The story dated back to one thousand years ago.
…Was that dating back too much?
Of course, eheheh.
Actually, I didn’t know much of what happened a thousand years ago — besides, I only had Kuchinawa-san’s word to take for it, and I doubted if they possessed any truth.
Having the word “possess” in the phrase gave it a litle mystique, but that’s a different topic.
You couldn’t just take in whatever Kuchinawa-san said — or, in this case, swallow it whole like a snake.
I wasn’t too interested in what happened a thousand years ago anyway.
That was why we would only go back as far as my own experiences did — basically, to the day I met Kuchinawa-san.
Then, the story would possess some truth.
At least, it would to Nadeko.
No matter how much of my memory was wrong, and in fact quite a bit was, there were still things in this world that could not be forgotten even if you wanted to, could not be covered over even with a lie, and my meeting with Kuchinawa-san was something like that.
it was dragging along a snake from the past — a snake that was once wrapped around Nadeko.
Dragging on — like how Nadeko had always dragged along her primary schooler ways of thought.
Now then, the date was Tuesday, the 31st of October — which did make it Halloween, but to be honest, I wasn’t very familiar with the event.
I didn’t really know what kind of day it was.
Oshino Meme-san, who was once the authority (what did ‘authority’ mean? Was it something like ‘almighty’?) on spectral transformations in this town,
“It’d be best if Halloween and Thanksgiving became more ingrained in this country. Seeing as how big Christmas has gotten.”
had said this, but I didn’t really know what Thanksgiving really was, either.
But I did think giving thanks was important.
I was thankful for Oshino-san.
And for Kanbaru-san, and for Koyomi Onii-chan.
I was thankful for them.
If it weren’t for them, Nadeko wouldn’t be able to enjoy these halcyon days — ‘halcyon’?
In fact, maybe what they really taught me back in June was that there was no such thing as peace and quiet in this world.
They existed only on the television.
Was’t there a comic strip series called that?
It was funny.
Even as I thought of how wonderful it would be to live like that, I knew that it was impossible in my reality.
It would be impossible for Nadeko’s school.
As a matter of fact, the morning of the thirty-first was one of melancholy — well, it wasn’t just that day.
All mornings were of melancholy.
All roads to school were of melancholy, to be exact — whether it was the thirty-first, the thirtieth or the first.
Whether it was October or September or November — it would still be the case.
There were no roads to school without melancholy.
Not since that day.
Not since June.
For example, April was not like this.
Even May might have been like this.
The notorious swindler, Kaiki Deishuu, had come to this town chasing after the rumors of the vampire Oshino Shinobu-san, so he might have aready begun to prepare around April or May — but in any case, it was only from June onwards that he had a definite effect around here, including in Nadeko’s case —
“Whoa, look o-!”
As I walked alongside melancholy, keeping up a decent speed so I would make it to school with time to spare, I turned a corner and found a bicycle speeding at me.
A bicycle. Technically, a motorless light vehicle.
It wasn’t one of those ladies bike with a basket in the front like Koyomi Onii-chan would ride (judging from that, he apparently had no preferences whatsoever when it came to bicycles) but a stylishly designed BMX.
Nadeko couldn’t move for a moment, oh, so now Nadeko was going to be run over, Nadeko might need to go to a hospital for broken bones, it looked like it would be quite painful, but then Nadeko wouldn’t have to go to school for a while, maybe Koyomi Onii-chan would come and visit, Nadeko would have to prepare some pretty pajamas for him to see — and so on and so worth. Visions of how Nadeko would act in the pending future spun round and round in my head, but then, the bicycle rider,
“I — got it!”
twisted the handlebar onto a reckless course.
The front wheel and the frame formed a ‘T’.
It might have been too late for the brakes, but mechanically, this was the same as slamming the bike into a wall.
Actually, if the rider had just turned the handle slightly, the bike probably would have missed me, as I was so small — so the rider must have been desperate, as well.
The front wheel stopped, but the back wheel still drove it on.
And it leaped.
In the end, the bike passed over… no, skimmed slightly along Nadeko’s head, and avoided me.
L-Eap! would have been the title if this was a comic strip.
After that, bike and rider rolled along the asphalt like a pinwheel — but in any case, Nadeko didn’t get any broken bones, not even a scratch.
I did turn pale, though.
…It was over in an instant, but it was the biggest scare of my life — the scariest experience. Well, ghosts and monsters were scary, but emotional fears could be instantly overcome by the actual, real fear of a traffic accident.
And it was only for a moment, but I forgot my melancholy as well.
“Are… Are you okay?!”
Suddenly realizing the situation, Nadeko rushed over to the side of the fallen bike in the middle of the road — of course, I wasn’t worried about the damage to the bike, but the girl caught under it.
It was a girl.
Under traffic laws, the rider who flew out without checking both ways first would probably be at fault here, but Nadeko was distracted too — in any case, it still worried me.
Naturally, because there was someone lying on the ground. She only really fell off her bike, but even an accident like that could be serious if she had hit her head.
Should Nadeko call for an ambulance?
But Nadeko didn’t have a cell phone.
Not to mention that there were fewer and fewer phone booths in the city recently, so if I wanted to call for help, I would have to run up to one of those houses over there — oh, but, Nadeko couldn’t possibly talk to total strangers.
Then I should go home and —
” — I’m okay!”
When I arrived at her side, the top half of the girl suddenly raised, like there was a spring under her. Well, the force was like that of a spring, but it reminded me more of a zombie — after all, I didn’t see her move at all up until then.
It was just like — how Koyomi Onii-chan always died.
‘Always died’. That’s some expression.
“Are you hurt, Sengoku-chan?”
The girl said, facing this way.
It was a very fresh smile. Extraordinarily likeable.
But Nadeko felt only fear for that smile — after all,
“Hmm? What’s wrong, Sengoku-chan? I did try my best to avoid you, but did I really hit you? Maybe a strand of your hair? Sorry if that’s the case, then, Sengoku-chan — ”
Nadeko couldn’t get the words out. Well, Nadeko was shy and didn’t like strangers, so I would react like this to pretty much anyone trying to talk to me — but today, facing this girl, it was even more difficult than usual to speak.
Nadeko was unnaturally afraid.
“Wh-Why do you, know…”
“Why do you know… Nadeko’s… name…?”
The girl’s eyes widened.
Her smile was just as likeable as before, but — it was clear that she was stumbling.
How should I put it? It felt like her expression was showing the words, ‘now I’ve done it’.
“Oh, that’s right!”
The girl said, and looked up at the sky.
“Ah, no, Sengoku-chan didn’t know me yet!”
“Ah, geez… I messed up the order… it’s all because I couldn’t really find Hachikuji-chan… she’s just so irregular. Talk about trouble. Oh, what should I do now — ”
Saying this, the girl stood up, and pulled up her fallen bike as well.
And then, for the sake of appearances,
“Nice to meet you, little girl! You’re a cute one!”
It was so long overdue, it’s painful.
Although her bravery was commendable.
“My name is Oshino Ougi!”
Oshino? Oshino… wait.
Oshino Meme — Oshino Shinobu.
No, that wasn’t it.
She said she was Oshino Ougi.
It was the first time I’d heard that name before — did they just happen to have the same family name?
“Uh, how should I cover this up? I just have to bring up Araragi-senpai with her, right? Right, um, Sengoku-chan, I heard about you from Araragi-senpai. I mean, you can tell from my uniform, right? I’m an underclassman of Araragi-senpai. And of Kanbaru-senpai too. An underclassman, not an understudy. I’m a first-year at Naoetsu High.”
Her words were a mess.
A mishmash, even.
Nobody would be able to say anything if they were dealing with a girl like this.
But Koyomi Onii-chan’s underclassman?
Not his understudy.
And Kanbaru-san’s underclassman — well, now that she mentioned it, the uniform she was wearing did belong to Naoetsu High where the two of them attended.
Even I thought I was being stupid.
With just that, I managed to calm down a bit. Once I knew she went to the same school as Koyomi Onii-chan, even this girl, who could not place any further higher on the list of Class-A Suspicious Persons, seemed a bit trustworthy. I really was stupid.
Of course, I only thought that, but my attitude on the outside didn’t really change.
As always, I hesitated and kept my eyes down.
And I didn’t say anything.
If I kept quiet like this, whoever was on the other side would get tired eventually, say something like, ‘forget it’, and walk off to somewhere else. They would always emulate the same pattern.
It was the pattern,
“Oh, this isn’t working — ”
but the girl — looked at the sky some more.
She didn’t say, ‘forget it’ and she didn’t walk off.
She just continued to bemoan.
“Guess I messed up right at the beginning. Ah, well, Sengoku-chan’s case is basically just a side-story anyway. Not like it’d end up like Tsubasa-senpai over at the Hanekawa place — uh,”
Ougi-san held out her right hand to Nadeko.
“I’m Oshino Meme’s niece.”
“I heard about you from my uncle too… that you were a victim. Well, you did get involved with Kaiki-san, but really, it’s rare to have someone purely be a victim when dealing with abnormalities.”
However, Ougi-san said.
While giving a bright smile.
“People can’t live on as victims forever, you know, Sengoku-chan — it’s only a matter of when you are a victim, and when you are a victimizer. Or do you really still think that you’re just a victim?”
“No feedback, huh.”
Ougi-san shrugged. As though this was fun.
“Looking down like that, shutting up and not saying a word might just really have let you keep going as a victim — but I wonder if that’ll go so well this time.”
“This time — might be an exception, you know.”
“It’s fun being a victim, isn’t it? Everyone’s all kind and sympathizes with you. Well, there’s also this term called ‘victim blaming’, but maybe what it’s really saying is, ‘victimizers are victims too’ — my uncle probably didn’t like that train of thought but, well, it’s quite possible that oftentimes, in our world, there are nothing but victims. And if you flip that around again, maybe Sengoku-chan wasn’t quite just a pure victim, not even from the start — and perhaps, this will be this story that reveals it all.”
“Oh, wait, Sengoku-chan, you’re not saying you think you’re living a life that had no prospects of ever becoming an actual story, are you?”
See you around.
Ougi-san straddled her bike — it looked like there was nothing mechanically wrong with it even after the fall — stepped on the rattling pedals and, with some slight acrobatics, rode off to somewhere else.
It was as usual.
That’s what it made Nadeko thought.
Nadeko couldn’t speak very well, so the other side just got tired and went away — that was as usual.
She didn’t say, ‘forget it’ but the result was as usual.
An emulation of the pattern.
There was nothing to be surprised about.
There shouldn’t have been.
although there wasn’t anything to be surprised about — Nadeko did feel something was slightly out of place. Only very slightly.
So very slightly that I would probably forget it by tomorrow and never recall it again.
Mysteriously, even though Nadeko hadn’t planned on talking for a long time, by the time I realized it — by the time I looked at my watch, quite a lot of time had passed.
How could I express this?
It was like the time was stolen away.
Nadeko didn’t think the conversation with Ougi-san was so enjoyable that I’d forget about the time — so, why?
One day, it seemed, I must talk to her again — I wondered why I felt that way, though.
In fact, looking from the ending, that chance might as well never come — after all, before the matter of whether I would meet her again or not ever became an issue,
Koyomi Onii-chan and Nadeko would already be in a battle to the death.