. Height-wise.

                We’re all junior high girls. Can it be any more silly?

                Finally, I catch up. I massage the sides of my head. This headache has been bothering me the whole trip downtown. Maybe I shouldn’t have come.

                “You’re finally here! Hey, you okay?” Rea’s words were wet with worry.

                “No, I’m fine,” Lilly said. As if she commanded it with those very words, the headache subsided. Oh, I feel better now.

                With the S.O.L. now complete, the group saw it fit to start with the first activity, lunch. It’s noon after all. A nine minute walk from the station was a particular café recommended by Rea, so they head there.

                “Tch! You two again? And you brought friends?”

                The waiter was as fiery as ever. Rea had no problem doubling the heat.

                “What do you mean? You should be happy we brought new customers, Annie!” Rea’s sly demeanor hit him exactly where she wanted.

                Irritated, but he’s on duty. Annie took their order: tea and a salad for Ayase, nothing for Megumi, a coffee for Rea, and a water and meal for Lilly. Rea struggled with trying to remember what she ordered last time, so she settled with two servings of what Lilly got. A burger and fries. He scribbled the order, and with the vein on his head as red as his hairclip, he strolled into the kitchen.

                “Ah, that was fun! We should come here more often.” Rea soaked in every second of her delightment. Lilly recalled the last time they were there.

                The drinks came right away, and their food soon after. Unlike the others, Ayase scarfed down her meal, unbefitting of her stereotypical girly image. If it were Rea, maybe not so much.

                “I’m too excited, I think I’ll head to the library first,” Ayase places down some money on the table, “Megumi, care to join me?” Megumi was the second to finish, mostly quiet as they ate, and was now adjusting her headband. She nodded, one so slight the untrained eye wouldn’t notice. The two depart, leaving behind Lilly and Rea. “Miss Akiyama, Rea, come meet us at the library when you’re done!”

                Lilly and Rea sat inactively for a moment. It’s brief.

                “Hey, tell me what he’s thinking!” Rea bumped Lilly with her elbow. She points to Annie, taking care of another table.

                “Why should I? Besides, I know he doesn’t think too fondly of you.”

                “C’mon! Just try, pleeease!” Tugging on her sleeve, Rea rocked Lilly around.

                “Eeeh? Alright, alright, just let go!” Lilly folded her arms, and stared at the back of Annie’s head. As she expected, she can hear what he’s thinking.

                Lilly leaned back. “He’s trying to memorize the order, and planning what I think is a date with his girlfriend.”

                “Girlfriend? A date? Like what? What are they gonna do?” Rea got all the more excited.

                “Stop that, I don’t want to intrude anymore!”

                Rea whined, and as compromise, convinced Lilly to try another person instead. She halfheartedly complied. They played that game on a few more people. Some thoughts were kind of entertaining, some were downright sobering. After a few rounds, Lilly has had more than enough.

                “There! She’s the last one, I’m done now,” Lilly sulked more in her seat.

                “That’s super cool though, you can mind read anyone you see!” Rea said, as impressed with it the first time as she was now.

                “Well, not always, sometimes I get this weird radio buzz and I can’t get anything,” Lilly remembered the few times it’s happened, “so it’s not perfect, I guess.” She remembered another note. “Also, I feel like I can’t do it when I’m in your body. Like the switch isn’t there, but there was a switch, ha ha.” Rea pretended to not hear that awful joke.

                “Huh, that’s news to me.”

                There’s a lot that’s news to you, Rea.

                Rea reclined on Lilly. “Hey, we haven’t done anything like this in a while.”

                “Like this?”

                “You know.”

                “Ah,” Lilly got what Rea was referring to. “But we know what happened back then.” I’ve been apprehensive about that ever since.

                Rea scratched her nose. If Lilly didn’t nudge her she might have clawed it right off. Ultimately, she changed the subject. “You know, you’ve been getting pretty close with that Midori girl lately. Calling you ‘Miss Akiyama’ and stuff.” Her voice trailed off with those last words. “What’s up with that?”

                “What, are you jealous?” Lilly joked, taking it at face value.

                “…” Rea doesn’t say anything, but there was no need.

                “You’re neither confirming nor denying it.”

                Get outta my head, Lilly.

                “Oh, you don’t like it when I do it to you? How selfish.” Lilly joked again.

                “Grr…” Rea actually grr-ed. Lilly pushed a plate of fries closer to Rea.

                Her annoyance was obvious, so Lilly does her best to alleviate it. “She’s just being nice, you could learn a thing or ten from her really, and plus…” Lilly couldn’t find the words to explain where Midori Ayase actually stands in this whole situation. Honestly, I don’t want to find the words. If things are fine now, best leave them that way.

                “In any case, it won’t hurt to not to get too friendly with her. Besides, you’re… you’re…” Rea mumbled incomprehensibly.

                “I’m what?”

                “…” She mumbled again.

                “Huh?”

                “YOU’RE MINE!!”

                Eyes shut, face red, Rea yells in the center of a crowded café. Her high voice squeaked into the air. Everyone turns and stared. Rea’s embarrassment is contagious, and immediately transferred to Lilly. They both look away from each other.

                “Hey! If you’re gonna do that, take it outside!” Annie is heard from the kitchen. A few customers laugh at the innocent scene.

                The two allow that to be the end of their café stay, and after finishing off the remainder of their meals, they proceed to the library. There were two in the city, but one was under construction. Ayase never specified, but it doesn’t take a genius to guess which one she was in. They guess correctly, Lilly finding Ayase nose-deep into an old newspaper, the paper stained a light yellow. She was standing, disregarding the many empty chairs and tables around her.

                “Hi, we’re here,” Lilly whispered, “where’s Megumi?”

                “She’s off in the horror section, she just… floated over there.” Ayase doesn’t once take her eyes off the newspaper.

                “Alright, then what are you doing?”

                “I’m going through the oldest papers in the archives, starting from the 1960s. If something happened to Yoya Nouko back then, it should be in here somewhere!”

                How very detective of you. Lilly pulled her shoulder away. Rea was clinging to Lilly’s scarf from the café to the library. Rea get off!

                Rea lets go, looking around in the library like a lost child. Ignoring her, Lilly goes and grabs a newspaper out of a stack by Ayase. A sharp sense of sympathy hit Lilly; to think, Yoya Nouko’s ultimate fate, whatever it may be, reduced to a game of detective by a bunch of junior high girls. Yoya Nouko, I promise to appease your spirit! For Yoya Nouko’s sake, Lilly utilized that thought to strengthen her resolve. In reality it was for both. To make her feel better about playing this game. There really aren’t wholly selfless acts.

                1962, 1965, 1969, 1970. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and will you look at that? Nothing. Lilly rummaged through piles of print, the old scent starting to give her a headache again. Even for someone who has an affinity for reading, Lilly was approaching her limit. While Lilly and Ayase were the more diligent in their investigating, Megumi periodically popped in every now and then to help, and then went off elsewhere again. Rea was nowhere to be found.

                “I’ve got it!” Ayase kept her excitement to a hush tone, but it’s hardly contained. “Miss Akiyama, go get the others! Go go!” You’re a little too happy that you found it. Lilly turned to the rest of the library. It’s not too impressive in size, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t big. She almost took out her phone when she remembered; ‘No cell phones!’ Then how am I going to –

                “WAAAAH!”

                Lilly found herself in Rea’s body. Again. That falling sensation, not unlike the first time this happened. It looked like Rea took a nap in some off corner. This is starting to get a little too convenient. Lilly only now noticed Rea’s outfit. Short denim shorts and light red long sleeves. Is she not cold? Her right wrist adorned a Hello Kitty bracelet. I haven’t seen this in a long time. A Doraemon picture book rested face down on her lap. She found some relief that people still cared about Doraemon. She tapped her cheeks. They’re lightly damp. Must have been a really deep nap.

                When Lilly yelled awake, a few people frowned and hushed her. Lilly mouthed her apologies and left her cushioned seat.

                At least that solves that. Now where’s Megumi? She wisely started in the horror section, but it’s fruitless. Searching around the adjacent sections were to no avail as well. It wasn’t until Lilly got to the front desk – funnily enough in the center of the library – did she find Megumi. Also, when did I get so used to running about in Rea’s body? I wonder if Rea’s used to mine now too…

                “Gumi! Hey, over here!” Lilly imitated a certain redheaded energetic short girl. Whispering.

                Megumi perked up as she heard her name, and saw Lilly, in Rea’s body. Of course, she doesn’t know that. But she’s trembled, as if cornered by a hunter and she was but a fawn. Whoa, Megumi, are you alright? Lilly observed the scene, and understood. A long line wraps around the front desk, full of people wanting to check out a book. Megumi was close to the end of the line, but not in it, and shivered while holding her own book. Lilly put the two and two together.

                “Megumi, did you want to check that out?”

                “Uh… um.”

                “Come here, I’ll help you.”

                Lilly takes the book from Megumi, getting in line. Despite its length, the line moved smoothly, Lilly and Megumi soon get close the front. Megumi tried to protest for some reason, but Lilly doesn’t listen.

                “I’m sorry, but this book is already checked out,” the librarian apologetically says, as though the loud bleep after Lilly tried to scan the book wasn’t enough. I’m not sure if I should be surprised by this.

                After that little situation, Lilly and Megumi made it back to Ayase. To be more precise, Lilly felt like she was escorting Megumi. Lilly was by Ayase when they switched, so Rea was also in sight.  She waved like nothing was out of place. When they regrouped, Ayase finally got going. If she noticed that Lilly and Rea switched, she didn’t comment on it.

                “Now, see here, 1973!” Ayase set the newspaper on a nearby table for the rest to read. Lilly coughed up a bit of dust. “July 11th, junior high student Yoya Nouko was found…”

                “…”

                Lilly, Rea, and Megumi waited for Ayase to continue, but she stopped dead in the middle of her sentence. They completely forgot that the option of reading on their own was available to them.

                Ayase swallowed. “… found dead inside a storage shed in the newly founded Shouai Junior High. She was found with numerous cuts on her wrists. Yoya Nouko was…”

                Ayase kept going, but the details go muffled and became white noise. This was like opening Pandora’s box! I knew something happened to Yoya Nouko, I knew she died, but to read that it happened in this way is… is…

                Lilly thought all this in a span of four seconds.

                Ayase fell silent, which was a signal that she finished reading. However, judging from the looks from the other S.O.L. members, she was forced to read it again. Was this some sort of punishment game?

                “Ah, alright, okay…”

                Yoya Nouko. Aged 13. A second year student who was thrown into isolation during her first two years in junior high. Apparently the bullying got worse with each passing day. From simple ignoring to fully despicable acts not specified in the article. It’s tough for any of them to fully grasp the severity of her time spent in that school. Then one day mid-July, a teacher making their afterschool rounds, found the shed doors open, and when they went to look…

                If it’s too much for us just to read, I can’t imagine what exactly she went through… Lilly thought of something else. After investigators and police were done with the shed, could it be possible that we were the only people to properly look inside since?

                “Oh here,” Ayase mentioned, “since it was the first and only incident of anything like this at the school, and because the school was still new, they allowed the parents to take back all personal information and records the school had on her, and only kept the name for student lists and archiving purposes. After that, the school just fell into a hush. So, I guess that solves… that.”

                We got what we came here for, yet this feels so empty. This was certainly not fun.

                “Wait, there’s more,” Ayase said, slowly. Lilly stomach sank.

                “The bullying got worse after rumors began spreading that she was in love with another girl.” Ayase read that line coldly and methodically. “I guess that was what it was like, back in the day.”

                A gut punch. Closer to a knock out. Lilly glanced over to Rea. Seeing her own face contort to an expression of dread, or any other, will never not be something to get accustomed to.

                Silently, mutely, Ayase took a photo of the article. Newspapers are among the few things that couldn’t be borrowed from the library. Right afterwards the S.O.L. called it in, and promptly left. It’s around 2 PM now. Thankfully – the type of thanks a newly incarnated snake god would exhibit after receiving a hefty donation from an otherwise stingy conman – a more easygoing atmosphere managed to settle in. It was in the back of their minds, but they felt somewhat better when they got to the station.

                “I’ll send you the picture, do you want to do it?” Ayase asked Megumi.

                “M-hmm, sure,” she responded. The protocol to follow after ‘solving’ a ‘case’ would be to write up a summary of the case’s completion, and submit it to the school newspaper, where they would be more than willing to publish it. It has definitely been a while since the club submitted a summary.

                From the station they went their separate ways. Ayase and Megumi both had other matters to attend to, so Lilly and Rea head back together. That train back was wordless. Somewhere along the way, they switched back to their respective bodies.

               “That was so sad, don’t you think?” Rea finally said something on the walk home, summing up the long day.

               “Yeah, it was, you okay?” Lilly asked.

               “Of course! I just wish it didn’t end up like that.”

               “Well, sometimes that’s how it ends up.”

               Rea said something under her breath, but Lilly didn’t catch it. She played the story back in her head, despite her best efforts not to think about it anymore. Ah, it’s just so tragic, it’s giving me another headache. 

                “Alright, that should conclude this week’s meeting. Good work everyone.”

                Suzuki Yuki was the last the leave the classroom. Also among the last few to leave school, as always. The time to sigh has long passed; she should be used to it already.

                She stepped out into the hallway, lit only by sunlight spilling through the windows, and was surprised to see a familiar face.

                “Yo,” Yuki said to greet a waiting Midori Ayane.

                “Yo,” she said back.

                “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be home by now,” Yuki lifted her shoulder to fix her bag.

                “I read the occult club’s article in the school paper,” Ayane said, her green eyes glow in the natural light. “I just wanted to thank you for earlier. You really helped me out.”

                Yuki exhaled. “Whatever. What was up with that anyways? Making me go down there with some B.S. story about a haunted shed. They ended up coming back to me with a history lesson about a ‘Yoya Nouko.’ Sure it was sad, but I got dragged into that more than I wanted to. You should be held responsible for all of this.” She took out a box of Pocky from her bag and chomped on a stick.

                “Well, that’s what I’m here for,” Ayane walked up to Yuki and bit off one half of the chocolate-cover snack, still in her mouth. Yuki hardly reacts. “And as to ‘why,’ I wanted to make something clear to Ayase.”

                “‘Make something clear?’”

                “Yup.”

                She was going to respond, but Ayane moved in until she was two centimeters from Yuki’s face. Gently with one hand, she pushed away Yuki’s bangs, exposing her forehead. And with the other, just as gently, she tapped said forehead. For an instant, Yuki goes lightheaded. Whoa whoa.

                “Damn, this mental barrier against her was trickier than I thought,” Ayane murmurs. Even so close, Yuki couldn’t pick that up. She was more concerned as to what Ayane was doing being this close in the first place.

                Lightly pushing Ayane away, Yuki’s stuttered with her mouth full. “I-If you wanted to play with your little sister and her club, you could’ve done so by yourself.”

                “No, it wouldn’t have worked out the way it did, that’s why I needed you.” Ayane winked. I hate when she does that, Yuki thought.

                Against her better judgment, she decided to keep butting in. “May I ask why you made me go through all this trouble? I deserve that, don’t you think?”

                Ayane flipped her hair. “Yeah, you do.” Her expression shifted from lighthearted to serious. “In short, she won’t listen to me.”

                “Huh.”

                “I wanted Ayase to know where she stands. She acts like she knows everything. In reality she’s naïve.”

                Naïve? Whatever. Which that vague answer, Yuki opts to drop the subject. She’s never concerned herself with the Midori sisters’ relationship before, and there was no need to do so now. “And she’ll get all that from a little ghost story? You guys sure are weird.”

                It wasn’t the first time Yuki said that to Ayane, so she smirked. “Weirder than you think. How about it, let’s get some scones. My treat.” She clapsed her hands with Yuki’s.

                Yuki takes her hand, but tilted her head to look away, a little shy. I hate when she does that too.

                “…Whatever!”

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Chapter 13 – ‘This zipper,’

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                Lilly woke. An alarm clock diligently beeped its high ringing note. 6:00 AM. She rubbed her eyes. Thin beams of light cast upon the wall across her window. She rubbed her eyes again. Getting up, Lilly brushed a long strand of hair out of her face. She rested a hand on her cheek.

                In single word she expressed her full feelings of doing anything outside of her comfort zone.

                “Why?”

                When Lilly left the house, it was notably windy. Taking her usual route to Rea’s place, she already saw that Rea was in front of the gate of her home, waiting for the millionth time to walk to school together with Lilly. Ponytail done proper, glasses fixed and straight, blazer tied snug around her waist: Rea was fresh for a new school day. Her mind must have been sharp and alert for when Lilly came around the corner.

                A gust of wind, on occasion, can be quite mischievous, and today, decided Lilly’s skirt was a suitable target. Rea’s eyes dilated.

                0:01 White. 0:012 Upon closer inspection, there’s lace and ribbons, like a bow on a present. 0:24 The way the fabric sits on her delicate white skin… I could cry! 0:33 Wait a second, I think I’ve seen them before. That’s right! I picked them out for her when we went shopping a while back. Lilly was so embarrassed about it, it was so cute! 0:50 Guh… I could stare at them forever. 0:75 Stare… 0:87 Stare… 0:99 Stare… Bah! What am I doing?

                One second.

                Lilly reached the front of the house, Rea uneasily shuffling around in place as she got closer.

                “Good morning.”

                “Lillychi! Hey!”

                “You all right today?”

                “Yeah I’m all white, I mean right!” Rea stuttered. Lilly eyed her suspiciously. A light hum buzzed in the back of her head.

               “Pervert.”

                Their arrival to the school was swift, and so was the school day. Lilly and Rea head up to the club for another afternoon, greeted by Ayase and Megumi. The stay isn’t long, since Ayase skipped with anticipation in her step as they got there. “Let’s go get Yuki!” she says as she darted out the door past the pair, leaving the rest of the S.O.L. behind in confusion. That’s not true, I knew what this was about.

                “Come on guys, I think Ayase wants us to meet back at the old shed,” Lilly said.

                The girls do just that, standing by the shed, waiting for their enthusiastic junior. I wish I weren’t back here so soon though. From a corner of the building, Ayase trotted towards them, Yuki right behind her.

                “I’m glad you have something already, but make it quick,” Yuki said, clearly disinterested.

                “Alright, then I’ll get right to the point,” reaching into her blazer, Ayase took something out of her pocket.

                It’s a Polaroid picture. A profile of a girl. Lilly flashed back to the day before.

                Ears ring. It’s probably been quiet for a good minute now, but Lilly had no idea. Tap. Hmm? Tap tap tap. What? Lilly looked up to see Ayase, hand outstretched. She takes it, and is helped up from the corner of the shed. “You alright?” Ayase asked, her concern genuine.

                She answered in between coughs. “Uh… yeah, don’t worry about it.” Using the light from her phone, she found her discarded blazer, tossed in another corner, covered in dust. Picking it up, she tried to clean it off. Ayase opened the door in the meantime, finally letting in some light. They both move about in silence. Lilly noted her lack of any real reaction after that event. It made sense in Ayase’s case, she probably dealt with this sort of thing every day. That ear-splitting scream still echoed in her head, yet she doesn’t bother to respond in any expected manner. It was not like it was frowned upon to do so. Lilly coughed.

                “Sorry, I didn’t warn you about the noise beforehand, but I made sure to soundproof the shed when I closed the doors… hehe…” Tensely, Ayase fixed her hair. She’s like a dog that knew it did something wrong.

                Way to be considerate about literally everyone else besides me. Luckily for you, I forgive easy.

                “Oh here, check this out.” Ayase bent over to pick up something. It rested on top of a pile of an undistinguishable mess. After all that shock, the shed that took a little over a half hours’ work to clean up and organize was now disheveled and demolished. Like an aftermath of a tornado. Great. Ayase handed Lilly the item in her hand.

                “It’s a picture.” Lilly stating the obvious.

                “I know, it must have been buried under all this stuff. Probably got kicked back up from all the commotion of trying the close the time rip.”

                That’s what you call it? Lilly reexamined the picture. The dusty film wore its age more than the shed, the picture itself almost faded and rendered useless as a token of the past. I think I can make out a person on it though. A girl. Definitely a girl. If the fact it was on such an old photograph wasn’t evidence enough, her hairstyle, glasses, and uniform were a lot older than a girl her age would be wearing nowadays. Other than that, there were no striking descript features about her. A shame really, since she wasn’t bad looking at all. Just that everything about her was painfully average, so much so she almost stood out in how much she didn’t. But not really. Lilly gave the picture back to Ayase, after which the clues snap in place.

                “I’m guessing whatever was going on in here has to do with this?”

                “Looks like it,” Ayase aptly said, “I’ll look into it myself, shouldn’t take long.” She repeated that phrase, Lilly holding on to those words as a sign to finally conclude this day. “I’ll go clean up and give back the key, you can head out now,” Ayase said, relieving Lilly from her duty of ultimately doing nothing.

               Ayase shook her head.

                “Ahh… that’s what she meant by this? What a joke.” Ayase’s irritated words cut into the air, not really directed at Lilly. A pang of guilt hit Lilly either way, not wanting to leave a junior to clean up this nightmare of a mess by herself, super-powered or not. She volunteered to help, it was the least she could do.

                Yuki studied the photo for only a second before giving it back. “Okay, who is this?”

                Ayase’s lip twitched in nervousness. “I was, um, hoping you could help with that.”

                “How?” Yuki said sternly.

                “The girl in the photo definitely was from this school, I recognize the uniform being the ones used before the school switched to our current ones. See the insignia on the blazer here? It’s a bit different, and even the design of jacket and skirt are different. It’s subtle.” Ayase placed her finger on various points on the picture. The ones that were still distinguishable, at least.

                “And you want me to see if I can find a record of this student in the old archives, based on this shoddy picture?” Yuki briefly summed up Ayase’s idea.

                “If you could please?” Ayase asked, her voice high and hand clasped together. Yuki too was a third year, but Lilly noticed how differently Ayase treated the both of them. Considering Yuki’s position, it made sense, but come on…

                Reluctantly, Yuki accepted. “Fine, I’ll see what I can do, since I’m still here.” She takes back the picture, gripping it tight. “You can head back to your club room, I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Turning on her heels, she clicked her tongue and walked away.

                As Yuki left, the girls do as she suggested, and returned to the club room. Ayase filled in Rea and Megumi on how she found the photo, how she decided to go back and have a second look in the shed. She left out the detail of both the anomaly and Lilly accompanying Ayase during the outing. Lilly figured it was for Rea’s sake. Rea wasn’t all too concerned by this, and immediately changed the subject.

                “Hey, I’m kinda hungry… I know! We should all go get some, um, dammit I can’t remember!” Rea repeatedly tapped her fist on the table.

               Hey, watch your language,” Lilly said, not appreciating Rea’s choice words.

               Rea was clearly not paying attention to what was being told to her, nor to what she was saying. “Damn, damn, dammit, maybe it was fish?”

               “What are you, Lord Jabu-Jabu?”

               Megumi chuckled at Lilly and Rea.

                With Lilly wanting to switch topics, the conversation somehow moved to some new metal album Rea recently bought. A one-sided discussion, however, since neither Lilly or Megumi had ever heard of the band Rea was going on about, and simply decided to nod along as she rambled. Yuki, not gone for too long, walked in to interrupt. “Here, all I managed to find is a name, see for yourself.” She handed back to Ayase the picture and a paper, with the only the name printed. “Yoya Nouko. I doubt it rings any bells.”

                “It doesn’t, but thanks again!” Ayase analyzed both clues with glee. “If we can learn about who this is, and why there isn’t any other information on her, maybe we can appease whatever spirits are in that shed!”

                “Heh, maybe.” Yuki scoffed. Lilly eyes her. I’m not too fond of all this too, but you are the one who gave us this case. What’s up with you?

                And now, Lilly knew of three crucial things regarding the girl in the timeworn Polaroid picture. Her name was Yoya Nouko, she was a student at this school, and she was very much dead.

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Chapter 12 – ‘This haunting,’

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                A week had passed since Lilly and Rea’s induction into the Society of Occult Literature (shortened to S.O.L. by Lilly and S.O.O.L. by Rea, much to Ayase’s chagrin), and already the initial novelty of the club has faded, and even that became routine.

                In that first week of fleeing to the third floor of the club facility building into the ancient club room, the itinerary consisted of sitting in silence to read the books off of the dusty bookshelf, and maybe hold the occasional discussion on what they have been reading. This time, Megumi toiled away at her stationery and book, Lilly and Ayase read some ghost detective novel from the club’s personal collection, and Rea either sat bored, played with Megumi or Lilly, or if it got really bad, attempted to catch up on homework.

                Even the supernatural happenings were handled in a timely and orderly fashion; Lilly’s mind reading hasn’t gone out of hand since that day on the hill, and if Lilly and Rea body swapped, they were in the same room anyways, safe as it can be. Yes, it was the closest thing to ‘normal’ Akiyama Lilly and Haruko Rea have experienced in a long, long time. Perhaps it was well deserved.

                That is, until she walked in.

                Unbeknownst to the new members, due to the niche nature of the S.O.L., in order to fit into a criteria of being a school club, the club needs to partake in activities that ‘enrich the academic atmosphere of Shouai Junior High.’ Apparently weekly book discussions amongst academic peers weren’t enough. They’ve got to get the bookworms up and moving somehow. Because of this, one of the club’s activities was to take on cases provided by other students. However, even that has its own criteria to follow.

               1. IT MUST NOT be something serious that involves the police.

               2. IT MUST be solvable within the week the case was given.

               3. IT MUST be something relating to the paranormal or the occult.

               4. IT MUST also be understandable that some cases are, from the start, rendered unsolvable due to the tricky subject of relating to the paranormal or the occult.

               5. IT MUST be fun.

                With these five points, the S.O.L. never received anything their way, the offer of the activity instead acting as a placeholder to get the school policy off their backs. Megumi once told a story of how a boy came by last Halloween for a particularly interesting mystery, but that was to entertain the seniors of the club at the time. They were all in on the joke. Regardless, no ever came in for consultation, nor was there any real need to do so.

                That is, until she walked in.

                A third year. Her face wore zero concern, and her voice held that same note. Long black hair with the bangs straight-cut. She carried a mature air of authority, warranted since it’s Suzuki Yuki, the student council president. Sitting at the rectangular table, Ayase sat across from her, deciding to see what business the student council president had with the Society of Occult Literature.

                “So,” Ayase started, “what have you come here for?”

                “It… Your club posters said you do investigations.”

                “Considering the type of club we are, I can accurately guess what type of matter is at hand?”

                Yuki didn’t answer, instead observing the club room. If a stranger didn’t know any better, they wouldn’t think this room housed a club like this. Besides the common thematic thread the books on the shelf shared, there were no decorations or ornaments to suggest an occult club resides here. Not even a plastic skull.

                Lilly, Rea, and Megumi stand by in the corner of the room, watching the two talk, ever curious to what this could be about. She seems oddly calm, but is this a prank? And if it isn’t a prank, what the heck are we getting ourselves into?

                “Alright, continue.”

                “I’ve been getting complaints about a haunting at the school.”

                The club members’ ears perked. This was interesting. And terrifying.

                Ayase leaned in. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”

                “It’s the old storage shed, just right by this building.”

                By the building? Please don’t suggest we’ve been neighbors to a haunted room this whole time!

                “Okay. What’s the story?”

                “During after school meetings with the rest of the student council, we read out reports received from the rest of the student body, and depending on how serious, how we decide to go about handling them. Lately we’ve been receiving more reports about supposedly paranormal events that are taking place at that old shed. Like tennis racquets and soccer balls moving on their own, and voices.”

                “What do these voices say?”

                “‘Play with me, play with me.’”

                Lilly and Rea exchanged glances. At least I’m not the only one freaked out by this. Megumi however began to grow ecstatic. Ayase prods on for more information.

                “How do you know it wasn’t some of prank?”

                “We thought that as well, but there’s been one too many reports about this, and nothing is gained in terms of pranking with just a large pile of written testimonies.”

                “Hmm?”

                “Obviously I don’t believe it. I had another student council member go out there yesterday, and they said they saw a shadow move inside. Of course, I doubted him.” Yuki’s tone sounds like an actor reading off a script.

                Rea scratched her head. Lilly also was confused at the whole thing, what did the student council president herself expect a club like this to do? An exorcism? A supernatural battle? Some kind of TV special?

                Miss Akiyama, Miss Akiyama. Try to see if she’s telling the truth.

                Ayase’s voice intruded into Lilly’s head, a buzzing sensation accompanying it. Lilly saw Ayase turn back in her chair and look at Lilly, expectantly. Are you serious? Uh… Fine! Lilly scanned Yuki more closely.

                Radio interference.

                Lilly had accepted that as a natural weakness of her power, so she shrugged, and Ayase drooped in her seat. It made a skid noise. The only option was to take Yuki’s word for it.

                “Okay, then, what would you like us to do?” Ayase questioned.

                “I honestly don’t expect you to do anything, but the student council is very busy this time of year, we don’t want to waste our own time over something like this.” So you’d rather us waste our time? Lilly argued in silence. Then why come to us at all? This whole thing seems off.

                After her hearing, the girls leave the club room to inspect the storage shed, Yuki going elsewhere to attend to other work. But not before leaving them the key. In a blink they’re in front of the shed. Like the old school building it accompanied, age has not been kind to this sad structure. Yuki’s story fresh in their minds, the shed doors were as eerie as a gate to a crypt.

                “Um… I’m gonna open it now,” Rea said, holding the key.

                “Yes please, Rea.” Ayase replied.

                None of the girls wanted to admit it, but the hair on the back of their necks stood straight. Who knew what sorts of terror could possibly lie behind those doors? Rea’s fingers twitched as she inserted the key, her heart beating faster as the knob creaked when slowly turned. She was sure Lilly was reacting in the same way. A hard push, and the door creaked louder and louder. Some light from outside filled the shed, but not much.

                Please don’t be a ghost, please don’t be a ghost, please don’t be a ghost!

                The door swung its full arc, a still silence meeting them inside. Nothing. A letdown it was. But the girls stay on guard, cautiously walking in. It’s old in here. A dust filled time capsule of a year long gone. Smaller on the inside, sports equipment filled the interior, with hardly any room left for the four girls to stand around comfortably. Lilly almost tripped over a tennis ball.

                “Alright, um, let’s look around here and see what we can find,” Ayase ordered.

                The four get right to work. Being so old, there was no light switch to illuminate the shed, so Lilly squints in trying to find whatever it was they were looking for. What exactly are we doing?

                Supposedly, the task was to find anything suspicious or out of the ordinary, but no one knew what that entailed. Well, if we knew what to look for, it wouldn’t be suspicious, Lilly guessed. Not wanting to be deadweight, she snuck glances at the others. Rea and Megumi were attentively sifting through deflated basketballs and dirty baseballs; Lilly a tad disappointed there.

                Ayase, on the other hand, reclined on a clean portion of an otherwise dusty wall, like she’s already finished up and found something. In truth, she probably has. Lilly picked up an old soccer net. It’s covered in cobwebs. Gross.

                Forty minutes pass, nothing of note. Ayase, silently appointed by the others to be the leader of this operation, called it a day. On the bright side, the shed is significantly more organized. Receiving the key from Rea, Ayase volunteered to bring it back to Yuki. The rest are among the last few students who haven’t left, and thus they hurry along. Leaving the school, they split to their respective abodes.

                Rea is dropped off at her home, and Lilly has her hand on the doorknob to hers. Zzzt. Zzzt. Her phone vibrated.

                Lilly read the message once and again. The peaceful end to the day waited for her just past that door, like a dog patient for its master. And in spite of that, an odd feeling beckoned her to turn right around and comply with the message. Curiosity? Maybe. Either way, Lilly decided to give into that desire for once. She sent her reply.

                A brisk walk. Ten minutes tops. Ayase stood by the still-open gates. The entire school grounds had an evening glow. It’s like a whole new school.

                “Took you long enough,” Ayase said, greeting Lilly. “Actually, I did invite you, so I’m no position to criticize your punctuality.”

                “Yes, so you were better off saying nothing at all,” Lilly swung back. “Rather, if you were to say something, you should tell me why you called me back here.”

                “That’s fair,” Ayase said, “we’ll talk and walk.”

                “Hey!” Lilly pointed a finger at her to interrupt. “Don’t you wink at me.”

                They head back to the old facility, their true destination coming into view.

                “Do the teachers know we’re still on campus? Aren’t some of them walking around the school for people like us right about now?”

                Ayase replied. “I let them know beforehand, as long as we’re done in an hour, we’ll be fine.”

                She let a second pass.

                “It shouldn’t take long.”

                Now they reached the shed once again. Ayase fumbled pulling out the key, and inserted it into the lock.

                “Before I open the door, let me ask you something.”

                “Hmm?” Lilly hummed.

                “How much energy does it take for a human being to stay alive?”

                I’d rather not think about it.

                “Like, joules?” Lilly said. “Watts? Calorie? Are we talking about food?”

                Ayase snickered. “It takes a lot.”

                That was lame.

                Ayase took her point and begins to run. “Anyways, it takes a surprising amount of energy to properly maintain the functions and general operation of the human body. Not even talking about the brain. That’s why we eat, sleep, and such other. Now, what happens to all that energy if the body dies?”

                I’d rather not think about it.

                “It decays. Generally, when someone dies of natural causes, the body’s energy will dissipate at a constant and gradual rate. Nothing special. So then, what happens if someone were killed violently, and-or instantly?”

                I’d especially rather not think about that! And wait, why did you call me out here again!?

                Ayase lightened her tone. “Don’t worry, you’re fine. It’s a rhetorical question. If the aforementioned situation were to occur, we get something interesting. Usually. If the aforementioned situation were to occur, that body’s energy would decay at a significantly faster rate. Essentially instantaneous. Instead of a slow burning candle, it’d be similar to detonating a pack of TNT.”

                “And what’s your point?” Lilly said, probing for one.

                “The point is, due to that instant surge of energy, it can affect the general area of incidence. And if the right conditions are met, it can affect the very flow of space-time in that area. We get an anomaly.”

                I don’t know where you’re going with this, and I’m not sure I like it.

                “If someone were killed or died suddenly, it can cause this anomaly. A small tear in the space-time composition. As more time passes between the past and the present, that hole can grow larger, and begin to cause problems in the present.”

                “Like what?” Lilly offered to take the bait.

                “Well, it’s not like time travel, rather a time glimpse. A thin overlap between the past and the present. Using that distinction, those in the present can look back to and hear – or see – things that took place in the past. If the energy decay rate is strong enough, it may even affect the present directly. If someone picked up or moved something in the past, that energy may transfer and move something in the present. That includes disembodied voices, shadows moving in the corner of your eye, or…”

                “Tennis racquets and soccer balls being thrown by themselves,” the concept clicks in Lilly’s head.

                “Exactly! Most will come to the conclusion that after a tragic death, the results are ghosts or hauntings, but as you can see, it’s a bit different.”

                “What about the voice that Yuki mentioned? ‘Play with me, play with me?’”

                “Her reports said it the voices came from within this shed. You don’t think, at one point in the last – oh I don’t know – twenty years, no one said those words anywhere in there?”

                A sepia tone scene of two girls rummaging through sports tools for something to play with ran in Lilly’s imagination. I guess that isn’t out of the question. “So you’re telling me all of this because…”

                Ayase shrugged. “Just so you know, since you came along. You make a good duck.”

                “A what?”

                “Anyways, I actually knew about the shed already, but it’s another low level one, so I didn’t bother with it.”

                “Then why deal with it now?”

                “The student council president asked us to.”

                Concluding her lecture, Ayase turned the key. They enter the dark shed, the doors closing behind them.

                Per Ayase’s orders, the plan was to sit and wait… for whatever, Ayase left out that detail. The shed’s contents keep the space cramped, and they were forced to huddle together on a box. Due to the lack of a light switch, Lilly and Ayase’s faces glow from their phones, surrounded by darkness.

                Anxiety kicked in.

                Sweat slides down Lilly’s brow. What if someone came in here, seeing two girls next to each other in a dark shed? This was what Lilly was worried over, which was to say she didn’t have any real concerns being in there. Whatever did happen, Ayase at least acted like she knew what she was doing, Lilly found some comfort in that. But, it was dark. Even a wild boar has some qualms about what it can’t see, doesn’t it?

                “Can’t we leave the door open? It’s getting too hot in here.” Lilly removed her blazer and starts unbuttoning her shirt. This would really look bad now.

                “We can’t risk having a random bystander coming by at a wrong time. Relax, it shouldn’t be long now.”

                Alright, fine. Lilly fanned out her shirt to cool down. Hold on. If the anomaly is based on sudden and-or violent deaths like Ayase said, then… then!

                And as if on a schedule, a spectacular event began to show its face. A wild scream emitted from nowhere. Things flew through the air. Everything within the shed rattled to produce a violently orchestrated uproar. As intense as an earthquake. It is loud. Loud. Loud loud loud. Ear drums weren’t meant to handle a sound of this magnitude.

                Lilly figuratively jumped out of her skin; thankfully the laws of reality bound and tethered her to her human shape. She ducked to a corner and covered her head. To contrast, Ayase got up slowly, keeping her cool. She stretched like a jogger would when they warmed up.

                “Yosh, it’s time!”

                Using her finger, she pressed three points in the air into a triangle, leaving a rippling effect. Suddenly the points glow, growing in intensity and submerging the shed into a white light. Whatever Lilly did – shutting her eyes, covering them – white engulfed everything she could see. Wind and chaos picked up in strength all around her. She knew if she yelled she wouldn’t hear her own voice. What’s happening, what’s happening, what’shappening what’shappeningwhat’shappening!!

                Before this calamity began, even in the dark, Lilly swore she saw a shadow move in the corner of her eye.

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