The Web Novel Club
Mitsuko, with Natsuki following close behind, stepped out into the courtyard, which featured a long brick road that would eventually lead down to the street. Cherry blossom trees gently shook in the breeze, sending petals down onto the hundreds of students moving around dozens of booths, all of them advertising a different club:
Mitsuko led the way, heading to each of their booths, talking with club members, and grabbing flyers. Natsuki kept herself behind her friend as they moved around. That’s usually how it went - some people naturally lead, some people naturally follow. It’s an unspoken thing - you just know. Natsuki knew she was a follower, carefully standing diagonally back from her friend so Mitsuko would take the brunt of first contact with new people.
Mitsuko took it in stride (and because Natsuki always did this). The two friends squeezed between packs of roaming freshmen and survived sudden encounters with upperclassmen on the prowl for new recruits. By the time they got halfway through, Mitsuko had enough random gear and papers piled high in her arms to block her vision.
Mitsuko managed to bump her way off to the side of the club fair, finding a rare patch of grass next to some trees to catch her breath. She then dropped everything onto Natsuki, who just barely managed to catch it all.
“Mitsuko!” Natsuki exclaimed as she struggled to keep herself from falling over.
“It’s all yours,” Mitsuko simply said, pulling another juicebox out of her bookbag.
Natsuki found a stone bench near a cherry blossom tree to rest everything on. She wiped her forehead and caught her breath (she wasn’t exactly athletic). “Aren’t you interested in clubs, too?”
Sunlight reflected off of Mitsuko’s glasses as she grinned. “I already know what club I’m joining,” she proclaimed. Natsuki realized her friend had kept one of the flyers for herself; Mitsuko held it up to Natsuki’s face.
“Graphic Design Club?” Natsuki repeated. She raised a hand and pretended to move a computer mouse around. “Like…making funny pictures on the Internet?”
“Not just funny pictures,” Mitsuko began. Somewhere (maybe from the Jazz Club booth), trumpets began playing as she extended her arm into the horizon. “Graphics design is the future. Advertisements will only increase as the years go on. There’ll be billboards on every street, unskippable ads on every video, giant blimps playing commercials down onto the city below. One day, we’ll have advertisements on the moon. And that’s where I’ll come in. When society is subsumed by the giant avalanche known as the advertisement apocalypse, when the seven trumpets blow as man is crushed under his own greedy nature, I’ll be there, above them. All the dirty people, they’ll reach up to me, their worn-down, battered hands reaching for salvation…and I’ll place an advertisement for limited time celebrity burgers in their hands.”
Mitsuko placed a hand on a thoroughly-horrified Natsuki’s shoulder. “Strike when the iron is hot, Natsuki. That’s what I’m doing.”
“...can I do that too?”
Mitsuko then placed both hands on her shoulders. “Do you have any sort of passion for the art known as graphic design?”
Natsuki grinned and nodded. “I happen to love those funny Internet jokes. You know, the ones where you put writing over the animal pictures? They make me laugh so hard!”
Mitsuko cupped Natsuki’s face, who started sweating as her friend examined her closely.
“This is the face of a liar,” Mitsuko declared.
“Oh, come on!” Natsuki protested as Mitsuko stepped away to sit on the stone bench. “Aren’t joining clubs about finding your passion, too? Maybe I’ll love graphic design just as much as you do! And can’t we just join a club together?”
Mitsuko sipped from her juicebox. “Of course, if things don’t work out, you’re more than welcome to join the club with me.” She smiled and eyed Natsuki’s bookbag. “But I think you should check out your own passion first.”
Natsuki looked at her bag in confusion. “There’s a Bag club?”
“I mean what’s inside that bag.”
Mitsuko took a deep breath, then let out a long sigh. “Your writing.”
Natsuki immediately tensed up and went beet red in the face. “P-p-passion? It’s just a hobby. Nothing more! And you shouldn’t even know about it anyway!”
Natsuki would never dare tell anybody about her interest in writing stories. Mitsuko only knew because one day - a day that still keeps Natsuki awake at night - Mitsuko came over for homework, and Natsuki gave her the wrong journal to look at. Mitsuko had to convince a frantic Natsuki not to run away and ride the rails as a hobo after that.
“Look, if there aren’t any good writing clubs, feel free to join Graphic Designs Club,” Mitsuko concluded. “But you should at least scope them out first. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some fellow muskrats there.”
Natsuki glumly kicked some dirt around with her shoes. “I don’t know. And you sound like you’re leaving me.”
Mitsuko threw her bookbag over her shoulder. “I am leaving you. I need to go grocery shopping for my mom before cram school tonight.”
Natsuki immediately produced a schedule for rail lines up north in her hands. Mitsuko sighed and plucked them out of her friend’s hands.
“Give it your best shot, Natsuki,” Mitsuko encouraged, giving a thumbs up as she sipped on the juicebox.
Natsuki watched her lifeline disappear into the crowd, destined for elsewhere.
With shallow breaths, Natsuki decided to leave all the gears and flyers behind. Truth be told, she didn’t have any interest in joining the clubs advertised to her so far. Take any athletic club for example - softball, soccer, tennis. Natsuki wasn’t very athletic, but they did take non-athletic people and beginners. Natsuki simply had no interest in things like that.
Same with the music clubs. And the outdoor clubs. And the cooking and calligraphy and tea ceremony and all the other sort of odd clubs that would find themselves at home in a manga. A paranormal investigation club, for instance! Good for them, Natsuki supposed, but she had no interest in that either (and ghosts gave her the heebie jeebies).
Still remaining by the tree, she craned her neck and saw booths for Classical Literature and Reading (presumably of non-classical literature) clubs. Those were more up her alley. She almost liked reading just as much as she liked writing.
But liking something a lot isn’t the same as passion. Reading was immensely helpful for creating worlds and stringing sentences along, but reading and writing operated on different levels of the unknown. In reading, you stepped into the unknown already laid out for you; in writing, that unknown world is one you created with your own hands. Neither was better than the other; Natsuki just found that her interests lay more with writing.
Mitsuko (as usual) was correct. Natsuki didn’t need to join a writing club, but she knew she should at least investigate them. Were muskrats pack animals? Maybe Natsuki could embrace the wolf inside her instead! Those were definitely pack animals.
With timid steps, Natsuki walked awkwardly back into the crowd. The club fair seemed to show no signs of stopping - in fact, it had only seemed to intensify. But maybe that was just a product of Natsuki’s overactive imagination and rapidly increasing heartbeat.
She found freshmen here and there, gawking at the various club booths. Sitting behind them, club members smiled warmly, many dressed to match their club - softball players rested bats on their shoulders, kendo practitioners did the same with their wooden swords. Natsuki crept along, continually counting to ten, slipping past the pack of students. Every time a recruiter approached her, Natsuki nearly had a heart attack. Fortunately, the recruiters usually just slid a flyer in her hand, advertised their club with a twinkle in their eyes, then moved onto the next one.
Nevertheless, the whole thing was a nerve-wracking experience, and Natsuki sighed in relief as she spotted an actual club she had interest in - the Fanfiction Club! But then she gasped - now that she spotted that club, she needed to go up and talk to them!
Feeling her stomach toss and turn like a ship in a stormy sea, Natsuki robotically walked to the club booth. A friendly-looking girl with black hair sat on a stool behind the booth, smiling widely at Natsuki as she approached.
“Hi!” she greeted, the warmth radiating out of her nearly making Natsuki die of heatstroke. “My name’s Hana! I like writing fanfiction about action shows, how about you?”
Natsuki knew it was her turn to speak. The words just came out slowly. “I, uh…I really like writing about Fudge Sundae.”
Hana’s eyes twinkled. “Ah, the animation in the next episode preview looked pretty good, didn’t it?”
Natsuki gave a small nod of agreement. On the inside, she smiled widely. Perhaps this club might be nice.
But, also on the inside, deep with her heart, she knew the Fanfiction Club had a check against it. Admittedly, the people here seemed very friendly; now that Hana had reeled someone in, several more members at the back of the booth came to the front, discussing their favorite shows and video games, letting Natsuki sample a few of their works.
As she looked over their writing, Natsuki wore a bittersweet smile on the outside. Their writing was good and their personalities were warm and inviting. The issue was with Natsuki, not them. Natsuki loved fanfiction - it was how she got her start in writing, after all. She spent hours and hours after school each day in elementary school writing to her heart’s content. Fanfiction was fun! And it still is, too.
But I’ve outgrown it.
Natsuki kept reading their works, understanding that a phrase like that wasn’t the right way to put it. Fanfiction didn’t have an age limit. It’s not something that could really be outgrown. Rather, her interests had changed. For a long time now, Natsuki wanted to create her own story. She wanted to make her own heroes and heroines, plucky comic relief best friends, warring kingdoms, and ancient superweapons.
And love triangles!
The right way to put it would be that she was interested in doing something else now. Fanfiction would always hold a place in her heart, but she wanted to try something new.
Natsuki finished reading the samples and handed them back to the club members. “Thanks, I really liked them,” she managed to say. “And that werewolf one…kind of spicy.”
One of the club members winked. “Join the club, and I can show you the adult version-”
The other club members quieted her, just leaving Hana and Natsuki.
Natsuki had a question on her mind, and she spoke timidly. “Why do you write fanfiction?”
Hana tilted her head, processing the question. “I love all these characters,” she explained, lights in her eyes. “And I want to see more of them. I read a whole lot of fanfiction, and then I started thinking that there were certain situations I wanted to see these characters in, but I couldn’t find anything like that. That’s when I realized it was up to me to write it myself.”
“I see,” Natsuki said, scratching her arm. “What if…you wanted to write your own characters? And you wanted to see your own characters in your own situations?”
“You mean like original characters?” Hana suggested. “I create those sometimes.”
Natsuki shook her head lightly, feeling red in the face. “I mean…what if you wanted to write something where everything was original? No fanfiction in it at all?”
Hana put a finger to her temple, thinking of the best answer. “I see. I like doing that, too. It’s fun to make up your own world. But at the end of the day…that’s not where my passion is. Fanfiction and original writing are similar, but they do require slightly different things. I just like writing fanfiction more.”
Natsuki understood. She bowed her head. “Thank you for today.”
Hana held out a flyer for her. Natsuki felt too awkward to reject something she didn’t need, so she took it in her hands.
“We start meeting tomorrow in room 3-106!” Hana concluded. “Hope to see you there!”
A brief meeting of their eyes said it all - both of them knew Natsuki wouldn’t be joining the Fanfiction club. And there was nothing wrong with that. Their passions just took them their separate ways.
Still, Natuski felt bad. She walked with heavy steps, searching in vain for an original writing club, but coming up empty. She was just about to call the whole thing quits and phone Mitsuko to tell her a sob story when she noticed a bright flash of light behind her.
A round of gasps spread around the students at the club fair, all of them looking toward the source of light. Natsuki tilted her head upwards and joined the gasping - fireworks erupted over the top of the school roof.
Up there on that roof, a girl stood on the shoulders of another girl, letting her see down over the chain fence at the edge of the roof. The girl on top, presumably the leader, held her arms crossed over her chest, giving a confident look to the entire school body.
Just as another round of fireworks went off, a huge white banner rolled down the fence, hanging halfway down the front of the school. Written in huge black kanji were the words that changed Natsuki’s life.
THE WEB NOVEL CLUB.