Chapter 2:

[Yasuo] — Trying to Work Some Things Out

Questionable Days with Yokai

Things hadn’t been going well between Yasuo and his girlfriend Kokone for a while. They started dating when they were both second-year students, and though they went to different schools they were still able to meet up each day they were both free. Things seemed to change once their third year of high school began in April, however. To put it simply, Kokone became a more focused person, and Yasuo became a more aimless one.

A number of small incidents — misunderstandings, mistakes, misjudgments — added some extra friction between them. They hung out with each other less and less. There was never a big argument between them, but perhaps that made things worse in a way, at least in the long run. Kokone didn’t seem that happy around Yasuo, whenever they did meet up the last couple months.

Yasuo wasn’t sure about his own feelings either. He liked Kokone when they first started dating, and he still liked her now. But that probably wasn’t love. Maybe that wasn’t so strange, when they were still just high schoolers. Yasuo didn’t care to think about his future as much as Kokone did. He was just an okay student, and he didn't want to go to all the trouble of applying for colleges and stuff.

And though he had devoted much of his last seven years to kendo, it wasn’t like he had ever become a national champion or anything. There wasn’t a future for him in that as an adult, outside of perhaps continuing it as a hobby. Which was fine. Yasuo understood his high school days were numbered; he was going to have to grow up eventually. But he didn’t care to rush things, at least not any more than he had to.

A week ago, Yasuo and Kokone met up at a small café. It was one of several hole-in-the-wall outlets crammed into an old lurching building that had definitely seen better days. It wasn’t a trendy place, but it had an out-of-the-way peaceful vibe to it, especially in the late afternoon. Kokone was wearing a pink blouse and long breezy black skirt, and had her hair tied up in bushy pigtails, which Yasuo always found cute.

Yasuo meanwhile stuck with his school uniform (a short-sleeve white collared shirt and slate-gray slacks), simply out of habit. He also wore a necklace from which hung a jade magatama — a curved jewel bead that held a variety of symbolic spiritual meanings to it. From what Yasuo was told by his grandfather who gave it to him, the magatama once belonged to an ancestor of his many centuries ago, who was purported to have been a great onmyoji. This ancestor was something of an oracle, and in some stories could even wield magical powers. Yasuo wore the necklace today for good luck — he had a feeling he was going to need it.

Yasuo and Kokone each got a regular iced coffee.

Kokone talked a bit about the homework assignments she had for summer vacation, so Yasuo shared what school projects he would eventually have to start working on too. After a bit of a long pause, Kokone brought up a drama show she was enjoying, but Yasuo hadn’t heard of it. After a bit of a longer pause, he mentioned an upcoming tour that one of his favorite bands would be putting on in the fall, but Kokone didn’t care for their style (a blend of modern rock with traditional stringed instruments such as the koto, shamisen, and biwa).

At some point during the next long pause, Yasuo suddenly felt a strong urge to leave the café. It was a bizarre feeling. His conversation with Kokone wasn’t going perfectly, but it wasn’t like he was upset about it. Still, he still had this overwhelming sense that something was off about this place. Or maybe it was more like a premonition. Was something bad going to happen? Normally he would ignore this kind of random impression, but it was too distinct to overlook. Something like a ringing headache, but in his lungs.

“Can you not hear me?” Kokone asked. Apparently she had been talking about something. “Please try to listen... This is important, Yasuo.”

“Sorry, we need to get out of here.” Yasuo stood up and looked Kokone directly in the eyes.

She tilted her head to the side and frowned. “If you don’t want to talk, we can just—”

“It’s not that. Let's hurry.” Yasuo grabbed Kokone’s hand and tugged lightly, but she remained firmly in her seat.

“We haven’t even finished our drinks.” The iced coffee was served in ceramic cups, so they couldn’t just take the drinks with them.

“I’ll treat you somewhere else.” He gave Kokone’s arm another couple tugs, and she relented with a click of her tongue. They left the café and headed down the street, and on to a nearby park and plaza.

It was bright and humid out, but Yasuo had already been sweating before exiting the café. There was a lump in his throat, and it took a lot of concentration on his part to loosen his grip on Kokone's hand.

“That hurt,” she muttered. “What’s gotten into you?”

“I was just worried. Maybe it was nothing. I don’t know.”

“You said something bad was going to happen! What was it? Shouldn’t you warn the staff?”

Yasuo had considered that, but he didn’t know what he would have told the barista or server. The best he could have come up with would have been a generic please be careful, since he didn’t have any specifics to work with.

“I’m not sure what was going to happen. It’s a weird feeling I get from time to time, though I’ve never been able to link it to anything concrete. But I felt it a lot stronger than ever before just now.”

Kokone didn’t respond. She shook her hand free of Yasuo’s grip, but she continued to walk beside him. Maybe it was obvious to most people, but for Yasuo it was hard to tell how Kokone was feeling exactly. Perhaps a mix of agitation and apprehension. She might have been more concerned about Yasuo’s mental state, than for his actual ill portent though, which she probably wasn’t going to accept when given so feebly.

Yasuo decided to shift gears a bit. “I interrupted what you were trying to tell me earlier.”

“It wasn’t important.” Kokone squinted fiercely, presumably from the sun's piercing brightness.

Though the outdoors was much more open than inside the café, Yasuo found it suffocating.

“I thought you said it was though.”

“I exaggerated.”

“I see.”

They reached the park. There was a bench nearby they could sit on, and a booth selling crepes nearby. Kokone always liked those crepes. She said it was her favorite thing about summer. Yasuo considered buying her one.

“I’m sorry,” Kokone said. “I’m not in a great mood. How about we meet again some other day?”

“If that’s what you’d like.” Yasuo wasn’t sure if this was the response Kokone wanted. He didn’t feel like arguing though.

“Okay. See you later.”

But Yasuo wasn’t so sure if they would. He decided he’d have to just wait for Kokone to message him on his phone.

He didn’t have to wait too long. She sent him a message that evening.

Did you see the news?

Yasuo didn’t know what she was referring to. He sat down on his bed and texted a quick no.

Kokone responded. The building the café was a part of collapsed. Fifteen people were injured. Cause unknown. Apparently it happened about twenty minutes after we left.

Yasuo gripped his phone tight. He read Kokone’s words a couple more times, letting the weight of each one sink in. How should he reply to this though? His weird hunch proving to be warranted after all wasn’t something to gloat about. But this was the first time he had clearly benefited from one of his premonitions.

I see. I’m glad we weren’t there when that happened. I hope everyone who was injured makes a full recovery.

That seemed the appropriate sort of thing to say, right? He felt rather miserable about it though, since he didn't warn the café workers. If only he could have known what was going to happen more precisely, and when... He could have devised a way to get everyone outside at just the right time, and nobody would have had to get hurt.

Yeah. That was all Kokone said at first. But after a couple minutes she added, So are you some kind of psychic? Can you use your mind to move things around, and set stuff on fire?

Yasuo wanted to say of course not, but now he wasn’t sure. Maybe he did have a sixth sense. And maybe that wasn’t an entirely good thing.

Yasuo: I’ve never done anything like that before.

Kokone: But you probably could?

Yasuo: I don’t know.

Kokone: Is your ESP something you can control? You knew we needed to leave the building.

Yasuo: Things worked out today at least.

It wasn’t really an answer to her question. The real answer was no, he had no idea how to control whatever this power was that he had. He gripped the magatama hanging from his necklace, and wondered if there was someone like his ancestor who would be able to help him out with this sort of thing. Were there still onmyoji around today?

Kokone didn’t send another message for a while. The realization that her boyfriend might have extrasensory perception was surely a lot to take in. But did it excite her, or terrify her? Some girls liked stories about vampire boyfriends or what have you, but that was safely contained within the world of fiction. And Yasuo was fully aware he wasn’t some kind of cool hero — he was just a regular high schooler. There was no guarantee he wouldn’t mess things up real badly at some point.

He read over his last few messages, and wondered if he should have downplayed his uncertainty over all this. He wanted to be honest with his girlfriend, but he didn’t want to worry her either. It was probably too late for that though.

Thank you for what you did today, Kokone finally messaged. But I think it’s probably time we go our separate ways. That was what I wanted to talk with you about earlier. I guess I don’t feel like I ever really got to know you, despite our spending so much time together. I’m thinking it’s time we move on.

And there it was. Perhaps it really was a long time coming, because this didn’t surprise Yasuo in the slightest. His thumb moved mechanically across his phone's touchscreen.

I understand. Take care, Kokone.

She responded one last time. Goodbye, Yasuo.

Yasuo turned off his phone, tossed it onto the floor, and lay down on his bed. He shut his eyes and tried to think about things. He opened his eyes and sat back up. He stood up and paced around his room a few times. He rubbed the magatama bead between his fingers. He put on headphones and tried to listen to some music. He didn't hear any of it. He took off his headphones and walked to his bedroom door. He changed his mind and walked back to his bed. He sat down on it. He stared blankly at a wall, and just thought about Kokone.

Yasuo didn't feel angry at her. Perhaps that was for the best, but it also made him question how attached he had ever been to her.

For the next couple days, he continued to mull over what he should do about Kokone, if anything. He would look at his schoolwork, practice his kendo swings, or walk about the city aimlessly. But no matter what he did, his thoughts of Kokone always remained somewhere in his mind. The memories would pile atop of one another and overlap, vague and muted. The recollections didn't stir strong feelings in his heart. He felt more like an observer of his past, simply jotting down notes mentally. What he was trying to figure out exactly, he wasn't sure.

One afternoon, sitting on the bench near the crepe stand at the park, Yasuo found himself fiddling with the magatama on his necklace once more.

A coherent thought formed in his mind.

He turned on his phone and called his grandfather.

“Granddad, I have a question for you. You know that magatama you gave me? For shichi-go-san.” It had been a gift when Yasuo turned five, a special milestone for boys.

His grandfather remembered all about it, and was able to give Yasuo some helpful details. Namely, where Granddad had gotten the jewel from.

Yasuo saved the location his grandfather described, then looked it up on his phone’s maps app. It would take a train ride, a couple bus rides, and a good walk to get there. He had enough money saved up to make such a trip, but would it be worth the effort? He also wasn't sure if it was a good idea to start investigating this whole magic thing, if it would lead him into more trouble. Playing with fire, and all that. As he had thought to himself earlier, he wasn't some kind of cool hero — and he had no intention of ever attempting to become one. He wasn't a delusional middle schooler anymore.

But still, for the next three days, he bounced back and forth between wanting to go and not.

It was most likely that a visit to this old, possibly abandoned mansion Granddad described wouldn’t lead to anything at all. But Yasuo really needed to do something, even if it was a little crazy. After talking it over with his parents (they were surprisingly fine with the idea), he decided he would go for it and make the trip the next morning. If some kind of onmyoji power was passed down to him over the centuries, he needed to learn more about it. Perhaps the old mansion would hold some answers, scribbled on some ancient scroll, locked within some ornate lacquered trunk.

Or if he was really lucky, it was possible there was some wise sage still there who could tell him all about onmyodo magic; whether or not Yasuo truly had that sort of power; and if so, how it could be controlled in this modern age. It wasn’t so much that Yasuo wanted to be able to wield it freely, as much as he hoped to keep it under control so as to not cause any trouble or draw resentful attention upon himself.

And who knows? Maybe it was time he made a big change in his life. Maybe he could come out of all this a new person.