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I’ve often heard the saying, “All ghosts, when examined, are just withered flowers.” However, in this modern era where people are unable to grasp the idea of romanticism even after looking it up in a dictionary, withered flowers are rarely treated as ghosts, and apparitions in this world are revealed in succession to be nothing more than withered flowers. It would probably be difficult for us to notice a real specter if it kept its true form.
I was saying that on a bus that was traversing a mountain path in August, when the lingering summer heat was still severe. Fukube Satoshi, who was sitting next to me, nodded in deep thought.
“Interesting. A metaphysical repudiation of the merit of the idea, in the form of a witticism. It really suits you, Houtarou.”
Ibara, who was sitting in front, turned around even though she wasn’t called. She raised her eyebrows.
“I don’t like that way of thinking. I guess I’m not the type to only use my head for everything.”
I listened to their responses, took a short while to digest them, and quickly shouted a denial.
“Hey, I said nothing of the sort!”
I was actually intending to bring up some urban legend similar to UFOs and Nessie, or in other words, an extremely common topic of discussion. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the story on TV yesterday, “Reporters on the scene! The truth behind Hamana Lake’s giant eel, Hussie1!” My phrasing might have been rather indirect, but I didn’t think that my words would be misinterpreted so willfully. Just as I was about to explain myself, Chitanda, who was wearing a dress and sitting next to Ibara, turned around and smiled.
“I’m also curious about the true nature of the withered flowers.”
It seems that everyone misunderstood. I didn’t really want to force everyone to understand what I was saying, so I shut my mouth.
There are four members in Kamiyama High’s Classics Club.
And why were all members of the Classics Club on the bus that was making its bumpy journey along the mountainous road? The answer to that, of course, lies in the bus’ destination. The final stop, Zaizen Village, is a village in a ravine famous for mountain hiking and hot springs. I would never go hiking, so by process of elimination, we were heading there for the hot springs.
The groan of the bus engine became louder as the path grew steeper.
It was summer break in August, and actually taking a break during a holiday fits with my personal beliefs. However, thanks to the Classics Club President, Chitanda, I had to go to the hot springs.
During this summer break, all of us in the Classics Club worked together to solve what Satoshi calls “The Hyouka Incident”, which was really important for Chitanda. After solving the mystery, she thanked us, and to reward our efforts, she planned a trip to the hot springs. By default, I just wanted to stay at home, so I definitely would not agree with the plan, but somehow my resistance was broken and it was decided that I would participate.
Zaizen Village was one and a half hours from Kamiyama City by bus. We did not have to pay for our accommodations, as Ibara’s relatives were running an inn, and since they were currently renovating and were accepting no customers, they were letting us stay for free.
I’m not especially weak in taking transport, but perhaps because the mountain road was too steep, I got car-sick right before we arrived. After that, we were picked up at the bus stop in a van by Ibara’s relatives and we finally reached Seizansou. I sat down by the window of my allocated room and enjoyed the amazing scenery, which dissipated my discomfort.
The room was twenty tatami mats in size, which was really large for just me and Satoshi. I opened the large window, and was surprised that we were so close to the mountain, which was covered in a deep foliage. There was white fog rising up here and there, probably steam from the hot spring. Along the winding prefectural road, there were a few inns and private houses. I could see a school a little further away. Since there were few students, the elementary school was combined with the middle school. I’m definitely not a person of plentiful sensitivities, but I’m not so solid as to not feel anything while traveling.
“This room has a pretty good view, huh?”
Satoshi’s voice came from behind. I replied without turning around,
“I guess this kind of thing isn’t bad every now and then. I might be asking too much, but it would be more dignified to come here alone.”
“Houtarou, traveling alone? Stop joking around, you’re definitely not the type of person to voluntarily do something elegant like going to the hot springs. Don’t forget that you’re here because Chitanda planned this trip and Mayaka used her connections.”
As Satoshi intended, I was sullen with silence. The one with the most poisonous tongue in the Classics Club was Ibara, but Satoshi’s eloquent speeches could be quite insulting, too. What made it worse was that he was right. There was no doubt that I wouldn’t even think of going to Zaizen Village on my own.
That’s why I should be thankful to Chitanda for causing me to actually go to Zaizen Village and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
I heard footsteps in the corridor, and soon after, there were a few rough knocks on the door.
That was Ibara’s voice.
Next came Chitanda’s voice, which sounded like she was imitating Ibara.
“It’s time for dinner!”
“Hear that? Let’s go!”
As prompted, I left the area near the window. While it’s certainly not a bad thing to be at the hot springs, I somehow felt ill at ease knowing that those guys would be near me all the time. There was the smell of cheese wafting down the corridor. Dinner would probably be stew or gratin, with the dark horse being cheese fondue. Yeah, I guess that would be it. I took a deep breath.
Seizansou consists of two buildings: the annex, which we were currently using, and the main building, which was undergoing renovation.
Both buildings were almost equal in size. They were connected by a passageway, and if you look at the inn from a bird’s eye view, it would look like the character コ (ko). Each building had two floors and was made of wood; the floorboards in the corridors creaked when stepped on. There was only one staircase in the whole inn. Chitanda and Ibara’s room was at the very end of the second floor, while Satoshi and I were one room away. Those large rooms could fit all four of us, or even double that, and have extra space remaining, but that’s that.
The stairs were quite steep, so I had to concentrate when going down.
There was supposed to be a dining hall in the first floor of the main building, but it was being renovated, so we were to have dinner in a Japanese-style room on the first floor of the annex. I opened the sliding screen which had Mount Fuji painted on it, and saw that Chitanda, Ibara, as well as the two sisters had already taken their seats.
Chitanda and Ibara were sitting opposite the sisters, and the seats at the head and front of the table were empty. They had not started eating yet; it seems that they were waiting for us, as etiquette dictated. I sat on the floor cushion nearest to me, so Satoshi had the seat of honor. No one was taking any notice of the seating order in this setting, though.
The table was actually quite cramped with all six of us sitting around it. On the table, contrary to my expectations, there was a salad of fresh vegetables, fried shishamo2, cold cuts of pork, and a miso soup with tofu and radish. Rice had already been scooped into wooden rice bowls. There was definitely the fragrance of cheese. What could it be from? I scanned the room and murmured,
“Is a cheesecake being baked?”
“Ah, how did you know?”
A girl with centered hair grinned. The cushion she was sitting on was low, but she was short in stature. With her frameless spectacles, large eyes, and her jubilant smile, she somehow gave off the impression of an excitable person. She wore a thin T-shirt and knee-length denim shorts. When put together with Ibara, they would totally look like siblings, but then again they are related by blood. Furthermore, Ibara was also wearing a shirt and denim pants.
Speaking of which, Ibara’s appearance hasn’t changed a bit since elementary school. She would look like a younger sister when put together with anyone, but I can’t say that to her face.
That recklessly sociable girl was one of the sisters of Seizansou, Zenna Rie.
“Amazing! It’s just like what Maya-neechan said!”
What did you tell them, Ibara!
Next to Rie, there was a girl with a ponytail sitting in a well-mannered fashion. To put it more accurately, she was being shy. It seemed that she hadn’t gotten used to us yet. I unnecessarily wondered if she could get on with being in a family that was running an inn.
Even without considering her shyness towards strangers and her frail appearance that I could not imagine a smile on, she was quite unlike her older sister. I saw both of them standing up earlier, and noticed that they had around the same height. Although her long sleeves were thin, she looked warm wearing them in the middle of summer. She would be graduating to middle school next year, but her stature was similar to that of Rie, who would be in the second year of middle school next year. She must have grown really fast for her age. Her name was Zenna Kayo.
Ibara, who was acting more like a host than a guest, said. Everyone then separated their chopsticks successively and started on their meal. Chitanda clasped her hands tightly in prayer, which was normal. The sisters’ parents weren’t in the room; they were probably eating in the main building, for this room definitely couldn’t hold another two people.
First was the miso soup, which I slurped continuously for a really long time. It was delicious, as expected for a business. Next, I tried the shishamo. It probably wasn’t actually shishamo, but I still liked it since it had a nice popping texture.
Rie was really interested about Ibara’s high school life and was asking her about it. On the other hand, Kayo was hesitatingly asking Chitanda about her name. Satoshi would occasionally interrupt a conversation with a smile on his face, while I would just move my chopsticks in silence, pleased with the shishamo which I hadn’t tasted in a long time.
“…And then it was like this…”
Rie, being immersed in the conversation, started drawing in the air with her chopsticks. That was improper dining etiquette, but I shouldn’t worry about the home discipline of another family.
Rie reached out for the bamboo ladle in the salad bowl while Kayo was moving her chopsticks towards the pork. Since they moved at about the same time, Rie’s arm struck Kayo’s hand. Kayo’s chopsticks, which was holding a slice of pork, jolted a bowl of miso soup. Having witnessed that scene from beginning to end, I wanted to warn them, but it was too late.
Some soup spilled from the bowl. Kayo squeaked.
“Aah, what are you doing!”
Rie scolded while frowning. From my point of view, they were both at fault, but…
Kayo apologized, and reached for the tablecloth. Since it was a little far away, Chitanda passed it to her.
“Here you go.”
Rie told Kayo to be more careful next time. After Kayo had wiped up the spilled miso soup, I extended my chopsticks to get more shishamo. I actually wanted to taste some mountain vegetables, but I suppose that would be asking too much.
After enjoying Rie’s handmade baked cheesecake for dessert, we all went about with our separate activities. I went back to my room, but Satoshi, who should have gotten back already, wasn’t there. Has he already gone to the bath house?
Being alone in the room, I retrieved a manga from the shoulder bag I usually use. Satoshi said that it was really outstanding for a manga about the Warring States period3, so I borrowed it from him. Indeed, it was quite a realistic portrayal with a good range of human emotion, and the artwork went into the minutest details, so it was readable. Satoshi sure has interesting taste.
The story was set in the climax of Oda Nobunaga’s4 attack on the Asakura Clan. Nobunaga was about to secure the victory when he received a gift from his little sister. It was a pouch tied at both ends, with adzuki beans inside. On seeing this, Nobunaga declared, “This signifies that we’re trapped like rats! Azai5 has betrayed us!” It was the episode where Nobunaga’s sister, who had married into the Azai family, covertly informed her brother about his predicament.
It made me wonder how Nobunaga realized that he was betrayed with only one pouch, but I thought that it was fundamentally a good story. Would my sister help me without a moment’s delay if I’m in such a pinch? That would be a sight worth seeing.
After reading for about half an hour, my eyes got tired, so I stopped for a while. The lighting in the room was quite dim, which would be normal for a hotel, but not for an inn.
What should I do if not read manga? There was a TV in the room, but it would be even more painful for my eyes.
As a result, I had a lot of time to kill. If I don’t feel like doing anything, I would usually lie down and sleep, but since we were at a hot-spring lodge, I thought that I might as well go down to the hot spring. I carried a towel which was provided in the room and went out to the hallway. That was exactly when I ran into Chitanda.
“Ah, where are you headed to?”
Chitanda also had a towel with her.
“Same place as you.”
“It seems that there isn’t a mixed bath here.”
“No one said anything about that.”
We walked together, and the flat sounds of our slippers alternated with the creaking of the floorboards. After thinking for a while, Chitanda asked,
“This may seem a bit random, but what kind of person is your sister?”
What? That’s seriously random.
I recalled that Chitanda was an only child. I took a little time to choose the words for my answer.
“My sister, huh? By some definitions she would be an oddball, and by others she would be a genius. I doubt that I could be better than her at anything.”
“Though I’ve never really cared to be… Why ask about my sister all of a sudden? Is it because of the Zenna sisters?”
Chitanda nodded slightly. She smiled shyly and answered in a small voice.
“The truth is, I’ve always wanted a sibling. An older sister or a younger brother. Don’t you think it’s wonderful to have someone you can go to for anything to be always by your side?”
I was slightly amazed by those words, and I shrugged instead of giving an answer. It seems that this young lady has the tendency to think too highly of others. And doesn’t she also believe in ghosts?
The annex does have a bath house where one can be immersed in a hot spring, but apparently it was as narrow as a normal bathroom. According to the others, there was an open air bath house nearby, so we headed there. I may believe in conserving energy, but I’m not so unrefined as to decline two or three minutes of walking and give up on a larger bath house.
After exiting Seizansou, we descended down the slope. It seems that the open air bath house, which could be seen after going round the bend, was managed by the inns and hotels in the area. There was a middle-aged woman collecting money at a bamboo counter, but she let us pass when we told her that we were guests of Seizansou.
Chitanda and I went our separate ways. There would have been a serious problem if we hadn’t.
The changing room was unexpectedly small. I didn’t see any other people there, but it seems that there was already someone inside, for there was a set of clothes in a basket at my feet. On closer inspection, I recognized the cargo pants in the basket. The person inside was most likely Satoshi.
I entered the bath house after taking off my clothes. The bathing area was made entirely of artificial rock so that it would look like a natural hot spring, and it was larger than I expected it to be. The water was white and cloudy, giving off the appearance of an actual hot spring, rather than normal hot water. The area was surrounded by a tall bamboo fence, so I couldn’t get a good view of Zaizen Village. Well, I guess it would be troubling if people could peek inside with a lower fence. I scooped some water using a bucket, poured it on myself, and quickly stepped into the bath.
The water temperature was just right. I made my way to the interior of the spacious pool and found that there was a large rock in the middle. I touched it, and it felt real.
I could see someone on the other side of the steam. It’s probably Satoshi. I raised a hand, and the figure languidly waved back. The person used breaststroke to swim, pushing his way through the water to get to me. During that time, I was leaning on the rock, and my whole body from the chin down was immersed in the water.
“Houtarou! You’ve come! This bath is great! It’s practically flowing through my body!”
“Getting your blood diluted with water is dangerous.”
“It’s something to do with osmotic pressure, right? How boring. Well, I guess it shows that you’re relaxing.”
With that, I kept quiet, while Satoshi also silently enjoyed the hot bath. I could hear the sound of someone getting into the water. That would probably be Chitanda.
It was evening. The soft rays of the sun slowly faded, as dusk noticeably fell over us. The stars started shining, and the warmth of the water gradually permeated my body, in proportion to the passage of time. I felt sleepy, probably because of that uncomfortable bus ride.
Before I knew it, Satoshi had left the bath to wash his body, while I was still drifting in the hot water.
My vision’s going dark…
I can’t move?
I really have to thank Satoshi for bringing me back to the room safely. If I had been alone, it would have been a case for the hospital, or even a matter of life and death. At the sight of me returning to Seizansou while being supported by Satoshi’s shoulder, Ibara shouted sharply.
“What happened, Oreki!”
I was in no state to reply. Satoshi answered in my place.
“He got dizzy from the hot water.”
“It’s kind of pathetic, really. He hadn’t even been there half as long as me, but when I turned around, he’d almost passed out.”
Ibara massaged her eyebrows.
“Oreki, you really…”
Thanks for worrying about me. I was carried into the room, while Ibara quickly laid out a futon and opened the window. I lay spread-eagled on the futon and breathed deeply.
“…Sorry about this, both of you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“You’re just so pitiful… it’s like you’re fated to never enjoy an event.”
With that, the two of them left the room. As Ibara had unnecessarily stated, I was seriously pathetic. I might not be what you would call a tenacious person, but I at least had some confidence in my physical capabilities. I was probably still sick from that bus ride.
As I lay sprawled on the futon with my eyes closed, someone came into the room. From the scent of the shampoo, I could immediately tell that it was Chitanda. She knelt down by the side of my futon and quietly spoke.
“Oreki-san… are you alright?”
“Should I bring a towel?”
A cold towel would certainly help me feel better, but I didn’t feel like asking for Chitanda’s assistance.
“No, it’s okay. Sorry for throwing cold water on your carefully planned trip.”
“It’s fine. Anyway, we’re going to tell ghost stories in a while. Would you like to join us?”
I smiled weakly. Isn’t that a really old-fashioned way of spending summer nights? I was somewhat interested, but it was impossible for me to participate in this state.
I opened my eyes to find Chitanda’s face to be much closer than expected. This young lady’s sense of personal space is lower than the average person’s. This is not the first or second time I’ve been startled by her. All I could see was her cherry-colored cheeks and her sparkling, wet hair. I instinctively looked away.
“Ah, I’ll just go to sleep.”
“I guess it can’t be helped. Hope you get better soon.”
The door closed, leaving only the smell of shampoo.
I checked my watch, and found that it wasn’t even eight.
I could hear some strange sounds coming in from the window. I thought for a while, and concluded that they were probably the croaking of frogs. There was also a taiko6 beating out a rhythm somewhere. Moreover, because we were on high ground, I could hear the chirping of insects, even though it wasn’t August yet.
After a short while, Rie’s suppressed voice reached my ears. It seems that the window next door is also open. I wasn’t paying much attention, but I could catch her words distinctly…
“You know that the inn is separated into the main building and the annex, right? Actually, we don’t need the annex. There is a secret as to why it was built.
“A long time ago, when my grandma was managing the inn, a gloomy customer came to stay. He was put in room seven in the main building. However, he told them, ‘I don’t need meals or room service. Just stay away.’ But he’d already paid in advance, and it was the busy season, so his conditions were accepted.
“Then, that night, a piercing scream echoed throughout the inn. Grandma was shocked and ran outside. The guests who were taking a stroll pointed at room seven and said that there was an indistinct shadow of a hanged man swaying in the breeze… It turned out that the customer had embezzled money from his company and run away.
“Ever since that incident, guests staying in room seven have been saying the same things. They say that there’s something in the room and that they see shadows at night. And the ninth guest to stay in that room suddenly succumbed to an unknown illness in the middle of the night!
“That’s why Grandma asked for an exorcism. However, she felt that alone wasn’t enough, so she had the annex built to stop bad rumors from spreading. You can see room seven right across from this window. It’s the room furthest in on the second floor. We live on the first floor, and we’re told to stay away from the second floor…
“This story is strictly confidential! Don’t talk about this in front of other customers, okay?”
I sniggered into my futon. That was seriously old-fashioned.
I wanted to sleep peacefully, so I somehow managed to move my uncontrollable limbs and crept out of my futon to close the window. I could tolerate the heat.
I thought I saw a shadowy figure in the courtyard while I was grappling with the window. However, I didn’t manage to confirm the existence of that figure, for I immediately slipped into the futon and slept soundly until morning.
I slowly opened my eyes. It was already eight, according to my watch. Wow, I’ve slept for about twelve hours. My head still hurts a little, but I don’t think it’s because I’m still dizzy from the bath, but because I’ve simply slept too much.
I suddenly noticed that Satoshi was sleeping right next to me. I was careful not to wake him up as I took care of my personal appearance. I went down to the first floor while steadily tapping the side of my head, which was still feeling a little fuzzy.
Rie and Kayo were already in the living room, but breakfast was not on the table yet. I was about to ask about Chitanda and Ibara’s whereabouts when both of them entered the room.
Ibara was acting strangely. She was clinging onto the sleeve of Chitanda’s dress. She then looked at us and said,
“It, it appeared…”
I observed that scene coolly. Just what appeared?
Ibara drew closer to Rie with a jerk and said in one breath,
“A warm breeze in the middle of the night woke me up. When I turned over, in the room across from ours, I saw the shadow of a hanged man vaguely swaying back and forth, like this!”
Haha, this is thoroughly old-fashioned… It’s pretty rare to see Ibara panicking like this, though. Too bad you’re not here to see this, Satoshi.
Kayo brought us some hot tea. I was about to take a cup when I noticed that it had Rie’s name on it, so I chose another one. I thought that Kayo would have also written her name on her cup, but I didn’t find such a cup.
Rie smiled and said,
“I didn’t know you were scared of stories like that, Maya-neechan!”
“It’s not that I’m scared of ghosts, and I don’t have a reason to detest them. But when you see something like that, it’s just so disturbing!”
Kayo, who was holding a teapot, stiffened.
“Maya-neechan, you saw it?”
“I saw it. I definitely saw it. I really saw it!”
“Onee-chan! You told them the story? Dad said not to tell anyone!”
“Oh, shut up. It’s fine, isn’t it? It’s only Maya-neechan.”
As Ibara and the Zenna sisters were talking excitedly about the ghost story, I turned to look at Chitanda, who was kneeling a little further away, and our eyes met.
Chitanda wore a troubled expression and looked like she was brooding over something. Based on past experience, she probably wanted to say something. I spoke softly,
“What’s the matter?”
“Er… What do you think of Mayaka-san’s story?”
“The hanged shadow, huh?”
“Well, these kind of standard, or you might say clichéd, stories live on because they’re an indispensable part of life. Just like that time…”
“Ah, never mind.”
I swallowed my words at the last moment. I almost said “Just like that time when Satoshi told his story about the Seven Wonders7.” That was also definitely classic, clichéd and old-fashioned. And of course, it also made use of the power of suggestion. However, I do not wish to dig up that story. Especially not in front of Chitanda.
Since I had unexpectedly stopped committing myself to my own words, Chitanda peered at my face curiously. This is bad, I thought, but thankfully, Chitanda’s interest was totally preoccupied with the hanged shadow.
“…So, do you think what Mayaka-san said is true?”
As I said that, Chitanda looked increasingly troubled and tilted her head in doubt.
“Then perhaps I’m mistaken as well.”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
For some reason she lowered her voice and whispered into my ear.
“I saw it too. The hanged shadow that Mayaka-san mentioned.”
It was at an unknown time. When Ibara woke up, Chitanda did too. She opened her eyes heavily, and she saw the shadow of a hanged man swaying in the dark.
“However, when I woke up, I was still feeling a little dazed. That’s why I thought I was mistaken, but if Mayaka-san said she saw the same thing…”
If it was only Ibara or Chitanda who saw it, then I could conclude that it was just a daydream. However, since both of them saw the same thing at the same time, I would not be able to deny the existence of the hanged shadow. I changed my mistaken theory and said,
“You probably just mistook something else for it. Like Satoshi was saying yesterday, ‘The ghost, when examined…'”
“…was just withered flowers?”
But Chitanda was not satisfied with that answer. Her gaze wandered to the ceiling, and then she looked me straight in the eye. Her eyes were filled with energy, showing that she had strong curiosity towards this mystery.
“If so, what exactly did I see?”
Before I knew it, Ibara was right behind us.
“That’s right. If you say that we mistook something else for it, then tell us what it was we saw. Isn’t it cowardly to deny what Chii-chan and I saw just because you didn’t see it?”
…Why did you have to call me a coward?
Chitanda and Ibara were staring at me fixedly. Based on past experience, now that it has turned out like this, it’s all too late to do anything.
“Of course, I will not ask Oreki-san to handle everything. Let’s investigate together!”
Chitanda forcefully declared without dropping her stare.
I did not reply, because I don’t like attempting the impossible, but I would at least have the privilege of acknowledging my situation with a sigh, right? As if dealing the final blow, Chitanda exclaimed,
After a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs, instant soup and vegetable consomme, we returned to the second floor. We passed Satoshi, who was going down the stairs. He didn’t know of the incident last night, but that’s no problem. He has a kaleidoscope of irrelevant knowledge, but I don’t think it would be useful for this case.
Ibara had promised to help Rie with her summer homework.
“Sorry for not being able to help. Good luck, I guess.”
“Leave it to us! We’ll discover the truth behind the mystery! Right, Oreki-san?”
Well, I can’t really say for sure.
In any case, if I have to do it, make it quick. I let Chitanda into my room, where I would be asking her for more details. There were two chairs and a small table near the window, so we took a seat there. Now, then…
“Did you see the hanged shadow in the room right across yours?”
I asked while opening the window and looking at the main building.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“How big was it?”
“My mind was quite hazy then, so I’m not really sure, but I think it should be approximately human-sized. As for the shape… I’m sorry, but I cannot remember. It was only after hearing Mayaka-san talk about the hanged shadow that I thought of it as the shadow of a person.”
Chitanda’s voice grew softer as she tried to recall last night’s events. It seems that she’s really not sure. To support her curiosity, Chitanda has exceptional powers of observation and memory, and for that to be unclear means that she must have been really tired last night. However, since I didn’t see a shadow or whatever it was, I could only rely on Chitanda’s memory, no matter how vague it is. I continued.
“What color was it?”
“I don’t know. It’s not because I cannot remember, but because it was just a shadow.”
I tried to imagine what Chitanda saw, but I couldn’t do it. The word “shadow” was just too vague.
“A shadow, huh. In other words, there was a light source, and you saw a human shadow against the light, right?”
“If what we saw was not a supernatural phenomenon, I think that would be correct.”
“A light source…”
I turned to look at the main building again.
“A light source at night would have been the moon…”
My own voice was filled with doubt.
“I think so too. The moon was quite large last night. But something seems… Ah.”
Chitanda, who was looking at the main building, raised her voice. That’s right. Whether it was the moon or a searchlight, a shadow could not have been formed. All the wooden shutters of all the rooms in the main building were closed.
“Chitanda, what time did you sleep?”
“Er, around ten. We were all tired, and I had promised to take a bath with Mayaka-san this morning, so we slept early.”
“What was the state of the shutters at that time?”
Chitanda thought for a while and answered.
“I think they were closed. I cannot say for sure, but the main building was pitch dark.”
If the shutters were closed, there couldn’t have been a shadow. This is becoming a hassle. I scratched my head. It’s troublesome, but we would probably have to go to the main building and take a look at room seven, where the shadow was seen.
Chitanda said with a grin,
“How nice! It’s just like a mystery! With these kind of pleasures, I’m glad we took this trip!”
You’re the only one enjoying this, though.
We could easily enter the main building by using the connecting walkway. However, there was a rope tied at the end of the passage, and there was a card with the words “People unrelated to the construction work are prohibited from entering” hanging down from the rope. Chitanda was really hesitant to duck under the rope. Well, I guess it would be bad if we somehow got into some trouble. We should probably seek permission from someone in the inn.
However, if we told the owners that we were investigating the hanged shadow, it would be bad for Rie, who had told us not to tell anyone else. If we want to get permission, we should approach one of the Zenna sisters.
As luck would have it, at the exact moment, Kayo passed by us. When I called her to stop, Kayo’s body stiffened in shock, but she relaxed when she saw Chitanda beside me.
“Yes, what is it?”
I turned to look at Chitanda.
“Please handle this.”
I’m bad with young, innocent kids.
“Okay. Kayo-san, we would like to enter the main building, is that alright?”
“The main building? Why?”
“I believe you heard it during breakfast, but we are investigating the hanged shadow that Mayaka-san and I saw. Could you please show us to room seven?”
I understand that honesty is a virtue and that you like approaching a problem head-on, but your phrasing probably needs some work, Chitanda. As expected, Kayo shook her head.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t right now. Onee-chan… will get mad at me.”
Well, it can’t be helped. Come to think of it, it would have been difficult to ask to enter someone’s house simply out of curiosity. I quickly gave up on physically examining room seven, and asked a question instead.
“Then at least tell us this. Is that room still used for guests?”
I had no ill intentions, but perhaps I said it too forcefully, as Kayo retreated a little and frowned. However, she still answered my question.
“No. Guests only use the bathroom and the dining hall in the main building.”
“The second floor is used for storage… Can I go now?”
“Thanks. You were very helpful.”
But Kayo turned tail and ran off somewhere before I could even complete my sentence. I folded my arms sadly.
“Looks like she doesn’t like me.”
But Chitanda just smiled upon seeing our exchange.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s just afraid of big men. That’s so cute! Ah, having a little sister would be great!”
She exclaimed ecstatically. Hm, cute, huh?
The sun was steadily rising, and it was getting hotter. I wiped my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand. Chitanda, however, with her superhuman resistance to heat, was unruffled.
“Is it a problem if we cannot enter room seven?”
“It’s not so much a problem as it is a hassle.”
I headed to the entranceway with Chitanda. Since we couldn’t examine the scene from inside, I intended to investigate from outside. I was leaning over to take off my shoes at the entranceway meant for both guests and the Zenna family, when Chitanda said excitedly,
“Ah, that brings back memories!”
What Chitanda had found was two radio exercise attendance cards placed near the shoe rack. One belonged to Rie, who had written her name in large letters, while the other, which had no name, probably belonged to Kayo. Rie’s attendance card was stamped sparsely for the start of the summer holidays, but was empty for the later part. On the other hand, Kayo seemed to be exercising every morning without fail.
Chitanda picked up the two cards.
“Morning radio exercises… I haven’t done these in two years!”
You continued doing this until the second year of middle school… Seriously?
I’ve never done this if you exclude the time when I was extremely young. When exactly did I set my heart on becoming an energy-saver?
We went out to the garden and were instantly surrounded by the humid air and the strong smell of greenery.
We looked up at where room seven was in the main building. The shutters were still closed. Chitanda invited me to look at the back of the building, and when I was heading there, I accidentally kicked up some water.
The muddy water that I had kicked up flew towards Chitanda’s feet and stained her shoes.
The ground was still muddy because the annex was blocking the morning sunlight. I thought that some of the water was contributed by the plants in the area, but that did not seem to be the case. I noticed that the areas with exposure to sunlight were almost dry, meaning that quite some time had passed after the ground became wet. I asked,
“Chitanda, did it rain last night?”
“Yes. I don’t know the exact time, but there was a passing shower.”
We went around the main building. It was my intention to examine room seven from the other side, but the shutters there were also closed. However, both the east and west shutters had to be open for a shadow to be formed.
As I crossed my arms, I noticed Chitanda also crossing her arms, as if she was thinking about something. I was about to ask her for her thoughts when the window in front of us opened and Kayo spoke.
“Um… It’s time for lunch.”
I checked my watch. Indeed, it was about to be noon. Time to take a break.
Lunch was chilled ramen, which was delicious. It’s not like we had to withstand high temperatures in this high ground, but I welcomed the refreshing taste. The six of us were sitting around the dinner table. Ibara asked a question while moving her chopsticks.
“So, did you find anything out?”
“No, not yet…”
I continued after Chitanda.
“We’re still just starting to look into it. I do have a theory, though.”
“Oh? Then let’s hear your theory.”
That would be quite difficult, for my thoughts on the matter were still vague and hard to grasp. I didn’t respond, but Satoshi grumbled with obvious displeasure.
“What are the three of you talking about? We’ve been together for so long, and you’re going to be so cruel as to leave me out of the loop?”
An exaggerated protest, as expected of Satoshi. I didn’t really want to spend time explaining it to him, so I responded with a question instead.
“Out of the loop or not, where did you go? I haven’t seen you all day.”
“You’re supposed to use a hot spring multiple times a day, whenever you feel like it.”
Is that how it works? I don’t think I’ll dare to go to a hot spring after last night’s incident.
I hadn’t even finished half my plate when two people clasped their hands in succession.
“Thank you for the meal.”
“Thank you for the meal.”
It was the sisters, Rie and Kayo. Rie took her own table ware and headed for the main building. Kayo followed suit after a brief moment. Chitanda smiled happily on witnessing that scene. Apparently she found it to be charming.
“It must be wonderful to have a sister. I sure envy those two.”
“Oh? Did you wish you had a sibling?”
“No, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I wish for one. Do you have any siblings, Fukube-san?”
Satoshi then started a discourse about his little sister. I’ve met her before, but she’s an arrogant oddball who doesn’t want to conform to society. The same can be said of my sister.
We finished lunch while talking about that topic. At that moment, Rie, who had gone to the main building, returned.
With a “Ta-da”, Rie appeared in a yukata. It wasn’t the kind of yukata worn after taking a wearisome, distasteful bath, but a yukata meant for parading around at firework festivals. It was a light blue that can be said to have the color of water, and the pattern of waves and plovers embroidered on it looked pretty cool. Rie seemed to be extremely proud of it.
“What do you think of my yukata?”
“Wow!” Chitanda cheered.
“Yeah, it suits you. You look really grown-up in it.”
Rie gave a huge smile upon being praised.
“My parents bought it for me at the start of the summer break because my grades improved. Let’s go to the fireworks festival tonight! I’ve been preparing so long for it!”
While the three of them were engrossed with the yukata, Satoshi took a sidelong glance at me and spoke in a voice that only I could hear.
“It does look good.”
Knowing Satoshi’s usual roundabout way of talking, I clearly understood what he was trying to say. I whispered back at him.
“Then what’s bad?”
“The obi8. The obi is like the life of a kimono, but that one’s an imitation.”
I looked at it again. The butterfly knot was certainly floating strangely, but Satoshi’s words seemed out of place.
“Why would it be radioactive?”
“I said ‘imitation’, not ‘mutation’… The butterfly knot is a separate part of the obi. It may be easy to fit on, but it’s not in my philosophy to call that a yukata.”
Who cares about your philosophy? It’ll be noticed by the experienced eye, but otherwise no one would be able to tell the difference. How stupid, I thought as I yawned and stretched.
It was at the moment.
I felt a presence. I turned back to look at the open sliding screen.
But I didn’t see anyone. That’s weird, I’m pretty sure I saw a human shadow flit by. Have I also been afflicted by the curse of the hanged shadow?
“What’s the matter?”
I ignored Satoshi’s question.
A human shadow, huh.
I left the room. It would be nice if I could find a room to calmly think. I noticed that Chitanda was following me. I wanted to tell her not to come, but and idea formed in my head. How about we go to yesterday’s bath house? I turned around and suggested this to Chitanda, who smiled and nodded.
On the way to the bath house, I stayed quiet and gathered my thoughts. Observing my state, Chitanda also kept silent.
The hanged shadow. That’s just a withered flower, a product of Ibara and Chitanda’s mistaken observations. It’ll be difficult, but they probably wouldn’t mind me declaring it to be so. However, something is missing…
We reached the open-air bath. Before we parted, Chitanda spoke.
“Let’s go back together.”
I couldn’t answer.
When I passed the counter and entered the changing room, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I understood the reason right away. It was because the placement of objects was exactly the same as last night. A set of clothes with a pair of cargo pants was placed in a basket by my feet. That would be Satoshi. But this was more mysterious than the hanged shadow. Wasn’t Satoshi still in his seat when we left? Did he use a teleporter?
When I entered the bathing area, Satoshi was already immersed in the water, as expected. I stayed outside the bath and stared at Satoshi, who noticed even though he did not see me clearly. He then turned around and accounted for his presence.
“Well, if you slide down the slope behind Seizansou, you come out right behind here.”
I was not at all surprised by that statement. It would indeed be Satoshi’s style to slide down a slope just for a shortcut.
I immersed myself in the bath. I wiped my head with a tower, trying to clear the haze from my brain, which did not seem to be working. For the annoying problems the Classics Club has encountered, or in other words the questions that Chitanda brought in, the solutions had to be accepted by Chitanda. But no matter how much I racked my brain, I couldn’t think of a way to explain the hanged shadow that would satisfy Chitanda.
The one thing missing was basically why. The true form of the shadow was not difficult to deduce, but if I couldn’t explain why it was there, then an adequate explanation to Chitanda was impossible. I did have something in mind, though.
I traversed my memory speechlessly for a while. Seeing that I didn’t stir an inch and perhaps thinking back to last night’s incident, Satoshi broke the silence.
“Houtarou? Did you seriously get dizzy again?”
Satoshi, huh? He just might know something. I tried asking him.
“Hey, were there any events last night?”
Satoshi was taken aback at the sudden question, but his original smile immediately returned.
“Last night’s highlight would definitely be you losing consciousness.”
“I’m really indebted to you, but I won’t repeat my thanks. Anything else?”
“Well, as you know, we were telling ghost stories last night. I had two flowers in each hand, with one flower to spare9.”
Flowers, huh. When all’s said and done, Chitanda would be the lotus flower and Ibara would be the thistle.
“No, I don’t mean private events. Do you know any official ones?”
“Hmm, I’m not that sure about official, since I’m not a resident here… Well, there was the summer festival. Couldn’t you hear the drums?”
I see, so there was something like that… Of course, there was a summer festival.
Satoshi would usually notice my satisfaction and would probably make fun of me. However, half his face was immersed in the water, and his eyes appeared drowsy and lacking in energy, so he didn’t notice anything. I would answer if he asked me a question, but it seems that Satoshi didn’t need to ask me anything. I got up from the bath.
I wore my clothes and went outside, but Chitanda hadn’t left yet. The hot and cool sensations helped me put my thoughts together while I waited. Before long, Chitanda came out, and we went off.
On the way back to the inn, I started a conversation with Chitanda.
“That hanged shadow you saw… was probably just a yukata on a hanger.”
Chitanda was shocked by the sudden answer. I waited for her to digest my words, then continued.
“It isn’t impossible to see the silhouette of a yukata as the shadow of a person, even if you aren’t drowsy. If it was not a ghost, it would have to be some sort of clothes shaped like a dress that was dangling from the ceiling, right?”
Chitanda was speechless for a moment, then tilted her head, indicating that she couldn’t accept that theory.
“But why would a yukata be there of all places? And it would be weird for someone to open the shutters specifically so we could see it hanging.”
“It wasn’t so you could see it.”
I took a fleeting glance at the sky.
“It was to dry it. The yukata was wet. The windows were open to let the wind in so it would dry faster.”
“The yukata was wet because it rained.”
“No, I mean why was it hanging in room seven?”
“So no one could see it being dried.”
“But we saw it!”
“No, it was to hide it from the rest of the family.”
It seems that I’ve made no progress. I scratched my head.
In a beat, I started explaining my theory from the very beginning.
“The one who hung the yukata up to dry was Kayo.
“Kayo was envious of Rie’s yukata and wanted to try it on. However, no matter how well the yukata fitted Kayo, it belonged to Rie, and I’m sure Rie wouldn’t lend it to her. Didn’t you notice? Rie wrote her name on her cup and radio exercise card, making sure everyone clearly knows what’s hers. She’s a possessive person. Furthermore, Kayo was afraid of Rie and couldn’t possible ask her to lend the yukata.
“But Kayo still wanted to wear it, so she secretly took it out. Fortunately for her, the obi was attached to the yukata, so she could put it on by herself. Also, since she’s a daughter of the inn owners, I’m sure cleaning up after wearing the yukata would be her forte. Anyway, she wore it to the summer festival last night, at around eight. Well, she must have enjoyed herself.”
“Kayo-san went to the summer festival? How do you know that?”
“I heard from Satoshi that there was a summer festival last night. As to why I know Kayo went there, it’s because I noticed someone leaving the house last night, before eight. Kayo wasn’t around for the ghost stories, right?”
This morning, Kayo was blaming Rie for telling the story of the hanged shadow. If they were together in the room when Rie was telling the story, Kayo wouldn’t have said it only in the morning. Moreover, according to Satoshi, there were only three girls in the room. In his words, he had two flowers in each hand, with one to spare.
“I guessed so. When Kayo was having fun in the festival, she ran into some trouble.”
Chitanda took a deep breath.
“It started raining.
“Based on the dryness of the ground, the rain probably abated after a short while, but the yukata was soaked. At that moment, Rie remembered that Kayo had planned to play with fireworks the next day. She knew that Rie was undoubtedly going to wear the yukata then. Kayo had to find a way to dry the yukata by then. She was probably scared stiff.
“However, if she dried it on the first floor of the main building, it might be seen by someone, and the annex was out of the question. She couldn’t use the dryer that late at night, either. So, Kayo waited for everyone to fall asleep, then she snuck into the second floor of the main building to dry the yukata, in the most distant room.
“But bad luck befell her again. With the windows open, the moonlight made it look like a hanged shadow to you and Ibara. Since the moonlight came from the west, it was after midnight, probably around three of four o’clock.
“And even worse, we began to look into the hanged shadow. Just now, at lunch, the two sisters quickly left the room. Rie wanted to show off her yukata, but Kayo… She probably felt like she was on a bed of thorns.”
I continued walking after explaining my theory. At that moment, I remembered Kayo stiffening at the sight of me. This must have been the reason. She must have been really frightened.
“Kayo returned the yukata in the morning. Quite early in the morning… For the exact time, you could check the radio broadcast schedule, since Kayo diligently participates in the morning exercise. She probably returned the yukata before that.”
“We should probably keep this from Ibara. If it was somehow leaked to Rie, Kayo would be in big trouble. You never know what could happen.”
Chitanda simply cast her eyes down speechlessly and continued walking.
While we were on that long, gentle slope, Chitanda eventually murmured without raising her head,
“But then… that would mean that those two don’t get along.”
That was a point I hadn’t considered. Ignoring my bewilderment, Chitanda continued.
“For those two who can’t even lend a yukata to each other, their relationship can’t be described as close at all.”
She said while giving me a faint smile. Her lips were curved, but her expression was one of sorrow. This is not the first time I’ve seen her like this.
I barely managed to open my mouth.
“Isn’t that pretty normal, for siblings? Like my sister…”
It seems that Chitanda didn’t hear my words. It was almost as if she was talking to herself.
“I’ve always wanted a sibling. A respectable older sister, or a cute younger brother…”
We walked on clad in our yukatas. Summer hadn’t ended yet. There were gigantic columns of clouds before our eyes, and it was somewhat disheartening to see them suddenly disappear.
As we caught sight of Seizansou, Chitanda finally continued her sentence.
“But I’m sure that I understood that the hanged shadow was no ghost. I probably also knew whether all siblings in the world were truly happy…”
I did not wish to hear more of this. Thankfully, Chitanda did not continue.
We slowly ascended the gentle slope which was surrounded by dense greenery. I knew it from the very beginning. The siblings that Chitanda mentioned were just like apparitions. When you observe closely, they turn out to be just withered flowers.
As the damp heat permeated my body, which had been in a hot bath a short while ago, I started sweating profusely. There was a figure on the hill who turned to face us. As we drew closer, the figure turned out to be Rie, who was waving vigorously.
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- Combination of Nessie and Hamana
- A kind of saltwater fish.
- This refers to Japan’s Warring States period, when many different warlords fought each other for territory and power.
- Nobunaga was a powerful warlord who started the unification of Japan during the Warring States period in the 16th century.
- Refers to Azai Nagamasa, a diamyo who was married to Nobunaga’s sister, Oichi.
- A Japanese drum.
- Refer to Story 1: If I Have to Do It, Make It Quick
- Obi is a sash tied at the back of a kimono.
- 両手に花 means to be flanked by two beautiful women, but I decided to be literal here because Oreki mentions flowers in his next sentence. You can probably deduce that Satoshi meant there were three pretty girls with him.
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