Chapter 2:

悪夢 Nightmare

Head Games with Hyouka

Classes went on without incident- a relief, considering just who Hyouka was stuck sitting in front of. Yuji Tanihara did not utter a single word, nor attempt to disturb her in any other way.

Perhaps the years of absence had made him lose interest in such things.

She could only hope so.

However, news of the albino transfer student had spread around the school like a wildfire, especially during lunchtime and throughout the daily cleaning period. Apparently, she had already made quite an impression on her peers without much effort or desire on her part.

“Hyouka Morikawa-san!” A voice interrupted her contemplative state.

The girl glanced up from the desk she was cleaning, a small group of students clustering around her. She vaguely recognized a few as her own classmates, while others were entirely unfamiliar.


"I’m Koumi Harune of the Newspaper Club.” The same girl introduced herself. “You’ve become a pretty hot topic around school today. Mind if we interview you? It won’t take too long.”

Hyouka blinked. While her exotic appearance did tend to stir up gossip, it had never prompted something quite so ridiculous before.

“I suppose not.” The girl inwardly sighed.

"Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way- are you real?”

“Yes, I am.” She replied monotonously. “I was born albino- there's nothing more to it.”

“Straight to the point I see...” Harune was quick to jot something down on her phone. “That’s been the main question of interest so far.”

“I imagined as much.”

“Why did you transfer to Inukami?”

“I moved.”

“Is that related to your condition in any way?” Harune pressed for a less evasive answer.

“No.” Her eyebrow twitched in discontent.

“What about fame?!” Another girl piped up. “Did you move to get a fresh start where no one knows you?!”

“No. I’m not famous.” Hyouka deadpanned, staring at her. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen you in Kyoto on a class trip last year!” She quickly opened a book she had been holding, flipping through the pages before turning it towards her. “Good thing they keep these in the library!”

It was a travel book about Kyoto. In a section about the Gion District was information on the Yasaka Hall Corner Theatre, followed by several photos of traditional performers. Under an image of a kabuki production was a photo of a young girl onstage. Dressed in an elegant red kimono, a matching fan partially obscured her face, though her long ponytail was snow white.

“That’s you, isn’t it?! You’re the White-Haired Dancer! A local celebrity!”

“...Yes.” Hyouka sighed, crossing her arms. “What about it?”

“It definitely makes for a bigger scoop.” Harune was furiously typing on her phone. “Great find, Otani-san.”


Hyouka shook her head, turning away and vigorously scrubbing away at a desk, trying to suppress the irritation that was building up inside.

However, the Newspaper Club continued to interview her.

"A lot of students seem to find you charming!” Otani remarked. “Did you know that?”

“Oh?” She kept her back to them, busying herself with the menial task.

“Yeah, it’s almost like having a foreigner with blonde hair and blue eyes, but even more exotic!” A boy from her class chimed in. “Being tiny with a classy personality is so cute...”

“And you’re famous!” Otani held the book up again, still starry-eyed. “You’re the White-Haired Dancer!”

“Can I touch it?” The boy eagerly leaned forward, reaching towards her hair.

Hyouka whirled around, lifting her hand and striking his wrist. The slap seemed to echo throughout the classroom.

“No thank you.” Her stare bore into him. “Please keep your hands away from me. I don’t know where they’ve been.”

“O-Oh...” His eyes were wide, and his cheeks were flushed as he awkwardly recoiled. “Sorry for asking...”

“I think that’s enough questioning.” Hyouka announced coldly, reaching for her school bag.

“Aw, Morikawa-san!” Otani offered an apologetic smile. “Don’t be like that! We have just a couple more things to ask, and then we’ll be off!”

“Souda-kun didn’t mean any harm!” A different boy spoke up in his defense. “He apologized too!”

"Apology accepted. Now would you stop bothering me?” She replied haughtily.

“What’s up with you?” Harune scowled at her. “You’re being stuck-up.”

“Giving the cold-shoulder for no reason!” The boy agreed.

“Yeah, do you think you’re too good for us?”

“No.” Hyouka's eyes narrowed, though her face remained rather indifferent. “I just have no patience for gossip. Don’t include me in your newspaper- I want nothing to do with it.”

Murmuring and scoffing amongst themselves, the club dispersed from around Hyouka, finally leaving her in peace.

Yuji watched the girl from the back of the classroom, stunned by the shift in her personality.

While it seemed she had remained a reserved introvert, the girl he knew back then was timid and non-confrontational- a stark contrast to the apathetic haughtiness she had just demonstrated.

“Oi, Tanihara!” A boy’s voice broke him out of his trance, poking his head into the classroom. “C’mon! We’ve been waiting on you!”


As he began to leave, he couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder.

When he did, he was met with Hyouka’s piercing red eyes glaring back at him, her irises filled with unwavering rancor.

Not wanting to involve himself in drama, Yuji turned and hurried out the door.

Things were certainly off to a rough start.


Yuji and his friends spent the rest of the afternoon being nuisances to the general public- running around and bumping into people without a single apology, being carelessly loud in a fast-food restaurant they ate at, and "borrowing" a few small items from a shop they happened to slip into.

The evening ended with them stopping by a convenience store and acquiring a cheap six-pack of beer, which was brought to and enjoyed at an old playground that parents no longer brought their children to. Perhaps it was due to the crude graffiti that decorated it, or the number of juvenile delinquents that frequented the area.

With the combination of the adrenaline from that night’s activities and the buzz of alcohol, Hyouka was the furthest thing from Yuji’s mind as he arrived home late, kicking off his shoes and dropping his bag.

However, among all the poor decisions he had just made, going to bed was the worst one yet.

When Yuji opened his eyes, he found himself standing inside something small and narrow, dim light shining through thin grates in the wall before him.

Where was he?

Feeling panicked in this claustrophobic setting, his hands shot out, shoving against a cool metal surface.

“Ah!” The door easily swung open, causing the boy to clumsily stumble forward.

Something crunched beneath his feet.

Recoiling, he looked down to see a pair of oval-framed glasses, the lenses now cracked.

“What..?” Yuji breathed out.

Uneasily peering over his shoulder, he realized that he had been inside some sort of storage locker, the door hanging wide open and revealing void insides.

But why?

Glancing around the room, it soon became apparent that he was somewhere familiar- a junior high classroom- though it didn’t look quite how he remembered.

Most of the fluorescent lights were busted, with their shattered glass littering the floor, but the ones that worked flickered ominously, occasionally sparking. The desks were no longer in neat rows, but stood erratically throughout the classroom, facing different directions, with a few missing their chairs. Some of the furniture was even turned over or barely propped up against walls, as if having been thrown around.

Approaching a darkened window, Yuji couldn’t see anything outside, even as he practically pressed his face to the dusty surface. His reflection nervously stared back at him, now dressed in a gakuran- his old school uniform- rather than his usual attire.

Yuji took a deep, albeit shaky breath, tearing his eyes away from the glass and turning around.

That’s when he saw her.

Hyouka Morikawa sat perched atop one of the desks, red eyes boring right into his. Her long white hair cascaded over her shoulders, a few strands partially obscuring her face, which was devoid of what little color she normally had. The girl was barefoot and dressed in a plain white yukata.

“A-Ah!” Yuji stumbled back in alarm, his heart practically leaping out of his chest.

“Tanihara.” Her voice was monotonous, yet held an intimidating undertone.

“Wh-What are you doing here?! Why was I in that locker?!” He jabbed a finger at it, as if it were an iron maiden. “D-Did you put me there?!”

“It seems you’re having a difficult time remembering. Shall I refresh your memory?” The petite girl began to slink off the desk, like a stray cat encroaching on its prey.

Yuji wasn’t sticking around long enough to find out just what that entailed, wasting no time making a beeline for the door.

However, he wasn’t quick enough.

As he reached for the handle, something rapidly coiled around his wrist. It was soft and sleek, but surprisingly strong.

Looking down, he saw that it was a tendril of hair- white hair.

Yuji instantly resisted and tugged his arm back, though this only caused the grip to tighten.

As he struggled to free himself with his other hand, more were quick to shoot out, the hair snaking around his other limbs and thrusting him backwards.

The boy’s back slammed against the floor, knocking the air out of his lungs. Before he could even catch his breath, he was roughly yanked up into the air.

Hyouka levitated before him, her white hair having grown tremendously, binding his body like long, sentient ropes. Her eyes- they were just so red, bright enough to glow in the dim light.

“What the hell?! Pu-Put me down!” Yuji demanded, his voice trembling.

“Not yet. After all, we have a great deal of catching up to do.” She replied nonchalantly. "Do you know where we are?”

“Our middle school! I know! Just let go of me already! Please!”

“Oh?” Hyouka slowly tilted her head, her tone dangerously hushed. ”We share a lot of memories here, don’t we?”

“I- What are you doing?!” Yuji’s eyes went wide.

The tendrils of her hair tightened, small crimson buds forming along them. They grew and slowly bloomed, morphing into large red spider lilies. They were erratic blossoms, with twisted petals and long, spindly stamens.

Hyouka’s stoic expression melted away, a wicked sneer taking over her soft features.

“You’ll atone for everything you’ve done to me, Yuji Tanihara.” A pale tress of hair seized his throat, suddenly and violently constricting.

For a moment, shock paralyzed his body, his mind going blank. Then panic set in.

The boy wheezed, straining against the tendrils in a vain attempt to free himself, but his wrists remained bound in the air, his body only weakening. All he could do was thrash about like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, the dark spots in his vision slowly blackening.

“Pl-Please...I'm s-sorry!” Yuji choked out, the high-pitched ringing in his ears almost drowning him out completely.

But her voice was as clear as day.

“Goodnight~” Hyouka sang out, before the boy found himself plunged into total darkness.


“No!” Yuji’s voice was hoarse as he shot straight up in bed, eyes bugging out. However, as he lurched forward, something still bound his throat.

Panicking and gasping, he furiously clawed at it, only ending up with his tangled sheets in his hands. His aggressive tossing and turning had seemingly been the culprit.

“It was just...a dream...a nightmare...” He breathed out, burying his damp face in his bare knees, now aware of his pounding headache. He had been drinking, after all- that was probably the cause of it. Dreams were simply a random string of subconscious thoughts. They didn’t have to have meaning.

Heart still racing in his chest, he inhaled shakily, feeling a bead of sweat trickle down his back.

This revelation only partly calmed him. What if it wasn’t just a coincidence? If Yuji took anything seriously, it was a bad omen.

Unlike his brother and father, he was quite superstitious. He was always very careful when combing his hair, lest he snap one of its teeth and bring misfortune upon himself. He never wrote his name in red ink, nor cut his nails at night, nor killed a spider in the morning. If he whistled at night, he knew it’d be an invitation for snakes, or even thieves. If there was a way to prevent misfortune without extreme effort, of course he’d indulge in it.

So how could he prevent his demise at the hands of a girl he had picked on years ago?

“That’s stupid.” Yuji told himself, shaking his head. There was no way that Hyouka- as strange as she appeared- would somehow turn into an undead, eldritch being and asphyxiate him with her hair. That was something that would only happen in a bizarre horror movie.

But perhaps that dream still foreshadowed danger. Perhaps karma was catching up to him and coming to collect his debt.

Flopping back against the bed, Yuji glanced at the digital alarm clock on his nightstand.

4:32 AM

Sighing tiredly, he rolled over and closed his eyes again, eventually falling into an uneasy slumber for a few more hours. There was nothing refreshing about it. In fact, when Yuji awoke for school, he felt even more drained, dragging himself out of bed, still covered in sweat.

He was on edge as he showered to wash away the nightmare, as if expecting to turn and find the girl standing behind him, with long, wet, white hair falling over her face. Despite the heat of the water, goosebumps pricked his skin.

When his father opened the bathroom door to get his toothbrush, he was greeted by a shampoo bottle hurling at him. Neither of them was very happy by the time the yelling finally ended.

The dreary May rain didn’t improve Yuji’s mood as he slowly approached the school, dark clouds blocking out much of the sunlight. Droplets glided down the thin metal prongs of his umbrella, dripping onto his charcoal grey sweater.

Yuji swapped his shoes out at the lockers, closing his umbrella and leaving it to dry. The halls were nearly deserted at this time. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he trudged upstairs, barely caring if he was late to class. The bell rang just as he entered the room, causing everyone’s attention to turn towards him.

“Have a seat, Tanihara-kun, and take out your notes.” Nikaido instructed, standing at the front of the room.

Yuji stood rooted to the ground, staring straight at Hyouka, whose crimson eyes narrowed, looking displeased by the sight of him.

“Tanihara-kun,” The teacher spoke again. “Would you please sit down and stop holding up the class?”

The boy softly grumbled in response, lowering his gaze as he walked towards his desk, unceremoniously sitting down and pulling out his notebook. Hyouka had turned to face ahead, ignoring him once more.

That was fine with him.

Rubbing his tired, dull golden eyes, Yuji somewhat attempted to pay attention to the lecture. Despite his efforts, his exhaustion and the brightness of that long white hair in his peripheral vision only made it harder to focus. By the time lunch rolled around, he was ready to take a power nap.

However, someone arrived to interrupt his plans.

“Tanihara-kun, could I speak to you in the hallway?” Nikaido's voice came again, this time from next to him. Lifting his head, Yuji sluggishly looked up at the teacher.

“What do you want?” He muttered, his tiredness only serving to make him come across even more course and irate. Nikaido, however, didn’t falter.

“It’ll only take a minute. Come now.” With that, the man exited the classroom.

His nap would have to wait, apparently.

Grumbling and rubbing his temples, Yuji got up and joined him outside, glaring at the ground. He crossed his arms, leaning against the wall.

“So what gives?”

“Would you at least pretend to respect me?” Nikaido let out a sigh. “Anyway, I want to remind you to be mindful of how you treat Morikawa-san. There’s no need to keep staring at her. Her condition is nothing to ogle.”

“It’s not that...” Yuji grimaced slightly, averting his gaze.

“Then what’s the matter, Tanihara-kun?”

He hesitated for a moment.

“...She and I went to middle school together and we just...didn’t really get along...” He evasively replied.

“Well, please try to keep your eyes to yourself. Morikawa-san doesn’t need to feel more uncomfortable than she already probably does.” Nikaido turned to walk away. “You’re free to return to lunch. Next time, try to make it to class before the bell, or I’ll have to write you up again.”

Yuji rolled his eyes and huffed, watching the man head downstairs to the faculty room. The boy was just about to return to the classroom, but stopped when he heard someone call out to him, followed by thudding footsteps.


Turning around, Yuji saw someone running towards him.

“Oh hey. What’s up, Ryu?”

Ryuhei stood taller than him, wearing a large grin with dark blue eyes that twinkled mischievously. His tousled hair was dyed a light marmalade brown, his dark brown roots just recently touched up. A single stud adorned each of his ears, his uniform was worn in a relaxed manner, and a few small colorful pins were attached to his shirt collar. The boy looked flashy, though his loud voice attracted plenty of attention on its own.

“I swore I heard Nikaido-sensei chewing you out, so I came to give him a hand.” The boy taunted, his grin broadening. ”Looks like I came a little too late, huh?”

“Ugh, and it was for such a stupid reason too...” Yuji groaned.

“Really? What happened?”

“I wanna grab something to eat before I get into it- I’m starving.” He shook his head.

“Alright then, let’s go!" Ryuhei draped his arm over Yuji’s shoulder. ”The others are already there, so you might as well tell ‘em too.”

The boys headed down the corridor together, towards the vending machines. Sure enough, their two other friends loitered there, sitting on the floor as they crunched on snacks.

“Yo.” He greeted, digging in his pocket for loose change and feeding it into the machine.

“Sup, Tanihara.”

“Guess who got lectured in the hallway again!” Ryuhei grinned.

“Don’t even get me started, Ryu!” He griped, opening his soda and taking a long sip. “It’s complete bullshit!”

“Here we go again...” The others leaned back, preparing themselves for what was to come.

Perhaps complaining would help him forget how dead he felt.

He could only hope so.