…Well, I might sound composed, but it didn’t last very long.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t get used to it.
Anyone would crack if a ‘white snake’ kept appearing — from your bag, from your pencil case, from your gym clothes, from the broom closet, and in the end, even from the gaps between textbooks and textbooks — to coil itself around you. Anyone would lose the will to fight.
Nadeko wasn’t surprised any more. Only tired.
This is just so exhausting. So annoying.
It feels like I am opening an entire row of jack-in-the-boxes one by one.
In its own way, being forced to endlessly open a serpentine line of boxes when you already know all the contents can be considered a kind of torture.
It’s a hallucination.
Nadeko thinks so.
Even though I thought I was doing all right, maybe going through this school life of melancholy left a deep mark in Nadeko’s heart, and now I am hallucinating a snake. After all, there was a very famous story of an exhausted comic artist hallucinating a white alligator.
(This is a reference to the 70s mangaka Eguchi Hisashi, who supposed hallucinated a white alligator when looking at a blank page and unable to come up with anything.)
But — if it wasn’t just a hallucination…
If this is one of ‘those’ again…
…I didn’t even want to think about it.
As the specialist, Oshino Meme-san said, ‘He who has suffered the aberrant is drawn to it’, so apparently, if you ever get involved with abnormalities, even just once, it becomes much easier for you to become involved with them again.
Nothing like that has happened to Nadeko since June — but maybe this will finally be the first.
My first, so in other words, my second time.
Nadeko is scared, I think.
But Nadeko is ready.
I have always wondered when this day would come — in fact, it would have been scarier if nothing had happened at all.
It could just be that ‘something is going on‘ is better than ‘something might be‘.
Staying alert all the time only increases your stress.
That’s something Nadeko learns everyday from school, in that classroom.
Well, not that it means Nadeko actually has any sort of idea on how to deal with this.
In fact, the last time I tried to study on it and deal with the problem by myself with my superficial understanding (if it can be called that, I only pulled something off the shelf at a bookstore and stood there reading it for a while), Nadeko ended up making the situation even worse.
It might have been fine if I had just left it alone.
But because I hadn’t — it ended horribly.
It was a horrible experience.
Which is why I waited until classes ended to call Koyomi Onii-chan on the school’s public phone, and told him the details.
I did as he had told me before.
If you ever get involved with abnormalities again, call me right away.
So I called him.
“A snake…? A snake, huh…”
But Koyomi Onii-chan honestly didn’t seem to have much of a reaction.
It may be that, since Nadeko has already gotten used to being surprised by it, and so didn’t have much urgency in my tone — I should have called him when I first (thought I) saw the white snake in the cupboard.
That was actually the only time Nadeko was really ‘shocked’.
“Is it the snake from before?”
“No… I don’t think so. It’s, different.”
I couldn’t really explain it.
Please don’t look down on me. I just can’t speak well, not even to Koyomi Onii-chan.
I am always on the verge of breakdown whenever I talk. Even when I do it with my parents.
“The snake from before was… how should I put it… well, we couldn’t see it, right? But, the snake this time, I did actually see it… um, I didn’t see it the first time, but I did…”
Nadeko knew that I was being incoherent, even more so than usual, but Koyomi Onii-chan listened patiently all the same.
Koyomi Onii-chan is a very strong-willed person.
“It hasn’t actually hurt you so far, right? Again, it’s not like last time, when it was coiled around your body — ”
“N-No, it hasn’t.”
Naeko quickly nodded, affirming this.
Now Nadeko is acting like a snake, too. I laughed before I could hold myself back.
I told him because I thought then he wouldn’t worry, but I get the feeling that it had the opposite effect. Though you wouldn’t know it from the expression in his eyes, it’s actually very easy to read what Koyomi Onii-chan is feeling on his face, but I could clearly see what he was thinking over the phone.
Well, I actually couldn’t, of course, since we were talking over the phone. Nadeko really can’t word things very well.
Nadeko’s head doesn’t work very well.
How should I explain this? That is, how I was left with such a confusing situation?
Was Nadeko being left behind?
“From a gap somewhere, or some space that was shut tight before, places like that… it just suddenly shows up.”
“Huh… so basically, the snake suddenly shows up in places it hasn’t been seen before. Well, I guess snakes are ‘crawlers’, after all. You could say they don’t like bright spaces — ”
Koyomi Onii-chan considered my words, and made a sound like he realized something.
” — Maybe it’s the ‘scaring’ kind of abnormality? They just exist to surprise people without any particular meaning to it…”
“R-Really? Are there really ones like that? They just exist to surprise people…?”
Like the Noppera-bou from the legends? Well, from what I remember, the Noppera actually had a fairly sad origin. I think I read about it when I was researching for the last time.
“Well, spectral transformations in general are born from trying to give a reason, to explain the unexplainable… and you can’t really explain why people get scared by things, can you? So it’s no different from something going ‘boo’ from the shadows. Abnormalities and surprises just go hand in hand.”
Koyomi Onii-chan said.
He sounded like he really knew what he was talking about, like an expert.
He’s so cool…
Of course, I know that he is just quoting word-for-word Oshino-san or Hanekawa-san, or maybe even that blonde vampire girl, but even taking that away, I still think he is great.
…Though I do question myself that, if you took that away, what else would be left in him.
“But… Nadeko wasn’t surprised at all, except for that time with the cupboard.”
“This occurred to me before, but Sengoku… you’re pretty strong, aren’t you? I mean, mentally.”
I think Nadeko is weak.
“Well, I’m pretty sure a snake suddenly coming out of nowhere would get me every single time. And I would probably make a really awesome reaction to it each time.”
“Yeah, that would be awesome!”
“…Uh, not really… well, anyway…”
Koyomi Onii-chan became quiet.
“Right, well… it’s not like all snakes are poisonous. There are some harmless ones, too. Hmm…”
It’s just that things didn’t work out so well against the Severed Snake Rope last time — he said.
It… didn’t? What didn’t work out?
I thought that Koyomi Onii-chan had saved me that time without leaving a single loose end…
“Can you think of any reason for this?”
“I guess you can say, the cause behind this hallucination of a white snake appearing so many times around you… I mean, if you remember doing something that would cause this.”
“Remember doing something…”
But Nadeko couldn’t think of anything.
So, unable to think of anything,
Nadeko said this.
“Huh… they say that all abnormalities must have its own fitting reasons but, well, I guess it’s a bit different in your case — just like last time.”
“For now, if it’s not urgent, we can wait until tonight.”
“That’s when Shinobu wakes up — she’s been living by very proper standards lately. Well, by lately, I mean the last two months or so.”
“Oh… and why is that?”
“Well, a while back, she made a really big mistake… she made something really bad happen. Actually, over half of it is also my fault, but Shinobu is really taking it hard, so she’s feeling down. She even spoke politely to me for a while.”
Nadeko didn’t know what happened, but basically, this excessive depression of hers made her decide to try and live life properly. Of course, she is a vampire, so maybe it is a kind of irony that ‘proper living’ for her meant sleeping at day and going out and about at night.
“Although Shinobu didn’t help us when we were dealing with the Snake Rope — actually, I don’t think I have any choice but to accept her help this time.”
As a matter of fact, at that point in time, Oshino Shinobu-san did not get along very well with Koyomi Onii-chan, so it really was less of her not helping us and more that we never actually asked for her help.
Nadeko doesn’t really know her very well, but it’s good news that Koyomi Onii-chan has managed to reconcile with her.
That’s the Koyomi Onii-chan I know.
“Um… Shinobu… Shinobu-san can eat abnormalities, right?”
That is the kind of vampire she is, apparently.
The Slayer of Abnormalities, I think?
“So, will she able to… eat, the white snake Nadeko saw?”
“It depends — but it’s not like we can solve problems like this just by getting everything eaten every time. What we really need is actually her knowledge. What she inherited from Oshino, information that only a specialist would know. And hey, if she still says she’s hungry after that, I just have to feed her some Mister Donuts. Fresh from my mouth.”
Wait. ‘Fresh from my mouth’?
No, he must have said ‘freshen my mouth’ and I misheard somehow.
What did he eat, though?
(Nadeko heard 口移し kuchi-utsushi, ‘mouth to mouth’ and thought she misheard 口直し kuchinaoshi, ‘palette cleanser’. I tried.)
“She’s really into baked doughnuts now, by the way. I guess you could say she never misses new kinds of donuts, to put it nicely. Well, when it comes to knowledge, we really should be relying on Hanekawa instead — but she isn’t here right now, anyway.”
“Not here? What… what happened to Hanekawa-san?”
Sorry for the late introduction. Hanekawa-san is in the same school year as Koyomi Onii-chan and a friend of his.
He also said he owes his life to her.
Nadeko haven’t met her that many times, but just a quick meeting with her would make you think, ‘oh, she’s different, isn’t she’. That’s the kind of person she is.
She’s different in every way.
It scared me so much that I ran away when I first met her — Koyomi Onii-chan apparently thinks that episode was because Nadeko is shy towards strangers. Nadeko might be shy, but not so much that I would escape from someone I just met.
Actually, Nadeko would probably just freeze up and keep on looking down, no matter how scary the other person was, because dealing with the consequences would be even scarier.
Running away would have been a very bold decision.
Nadeko shouldn’t have able to do it.
Even so, that time — when Nadeko only stared straight ahead and ran, when Nadeko escaped without ever turning back — yes,
it was because of Hanekawa-san.
It was something I could feel by my skin.
Nadeko isn’t sure how to put it — it was something that completely changed the temperature around me — like her body heat.
The warmth of her skin.
A heat — something you could feel through the air even without touching.
Nadeko felt like she was watching a fire.
…Afterwards, I found out that Hanekawa-san is a very nice person, so I am not as afraid of her any more, but it is no mistake that she is ‘different’ — Koyomi Onii-chan only mentioning her name was enough to make me jump.
I asked, ‘what happened’.
But I really meant, ‘what did she do’ — I should apologize for that.
“Nothing, really. She’s just out on a trip right now.”
I tilted my head at the unexpected word. ‘Trip’?
“But, there’s school.”
“Yeah, but it’s absence with leave…”
“She gets paid?!”
Nadeko was shocked.
Do high schools have a system like that?
Wait, does this mean that rumor about Hanekawa-san being paid to go to school was true? — She’s terrifying.
“Ah, no, I don’t mean that, I meant she applied for leave… she’ll be on travelling for about a month. Well, it’s not like she plans on continuing her education or getting a job, so there’s no reason for her to care about the attendance record, but I guess, seeing as my Hanekawa is an honest girl, so she did went through the whole process…”
“Hmm… but, a trip? Where is she going?”
“Around the world.”
“Around the world?!”
Nadeko was shocked again.
But this shock was different from the last one — after all, wasn’t Hanekawa-san supposed to ‘see the world’ after graduation, since she won’t be going to university or finding a job?
I did hear that, apparently, Oshino-san’s lifestyle resonated with her, though Nadeko didn’t really understand what that meant — but, this?
Going around the world?
“So… she left earlier than planned?”
“No, no. She’s going to see the world after she graduates, so first she has to go now, while she’s still in school, to practise while she still has a clear-cut position like ‘high schooler’.”
She really is no ordinary person.
Who would have thought that she would actually scout out the world before going out to see it…? Though I suppose this means my guess wasn’t completely wrong.
“It’s like a rehearsal… well, she has her cell phone, so it’s not like we can’t contact her, but I really don’t want to worry her while she’s out of the country.”
This concern that Koyomi Onii-chan showed for Hanekawa-san was a bit different from him showing reserve. Nadeko can feel it — normally, he would call her even when there was nothing he needed her for.
In fact, he preferred not to call her when he did need her.
It’s an odd way of keeping his distance.
“So… at night, then?”
“Yeah. Wait for me at home — I’ll call you. Uhh… Shinobu wakes up at around ten at night… so it should be then.”
“…Okay… got it.”
Nadeko nodded at Koyomi Onii-chan’s suggestion.
Tonight at ten o’clock. I had no plans for anything, naturally.
There are some shows I wanted to watch on TV, but I can just record them on the HDD.
“If anything happens before then, call me — I don’t think I can do anything, but at least I can stay with you.”
Does that mean, beside me?
“Okay… thank you. But, I think I’ll be fine.”
I won’t be afraid of any snake, as long as Koyomi Onii-chan is there to save me.
Besides, I just have to keep an eye on any gaps or shadows, and even if anything happens, at worst I will just be ‘scared’.
“Okay, then. Ten o’clock. I’m looking forward to it.”
Koyomi Onii-chan’s voice became low.
What? Nadeko also thought.
Although mine was different in meaning and tone.
Oh, no. I shouldn’t have said that.
“Hey, Sengoku — are you all right? ‘Looking forward to it’…? What are you saying? You’re having a problem right now, aren’t you?”
Nadeko became quiet.
I couldn’t think of what to say.
I couldn’t think — of an excuse.
“You sure you don’t want me to come over right now? It sounds like you’re really confused — seriously, what you said just now, that can’t be right. I mean, looking forward to doing stuff with abnormalities…”
“N-No, that’s not what I meant…”
Nadeko can feel Koyomi Onii-chan worrying on the other end — I’m so sorry.
But, in the end, I could not think of anything to say, and only apologized.
It was a bad habit of Nadeko’s, apologizing when at a loss for words — either not saying a word, or saying sorry.
Nadeko only knows how to do this when troubled.
This is the only way Nadeko can live.
“It’s not good, you know, just apologizing and trying to get it over with when you’re in trouble — ‘if apologizing were enough, we wouldn’t need the police’. The meaning of that expression is much deeper than most people think.”
Those were words given to me by that exceptional girl, Hanekawa-san.
It really made me gasp and realize something.
But I never made good on what I realized.
Feeling moved by some great words of advice doesn’t actually mean that those words can change your life, I guess.
“I’m sorry… Koyomi Onii-chan.”
“Um, no, it’s nothing to be sorry about…”
“It’s okay. I’m all right… um, night, then. L-Let’s say… ten, o’clock.”
“Hold on, Sengoku — ”
“M-My phone card is running out. W-Wow, it’s calling out, really loud. It’s beeping.”
Nadeko put down the receiver.
My phone card (It was a special from an Animate purchase. Koyomi Onii-chan yelled at me once for it. “You’re actually gonna use it?!”) came out, with half its minutes still unused.
I managed to leave trouble behind this time… well, that’s a bit harsh, since Koyomi Onii-chan was only worried even when I accidentally said something he could have been angry about. It’s terrible of me to think of that as ‘leave trouble behind’.
Still, that was a horrible slip of the tongue.
So horrible that it made all the words slip from my mind.
‘Looking forward to it’ — it just flowed out of me, something that I truly felt but absolutely should not have said.
It’s just that,
To have another chance with Koyomi Onii-chan — to have another adventure involving abnormalities, made me feel joy, somewhere in my heart.
Nadeko is so excited.
To be saved by Koyomi Onii-chan.
When I see the white snake — maybe I didn’t feel surprise after the first time because, more than fear, more than shock, the first emotion I felt became happiness.
‘Now I can discuss this with Koyomi Onii-chan.’
I was always thinking about this, probably always waiting for a chance like this.
…This is so embarrassing. But it’s how I really feel.
Sengoku Nadeko wishes to be saved by Koyomi Onii-chan — just like that time.
While truly feeling shame for taking advantage of Koyomi Onii-chan’s kindness like this — truly worried that I had exposed my true feelings to Koyomi Onii-chan,
I reached out for my phone card.
When I did, a white snake appeared again, from the underside of the card — I wasn’t surprised any more, of course, but it did suddenly come out from nowhere, and I pulled back my hand out of reflex.
As I did, my hand hit the phone, and the receiver dropped from its hook — the cord bounced and bounced, shrinking and stretching. Just like a snake, actually.
During that short distraction, the white snake already disappeared.
“Oh… now that I think about it, I forgot to ask Koyomi Onii-chan about Ougi-san…”
Nadeko reached out for the receiver as these unrelated thoughts crossed my mind.
“But, what is going on, really…?”
It’s all so strange.
Every abnormality has its fitting reasons — but again, Nadeko just can’t think of anything that would have to do with this —
“Oh, you can’t be serious, Nadeko-chan — eh?”
The voice — the voice, from the unhooked receiver, said.
No, of course not.
I already took out my phone card, and I already hung up once — and besides, the voice I heard sounded nothing like Koyomi Onii-chan.
How should I put it?
It was a voice that sounded like it had no trace of kindness or concern left — just unreasonable, and violent.
“You’re saying you don’t remember? — That just breaks my heart, it does. Brats like you who don’t realize the things you’ve done are the worst, really — you have no idea what it is you’ve been stepping on to keep yourself alive.”
“…W-Who is this…?”
I put my face close to the receiver, and spoke out.
Nadeko was so shaken that my voice probably shook, but I had to ask.
When the voice spoke like that — like it blamed Nadeko,
Nadeko couldn’t stay quiet.
“W-What are you — ”
But there was no reply.
In its place — as a reply, a white snake appeared.
Many white snakes appeared.
From inside the receiver, from the many small holes of the speaker and the mouthpiece, like so many jelly worms, came many white snakes —
“Aahhhhhhh — !”
How can Nadeko not scream?
The snakes weren’t the problem, but the grosteque imagery of it — if this was an animated adaptation, it would definitely be cut.
And of course, it was a hallucination.
By the time Nadeko backed away from the public phone — they had vanished.
“Come to Kitashirahebi Shrine, Nadeko-chan.”
From the receiver, now devoid of snakes, a voice came.
I shouldn’t even able to hear it from this distance — I shouldn’t be able to hear this voice.
What is going on?
I’m not just seeing things. Now I can hear voices.
What’s happening to Nadeko?
Leaving Nadeko in her confusion, the imaginary voice continued.
“Once you’re there, I’ll let you know all about it — just what you’ve been stepping on to stay alive.”
“There’s no such thing has a victim in this world. Only those who victimize — bastards dreaming up some wild fantasy to keep on deluding themselves.”