Afterwards, we stuffed our faces with onigiri, enjoyed the delectably grilled meat and casually chatted as we stood around the fire, noisily passing the time.
We spent time like this until 10:50pm.
After cleaning up, we gathered in front of the television.
Akihito-san’s program would start at 10:55pm.
I sat while hugging my knees as I watched the commercial on the screen, my heart pounding.
Although I had nothing to do with it, I was extremely excited.
It was my first time watching an acquaintance appearing on television, after all.
“I-I’m feeling kind of nervous about this.”
“I-Idiot, I’m the one who’s supposed to be nervous.”
Akihito-san’s voice betrayed his tension as he turned to look at me. His body was trembling.
Holmes-san stifled a laugh.
“But it’s not the first time you’re appearing on television, right, Akihito-san?”
“It’s not the first time, but I’ve only ever made brief appearances, and it’s the first time I’m the main face of a show.”
At that moment, the screen cut to a scene of red maple leaves as music played in the background.
“…Classic jazz BGM, huh. That’s wonderful.”
“R-Right?” Akihito-san replied proudly, but nodded awkwardly, probably still feeling nervous.
As the familiar-sounding music played, the camera slowly shifted from the beautifully colored maple leaves to the sanmon of Nanzen-ji.
In front of a gate was Akihito-san in a dark grey kimono. It looked chic, boosted his handsomeness, and on top of that, made him look like less of a playboy.
“W-Wow, Akihito-san’s in a kimono! It suits you.”
I exclaimed, causing Akihito-san to give an embarrassed smile.
“W-Well, it’s the opening episode, after all.”
“…Nanzen-ji. It is the highest-ranking Zen temple in all of Japan. When I stood in front of the gate, I was completely blown away by the atmosphere which can’t be described by words. Also, being here in autumn is exceptional. Take a look at the beautiful maple leaves!”
Akihito-san asserted with an elegant grin as he looked up at the maple leaves.
Next, they went to the upper floor of the sanmon, and the scenery of the city of Kyoto draped in red maple leaves was shown on the screen.
It was a really beautiful scenery, and even as a novice, I could tell that camera work was superb.
“Now, as you know, this sanmon is the same as the gate in a kabuki performance where Ishikawa Goemon says, ‘What an amazing view!’, but it was actually only built after Ishikawa Goemon’s death. The fact that it was depicted in theaters as such shows that people in Kyoto felt a strong romance towards the scenery that can be seen from this sanmon,” Akihito-san enthusiastically said as he gazed as the scenery.
“And this is the Waterway Pavilion, which is an unparalleled achievement constructed in the Meiji era…”
He then expounded on the beauty of the Waterway Pavilion. Finally…
“Nanzen-ji was known to be a temple plagued with yokai. The emperor at the time was troubled by those apparitions, so he requested the Zen priest Mukan Fumon of Tōfuku-ji to deal with them.
“The Zen priest came to Nanzen-ji, and made the yokai disappear by performing what he normally did everyday in Tōfuku-ji: meditation. According to him, yokai could not win against virtue, and it seemed that was the case. Next time, I would like to show you around Tōfuku-ji.”
With Akihito-san’s grinning figure on the screen, the camera zoomed out, and the program drew to a close as the music ended.
The scenery shown on the video was so beautiful that I was deeply moved…
Akihito-san was really amazing, making me want to go there.
…Come to think of it, that was an exact imitation of Holmes-san, right?
As the program cut to another commercial, our eyes met.
“…Akihito-san, you were imitating Holmes-san there, right?”
“Akihito-san, if you pretend to be like me to that extent, it’ll become really tough for you in the future.”
Holmes-san followed, causing Akihito-san to go bright red and stand up vigorously.
“T-There’s nothing tough about it! That’s just an actor’s performance to fit the program!”
“An actor’s performance, huh… That was quite well said.”
Holmes-san replied with a meaningful laugh.
“In that case, Holmes-san should be on the show. He doesn’t lose to Akihito-san in terms of handsomeness, after all.”
“No, I don’t have any interest working in television. Since that uproar regarding my grandfather, I felt that I wasn’t suited for that, and anyway, I’m not the type to appear in public.”
I see, so he came into contact with television through Owner, then immediately felt that he wasn’t suited for it.
“Ah, I’m so nervous that I want to go to the toilet. Gonna take a dump.”
Akihito-san stretched his body as he escaped from the living room.
…Take a dump, he said. And he’s supposed to be a handsome actor, too.
A short while after Akihito-san left for the toilet, the lights went out, cloaking the room in darkness.
It wasn’t just dark. Thanks to the occluding effect of the curtains, it was pitch black in the room.
“It seems that there was a blackout.”
Holmes-san calmly spoke in the total darkness.
“B-Blackout? Were we using that much electricity?”
“I wonder about that. It’s a good thing we have a lantern from the barbecue.”
Holmes-san picked up a dry cell powered lantern lamp from the floor and switched it on.
At the next moment…
A piercing cry… no, Akihito-san’s scream resounded from the hallway.
Then, the door to the living room slammed open.
Akihito-san dashed into the room, his eyes wide open.
“You’re overreacting. It’s just a blackout,” Holmes-san sighed in exasperation.
“But it isn’t unreasonable to be surprised when you go to the toilet in an empty house and it suddenly goes dark.”
“N-No, that’s not it! After going out of the toilet, I saw some dolls walking towards me from the end of the hallway. They were giggling, too!”
I was a little creeped out after hearing Akihito-san squeeze those words out of his throat.
Holmes-san and I looked at each other.
“When you’re feeling scared, a willow leaf can look like a ghost. When the blackout happened, you were struck with terror, and probably just imagined the dolls walking towards you.”
“N-No, that’s not it! It’s completely different from seeing a willow leaf as a ghost! If you don’t believe me, come take a look!”
“No, I think I’ll take a look when I want to go to the toilet.”
“I’m seriously curious about what that was, though.”
“As I said, I’ll look at it later.”
“No, please look at it now, Holmes-san, or Holmes the Zen priest!”
Akihito-san kneeled on the floor and clasped his hands together at the disagreeable Holmes-san.
“I’m not a Zen priest, just a sheltered boy.”
He replied with a mischievous grin.
As usual, the “wicked, mean Kyoto guy” inside him was out in full force whenever he conversed with Akihito-san.
But, with that kind of talk…
“U-Umm… that made me want to go to the toilet…”
It was really embarrassing, but it was scary to go alone like this.
Filled with shame, I looked down.
“I see. I’ll go take a look outside, so you stay here, Akihito-san.”
Holmes-san stood up with the lantern in his hand.
“Hey, you’ll be taking the lantern with you?”
“Of course. I’ll also be checking the breaker, so just wait here.”
“It’ll be fine, Akihito-san. There’s nothing to be afraid of, is there?”
Holmes-san tapped Akihito-san’s back twice.
Having been encouraged and made fun of at the same time, a complicated expression rose to Akihito-san’s face, and I laughed without thinking upon seeing that.
“Shall we go then, Aoi-san?”
“Y-Yes,” I replied, and went out of the living room together with Holmes-san. I was slightly relieved to see that the hallway was slightly brighter than the living room due to the moonlight seeping in through the window.
“There’s nothing unusual about the breaker. It must be a problem with the power cables.”
Holmes-san said as he checked the breaker above the entranceway.
I turned to look down the hallway, and shivered as I caught sight of a doll.
“H-Holmes-san, there’s a doll over there!”
So whatever Akihito-san was talking about was actually real!
Holmes-san walked over and wordlessly grabbed the doll. It was in the shape of a man, with a face like that of Fukusuke1.
“Ah, this is a karakuri doll2.”
“Yes, so it isn’t weird for it to move. There’s nothing to be afraid of, so go ahead and relieve yourself. I’ll be waiting here, so it’s all fine,” he said with a gentle smile.
It certainly wasn’t unnatural for a karakuri doll to move, but why did it start moving in the first place?
That thought briefly appeared in my head, but I decided not to think about it for now.
“I-I’ll be going, then. Excuse me,” I bowed and was about to enter the toilet next to the wash basin.
“Here. It’s scary when it’s dark, after all,” Holmes-san said as he passed me the lantern.
With the lantern in my hand, I went into the toilet and relieved myself, although I wasn’t completely at ease. I then washed my hands at the wash basin outside.
“—Sorry, and thank you.”
“Let’s go back, then.”
Holmes-san accepted the lantern, when…
Akihito-san’s scream rang out once again.
Did something happen again?
“Holmes-san…” My body stiffened.
“Seriously, this person… he might actually be suited to a career in suspense dramas.”
Holmes-san said exasperatedly, slightly mitigating my fear and causing me to relax a little.
“Akihito-san, what’s the matter?”
Holmes-san opened the door to the living room, revealing the figure of Akihito-san clinging onto a soft toy.
“Really, what’s the matter?”
“I-It appeared! The white shadow of a woman! It suddenly appeared, and disappeared just like that!”
Akihito-san shouted, seemingly about to burst into tears.
“Ehh? Did something like that really appear?”
“Yes, it was a white shadow! And it appeared after the two of you left!”
I was feeling that something was off, when I heard the sound of heavy footsteps from the second floor, followed by Akihito-san’s scream, causing me to jump up in fright.
W-Why are there footsteps from the second floor, when there should be no one there?
This place has become a haunted house!
I was starting to feel afraid, when…
“You don’t have to be afraid. Everything’s fine.”
Holmes-san immediately whispered into my ear, causing my heart to skip a beat.
—Wait, what? Something seems weird.
“S-Something feels weird.”
I spoke up, causing the other two men to look at me in surprise.
“I, I know it’s weird! It’s crawling with the evil spirits of rivers and mountains, isn’t it!”
Akihito-san replied, his voice cracking.
“No, that’s not it. The blackout happened when Akihito-san was on the way to the toilet, and the karakuri dolls started moving when he re-entered the hallway… and when Holmes-san and I were in the hallway, the white shadow appeared in the living room…”
It was as if someone was trying to scare Akihito-san, while not showing me anything frightening at all.
“I don’t think this is a supernatural phenomenon.”
“If it’s not supernatural, then what is it!”
Akihito-san raised his voice again. He had completely lost his composure.
The only one who can do that is… that person.
I swallowed and turned around to stare at Holmes-san.
“…The perpetrator of these strange phenomena is you, right, Holmes-san?”
I asked with a strong tone.
The living room was then struck with a sudden silence.
It was a silence that lasted for quite a long time.
The one to break it was Akihito-san.
“W-What are you talking about, Aoi-chan? Holmes-san couldn’t have started these psychic phenomena, right?”
“Y-Yes, I don’t know how he did it, but it would only be possible if Holmes-san did it.”
I stared firmly at Holmes-san, who had a composed expression, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
He’d received the key from the owner beforehand, so he could have come here earlier…
And above all, the psychic phenomena that transpired were done so that I would not see them.
Because he probably didn’t want me to be frightened…
“But why did he do such a thing?”
Yes, that’s the thing. Why would he do that?
At that moment, Holmes-san chuckled and clapped.
“Well done, Aoi-san. It seems that I failed at the last moment. Or rather, since a girl is here, I can’t be as callous as I want to be, causing me to slip up.”
As I thought, those supernatural phenomena were caused by Holmes-san.
“W-What? Seriously, Holmes? But why did you do that? Do you really hate me that much?” Akihito-san asked.
I felt quite sorry for him when I caught sight of his tearful face.
“No, definitely not. If I really hated you and wanted to harass you, I wouldn’t have used such a troublesome method. I would have concocted a simpler, harsher and more black-hearted plan. Also, this might have been my handiwork, but I wasn’t the one who planned it.”
He replied smoothly, and even managed to sneak in some vicious words.
Putting that aside, did Holmes-san say that he didn’t plan it?
“Eh? So you’re saying there’s a mastermind?”
“Yes, that is correct. I was requested to do this by someone.”
…Requested by someone?
At that moment, I had a realization.
Yes, Holmes-san had a phone call that day in Kura.
That person even said that he would call back later…
“Is the mastermind Akihito-san’s manager?”
I asked quietly, and Holmes-san nodded.
“—Yes, exactly. He said this to me that day…
“‘Akihito-san did a wonderful job that day, but he seemed to be imitating someone else, and didn’t bring out his personality. That performance he did might fit the program, but if the viewers believe that Akihito-san is a person of good conduct, it will be continually tougher for him to fit that character in the future.
“‘Hence, I want to show Akihito-san’s true personality to the viewers. I want to show them that while Kajiwara Akihito introduces the city of Kyoto in such a refined way, he is actually another kind of person. Please assist me with that.’”
As Holmes-san told us the truth, I swallowed my breath.
“Eh? So that means…”
“It can’t be, right?”
Akihito-san and I looked around the room.
“Yes, as you’ve realized, this is a prank for television. By the way, I believe this footage will be used in the year-end special episode. Ah, the faces of us normal people will be blurred out, so there’s no problem.”
Holmes-san explained as if it wasn’t a big deal at all, while Akihito-san and I had our mouths agape.
“W-What? So that means my pathetic side will be exposed to everyone?”
Akihito-san asked, alarmed. Holmes-san nodded in response.
“Yes. That scream you made was quite something, so perhaps you’ll get new roles in the future.”
“Does this mean that the staff are waiting somewhere?”
I looked around the room again.
“No, since Akihito-san is still a fledgling actor, they couldn’t spend so much money on him, so they set up hidden cameras beforehand. All that was left was for me to maneuver some things here and there.”
Akihito-san looked a little miffed upon hearing that “they couldn’t spend so much money on him”, but plunked himself onto the sofa, apparently relieved.
“Man, I’m seriously relieved. Especially now that I know what’s going on.”
“Yes. I actually set up a mechanism to drop the dolls from the ceiling and prepared other things like a child’s scream, but since you already know, it’ll end here.
“It could have gone better, but you did give some good reactions, so I believe your manager will be satisfied. You have a great partner there.”
Holmes-san displayed a gentle smile.
“W-Well, I suppose.”
Gong! Gong! At that moment, the tolling of a bell resounded, causing me to jump up in shock.
“Hey, Holmes, stop the mechanisms already!”
We exclaimed in annoyance, but Holmes-san shook his head.
“No, that’s not something that I did.”
Akihito-san and I squeaked in unison.
“This is the ‘Midnight Sending Bell’ of Tōfuku-ji,” Holmes-san replied with a light smile.
“Midnight Sending Bell?”
“Yes, the bell is struck eighteen times at about 11:45pm every night in Tōfuku-ji.”
“S-So late at night?”
“Yes, this has been a tradition of the temple since it was founded. The abbot at that time, Enni, was also the abbot of Kennin-ji3, so he would move there once he completed his business in Tōfuku-ji.
“Whenever, that happened, Tōfuku-ji would send off Enni with the ‘Sending Bell’, and Kennin-ji would welcome him with the ‘Welcoming Bell’. It has been about 750 years… and that tradition still lives on in Tōfuku-ji.”
The tolling of the bell continued.
I can’t believe the bell would ring so late at night, even though it wasn’t New Year’s Eve.
And every night, too… although I suppose it is a local tradition that has survived for 750 years. The city of Kyoto that has protected that tradition is also amazing, and I hope that they can continue protecting it in the future.
I felt a warmth in my chest knowing that we were directly experiencing a local tradition.
“Now that my mission is complete, let us wish for Akihito-san’s future success! Cheers!”
In the faint light of the lantern, Holmes-san filled glasses with wine and juice.
“Yeah, let’s have a toast.”
The three of us raised our glasses.
“To Akihito-san’s success… cheers!”
As the bell tolled, we clinked our glasses.
The Sending Bell that sounded from Tōfuku-ji in the direction of Kennin-ji was like a signal for Akihito-san to move to another world.
The bell stopped exactly at the eighteenth toll. We looked at each other and giggled.
“Man, it was seriously quite scary, wasn’t it, Aoi-chan?”
Akihito-san took a swig of wine from his glass, and I replied, “Yes,” with a nod.
“I was quite shocked when I heard the footsteps on the second floor. When I found out about the truth, I thought that there were staff on the second floor.”
As we conversed clamorously, Holmes-san muttered, “Ah,” and looked up.
“Actually, I didn’t prepare any footstep sounds for the second floor.”
“Perhaps I angered some beings that are not altogether human when I tried to artificially create supernatural phenomena.”
“Well, the original abbot of Tōfuku-ji, Mukan Fumon, did say that ‘yokai cannot win against virtue’, so if we hold those words in our heart, there shouldn’t be any problem.”
Holmes-san placed a hand on his chest and grinned. Akihito-san and I looked at each other and screamed, “Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
That was certainly a long, memorable night in autumn.
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- A traditional Japanese character known for his big head and large ears, said to bring good luck.
- Traditional Japanese mechanized dolls. Karakuri is something like clockwork, but doesn’t use much metal and focuses more on reflecting the living appearance of humans.
- A Zen Buddhist temple in Higashiyama-ku which claims to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, and is one of the Kyoto Gozan, or the five most important temples in Kyoto.