Cat's Hour ~猫の時間~
A few hours after Irosaki gave the task to the student council secretary and the second year representative, she returned to her office in the main building.
She glanced outside the window, the sight of students doing after-school activities, some students are walking with their friends, chatting and laughing as they head to the gate, leaving the school after another day.
Irosaki smiled to herself.
‘Ah… it must be nice to be young.’
She looked up at the orange-colored sky of spring, the sakura petals swirls in the wind outside. The sun is about to set, watching the sunset from her office is breathtaking.
“It should be about time.”
Turning around and facing the door, Irosaki waited for it to open.
Alas, the door flew open just as she expected. Without a word, the panting youngster she knows as the student council president barged in the office.
He was normally not the type to rushed things and showed his desperation like this. He glanced at Irosaki in conviction.
“Now then, what was the reason for your visit, Kurokawa-kun?”
Despite knowing the answer to her question, Irosaki still asked as if she was teasing him.
“Sensei, what are you planning on Tsukasa-kun?! You know that he’s afraid of women, but you’re making him work with Terushima-san!”
The young man furrowed his brows and his eyes glared at her sharply. He gritted his teeth in frustration.
“Why not? Mikejima-kun said that he will do it.”
Irosaki tapped the frame of her glasses confidently.
Seeing the reaction of the school head, Kurokawa became frustrated even more.
“Why?! Why would you do something like that?!”
Despite the boy snapping in front of her, Irosaki maintained her composure. She took a deep sigh and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Kurokawa-kun, I didn’t think someone could be so selfless and yet so selfish at the same time.”
Upon hearing these words, Kurokawa’s expression darkened, he looks down and shifted his gaze away from her.
Irosaki knows what’s happening to this fragile boy in front of her. Seeing him like this, he looks like he will break any moment from now.
It was different from the first time she saw him.
When she looked back on it, she already knows that he was having a hard time before but still, the shine of his soul at that time was something that she can’t forget. It was a bright, warm light.
He was a child that could smile no matter how hard it gets. He WAS.
Compared to that, his soul at the moment was a dark and lonely void. Not even a small light can be seen. As if all hope has been lost.
“How much pain are you still going to take for others?”
The boy remained silent.
“You’ve been taking everyone’s pain, but who’s going to take yours?”
“You’re trying to save everyone even if they don’t know it, but who’s going to save you?
“... Stop it! I don’t care about myself! How could I just leave them be if I saw them suffering like that?! I… I can’t…”
Irosaki observed the boy in front of her.
Irosaki’s reason for devising this turn of events is in favor of him. Whether he can use it in his advantage or not depends entirely on how he handles the situation.
She took out an unopened deck of cards in the drawer of her table.
“Look over here, Kurokawa-kun.”
As she called him, the boy lifted his gaze at her.
She opened the box and put the deck of cards on top of the table.
“Do you know how to play cards, Kurokawa-kun?”
The boy was taken aback by the sudden question but he managed to answer, “Y-yes… Toujo-kun taught me before.”
She earned a look of hesitation from the youngster. She didn’t pay heed to it and just continued what she was about to tell him.
“That god was fond of playing cards like this.”
She motioned her hands in the deck.
“Why don’t you draw one?”
The boy touched the top card of the deck, he draws it and turn it over.
“That’s right. You are a joker.” Irosaki nodded and faced him. “In a standard deck of cards, there are 4 suits. Spade, Club, Heart, and Diamond.”
“I know that…”
“On top of that, there are two jokers in a deck.” Irosaki draws another card and showed it to him. Another joker.
“T-that’s…!” Kurokawa’s eyes widened as if he realized something.
“It’s just as you thought, this is a game that god made. Kurokawa-kun is a special case, you are under some different circumstances from those other four. On the other hand, the other joker was…”
“That’s right, Kurokawa-kun and Terushima-san are the two jokers of this game.” Irosaki placed down the card on the table. “Now then, how will you play the game, Kurokawa-kun?”
“A game… Don’t joke with me! Does the god enjoyed playing with our lives like this?”
“Those who made the wish are not in a position to say that, don’t you think so, Kurokawa-kun?”
“If your lives are truly fine as it was, there’s no need for you to make a miraculous wish from the god, right?”
Kurokawa took a step back. He fell silent upon hearing those words. Irosaki made her point clear.
If everyone doesn’t have something grave that they need some kind of miracle for, there’s no way that they will be bound by a contract like this.
In the first place, the contract even gave them another chance.
“Don’t worry, the god doesn’t mean any harm. As long as you will get the mission done, you can be freed from the contract. However…”
Irosaki paused for a moment and glanced at Kurokawa who was looking down and clenching his fist tightly.
“… that doesn’t apply to you.”
Kurokawa took a deep sigh of frustration.
“Haha… right…” the young man looked up in the ceiling with an agonizing laugh. “As I thought… it was supposed to be like this, isn’t it…?”
Irosaki closed her eyes and cleared her mind. She took a deep breath and slammed her hands in the table to get the attention of the boy.
“Are you just going to give up like this?”
Finally, she acted like a teacher would.
“You’re already losing the game without even knowing the mechanics.” She grabbed the other joker card and showed it to him. “Did you know? Depending on the game that you’re playing, a joker can make you win or lose.”
“But… what can I do? In the first place… I’m…”
“You’re not the only joker of this game.”
“W-what do you… what are you planning to do with Terushima-san?!”
“Calm down. I’m not planning to act like that anymore. In the first place, she’s already moving on her own.”
“She’s collaborating with Mashiro-kun and others.”
“With Tsuki-kun?” Kurokawa froze for a moment with the sudden realization. “D-does that mean they found out…?”
He trembles in anxiety as tears started forming in the corner of his eyes.
“I… I have to stop them…”
“Hold it, Kurokawa-kun. They don’t know everything yet, why don’t you take this chance to tell them?”
“N-no! I can’t do that!”
Irosaki sighed at his actions. “Geez, you’re really a handful, aren’t you? They will still find out sooner or later, why not tell them already? Or do you want me to tell it instead?”
“No! I don’t want that either!” Kurokawa cried but it seemed like he started to think about it calmly. “I… I’ll tell them myself. I need some time first.”
He wiped his tears and faced Irosaki firmly. “Don’t use these underhanded ways again, sensei. Promise me.”
“Fine. I promise.”
Kurokawa sniffed and fixed himself in resolve. “I’ll go with your plan for now, sensei. I’ll leave Tsukasa-kun in Terushima-san’s care.”
Irosaki gave a gentle smile to him.
He turned his back to Irosaki, but before he could leave the office, she asked one more thing.
“Say, Kurokawa-kun, why don’t you pass on already?”
Kurokawa stopped in his tracks. He clenched his fist tightly as his expression darkened for a moment.
Soon, a small smile formed on his lips as he turned to look at Irosaki one last time.
“What are you saying, sensei? I’m still alive.”
After Kurokawa left, Irosaki took a sigh of relief.
‘How many does this make again? Ah, that’s right…
It was already your ninth life.’
The sky is cloudy tonight. I glanced outside and there are no stars in the sky. It also seems like it will pour down.
On top of that, I’m doing the patrol with Mikejima-kun tonight.
As he said, we’re walking five meters apart and there was an awkward atmosphere between us.
What am I expecting anyway?
Our destination right now is the Audio Visual Room. The letter said that in the middle of the day, when there’s no people there, a monitor is lit up and showing some static.
The witness happened to go there at that time and saw the strange events.
The sender also heard a voice of a man whispering from the speakers, “One more…” and they got scared that they ran away quickly.
Given that this ghost is a man might be a good thing for Mikejima-kun. The spirits that I met are mostly women, Ai-san, Sakura-chan and Hanako-san. I didn’t think that there are male ghosts that are haunting the school as well.
And so, we arrived at the Audio Visual Room, since I’m behind him by five meters, he was standing in front of the door while I was still watching my distance.
Honestly, this is troublesome. A pain in the neck!
“I’ll enter first, watch your distance.”
“You don’t have to say that to me every time! Just go! I want to finish this and go to sleep already!”
Before I could say anything more, he already entered the room.
For someone who has fear of women, he has some guts to start an argument with me. Look what he got after confronting me!
That attitude of his is definitely going bite him back someday!
As I thought, I really can’t understand why he’s picking a fight with me! He doesn’t seem like he’s suspecting me of seducing our senpais anymore but he still pissed me off!
“Get your ass moving!”
“Grr! You really have a vulgar vocabulary! I’m coming!”
I feel like I can’t finish the night without my blood pressure rising. I might have to check it later.
I entered that room with a flashlight on my hand. It might be dark inside but I can say that it was an outstanding place.
Rows of seats arranged like that of a movie theater, a wide monitor at the front and some high-end equipment for presentation.
Seriously, this school is flaunting how extravagant they are. Tell me, where did they got the funding for this school?
Mikejima-kun is standing in front of the monitor. I didn’t step closer and just remained standing near the entrance.
If things got dangerous, I’m ready to run away and leave him there. Hehe.
Just kidding! There’s no way I can’t do that no matter how much I don’t like him… hmmm... maybe?
“Did you find something?”
“None. There are no signs of appearance here. I’m going to look on the control room,” he nonchalantly said and walked towards the side door going to the control room.
“Okay, I’m going to look over here. You might’ve missed something,” I said.
When there’s a good enough distance between us, I made my way to the front of monitor as well.
He just raised his eyebrow on me before turning his back.
Bleeh! Piss off!
Oops, he looked back again!
Let’s pretend that I’m not doing anything.
“No need to hide it, the feeling is mutual.”
“Of course!” I huffed in irritation.
Uuu! I really want to land a slap on his face at least once!
Just when I was ranting inside my mind about how Mikejima-kun pisses me off, a cold wind suddenly touched my skin.
“E-eh? It’s gotten cold out of nowhere…”
Is it the air-conditioning?
The sudden change in temperature is giving me goosebumps. I crossed my arms in my chest to keep me warm.
A voice of a man…?
I froze in my place when I heard a cold breathy voice whispering in my ear.
Out of nowhere, I heard the familiar sound of ominous bell that I know very well.
I gulped out of fear.
The ghost of the AVR?!
W-what is it…?
I closed my eyes tightly and started uttering my silent prayers.
Mikejima-kun is busy searching the control room for the ghost… but it was here! The ghost is behind me right now!
Did he not hear the bell or he’s intentionally ignoring it?! Damn it!!
My hands are shaking intensely at the moment. I squeezed my arms tightly until my nails dig on my skin to stop myself from trembling.
If I do something to get Mikejima-kun’s attention, the ghost might do something to keep me from calling for help.
Uuu… I’m holding on to the words that I won’t die… but this is really frightening!
There’s no need to turn around and look behind me, I can feel his pressure even without moving in this place!
What was that one more?!
I can feel a cold touch in my neck that made me flinch. Before I know it, tears came out from my eyes. I bit my lip to keep myself from sobbing.
But a few muffled noise failed to be kept inside.
A menacing voice sent shivers down my spine. My lips continued trembling as I find myself unable to speak a word.
I’m not getting along with Mikejima-kun but please…
Please show up right now!
“Haah… looks like there’s nothing on the control room as well…” he tiredly said and get out of the room nonchalantly.
“M-mikejima-kun…” I tried to call his name between small sobs coming out from my lips.
He finally looked to my direction. His eyes widened as he came to a halt.
All of a sudden, the monitor lit up. It showed a static screen just like what’s said in the letter.
Along with that, I also felt cold hands wrapping around my neck as if aiming to strangle me.
“Terushima!!” Mikejima-kun shouted.
He was about to come to my aid when he stopped on his tracks with a few steps away from me.
His expression turned like that of fear and sweat started forming on his forehead. He pressed his lips together and froze in his place.
His fear of women is acting up!
The hands wrapped around my neck suddenly tightened up and started strangling me.
I can’t breathe…
No good… I need air…
I reached out my hands to my neck in hopes of loosening the grip even for a little, but it was hopeless.
I can’t touch a ghost!
“It was your fault…” the ghost whispered.
What fault?! I didn’t do anything wrong!!
“It was because of girls like you…”
Is he on the same league as Mikejima-kun but instead he hated them to death?
AAAAAAH! I’m definitely at risk right now!
Mikejima-kun is still out of it!
Even if it was futile, I tried to struggle with all my might. It was a survival instinct.
I can feel my own nails digging on my neck. I’m sure struggle marks already showed up by now.
What is that damn Calico doing?! Is he just gonna watch there while I’m being murdered here?!
“It was because of girls like you that I died!” the ghost raised his voice full of grudge as the grip tightened once more.
Crap… my consciousness is going away…
“One more… one more…”
Ah… I’m losing my strength…
I gave one last glance to Mikejima-kun.
He was still stoned there and just staring at me with widened eyes.
I apologized to you, right?! I’m taking it back! You’re still a jerk!
Even if you have fear of women, at least do something about someone dying in front of you!
A tear escaped from my eye, it was my last message to him as if begging him to do something.
Before I loss all my strength on my arms, I stretched it towards his direction.
He flinched for a moment but his eyes still stares at me.
And with that, I showed him my middle finger.
Fuck you! Go to hell, Mikejima! You bastard!
Oof! He got triggered.
As if a miracle happened, what I did irked him and managed to make him move out of annoyance.
A vein popped out of his forehead as he gritted his teeth in irritation.
He shouted like an anime character and charged towards our direction with his full force.
Oh, that’s nice.
I closed my eyes tightly in expecting the punch to land in my face. I bet I’ll just have my nose broken with this but at least I’ll survive. Not a bad deal.
“Haah… haah… haaah….” I catch my breath as soon as I was freed from the grip of that ghost.
I fell on the floor as I touched my neck. I can feel a sting, probably when I struggled too much and ended up scratching it.
I never thought that evil spirits could touch humans like that! It was dangerous!
Oh, that’s right, the punch didn’t hit me. Mikejima-kun punched the ghost instead so at least I’m thankful for that.
Iyaa… I’m not expecting that to work. Actually, I just did that because I want to curse him one last time.
“Terushima! Are you okay?!”
He quickly come to my aid and grabbed both of my shoulders giving it a light shake.
His eyes are full of worry as it stared at me intently.
Is he… worried about me?
My eyes widened when I realized what he’s doing.
“A-ah… I’m alright… but Mikejima-kun… are you fine touching me?”
When I asked him that, his eyes also widened as he quickly let go of me and took a distance away out of reflex.
“Wow, you’re really showing your distaste.” I squinted my eyes.
“That’s… not it… haah… haah… it happens all the… time…”
He started hyperventilating as he covered his mouth. His face started turning pale and he also started trembling.
I worriedly stared at him. It doesn’t seem like he’s a bad person, but… I’m worried now that he started showing symptoms of panic attack again!
“One more… one more route…”
Ah! Crap! That ghost is still here!
“I could have finished that game… one more route…”
Eh? What is he saying?
“D-dating sim…” Mikejima-kun stuttered weakly.
Are they talking about games?
“That’s right! One more route and I can finish it! Why did those girls drive me to death?!” the ghost whined in agony. “And you! What is wrong with you?! Punching someone in the face like that!”
Uhh… you just nearly killed me.
Actually, scratch that, you deserve more than just a punch!
I observed the ghost in front of me. He looks average, he also wears glasses and has a slouchy figure. What he just said give it all, he’s an otaku for sure.
“I… I can finish that game for you…” Mikejima-kun forced himself to speak even with his condition.
Is this guy for real?
“W-what are you saying Mikejima-kun?! You’re not in a condition to do something right now!”
If I remember it right, Mikejima-kun likes to play games. But that’s not it! How can he just play a game in that condition! Not to mention, the ghost is ready to kill as it is!
“Terushima… do you want to die…?”
“Urk! Of course not!"
“Then, show me! I don’t think some amateur like you can clear it so I’m giving you an advantage.” The ghost smiled menacingly. “One heroine. Capture one heroine and I’ll pass away silently.”
“I accept…” Mikejima-kun said as he slowly stood up.
“Hoh? Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Get done with it, bastard.”
“You sure have some guts, do you even know the game I’m talking about?”
“H-how did you know that…?”
Oh... that's right! How did he even know that?
“Heh. Who do you think I am? I played countless of games from retro to modern, and I’m confident with my skills! About Last Heroine…”
Mikejima-kun went on and on, talking about games. He’s saying unfamiliar terms that I don’t even know. Still, it seems like he knows what he’s saying with that confident look on his face as if he quickly recovered from earlier.
Does he really like games that much? It was unexpected though.
When I glanced to the ghost, his expression is dark as if he was more hostile than earlier.
“What?! Are you saying that Last Heroine is a good game? It was shitty!”
Wait… all this time he’s been badmouthing that game?
No wonder the ghost has that kind of expression… wait, that ‘s not it.
“Wait! Stop talking first, Mikejima-kun!”
The ghost seems like he will kill us!
“You… HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT?!”
The two of us exchange looks among ourselves.
“Oops… maybe I went too far.”
“What do you mean ‘maybe’? You really went too far, Mikejima-kun!”
And that… was how we incur the wrath of a vengeful otaku spirit.