Chapter 1:

Fear Of The Dark

66 Hours


*Ring ring...*

“Mhm…”

*ring ring... ring ring...*

I toss and turn around in my bed clearly irritated by the most annoying sound a person can hear during the middle of his sleep.

"Shut up..." I mumble underneath my breath as I reach for my phone while still stuffing my face in the pillow. When I'm finally able to reach it I turn off the alarm.

After mentally preparing myself for another boring day of school I get up groggily to have breakfast. As I leave my room and get downstairs I come face to face with a very familiar sight: A note atop the dining table that reads "Sorry honey had to get to work early today. There are eggs in the fridge!" signed off with a smiley face next to the word "mum".

The reason I say familiar sight is because in the past few years, after dad passed away, my mother has been getting busier and busier with work and we barely even see each other. Especially in weekday mornings like these.

After whipping up something quick to eat, I head upstairs to take a quick shower. As I open the bathroom door I face yet another familiar sight: My sleep-deprived face reflected on the mirror.

“…Hey, I know you played Older Scrolls until 3 in the morning, but damn you look miserable Hideki..." I say to myself before taking off my clothes and jumping into the shower.

Yes, that’s my name. Kobayashi Hideki.

After giving myself a good old scrub, I blow dry my hair and fix it in place. My hairstyle has been this way for quite a while, meaning my hair naturally falls into place without me doing anything. Not that I really care about it anyway. My gloomy curtains are certainly a testament to that. But, that doesn’t stop a certain friend of mine to tease me about my hairstyle’s resemblance to that of the protagonist from “Titanic”. I swear, what’s with girls and that movie? I’m certainly not a fan.

After I've worn my school uniform, consisting of a dark blue blazer with a white button-down shirt underneath, and a black pair of dress pants, I'm almost ready to go to school. I put my dark blue and white suede shoes on, and tie their similar colored shoelaces before I step out the front door and casually follow the road leading to school, its name; Matsubara Senior High School.

It's basically the only high school in this rural town that I live in, called Kirihama.

But, while I am considered as a local here, I haven’t lived here for all my life. As a matter of fact I grew up in Kirihama up until I was 8, but since my father’s job required him to move constantly, we were pretty much always on the move. From towns to big cities, you name it, we’ve probably been there. The place I’ve stayed put on for the longest had to be Kirihama. Makes sense, since I was really young back then. However, when my father passed away due to cancer, me and my mother decided to move back here due to… various reasons.

It’s as lively as ever…

I think to myself, as I approach the school and notice how my peace is being disturbed already. A good number of students, wearing the same uniform as me, chat animatedly with their friends, as they slowly but surely filter in through the school gate.

Once I find myself on school grounds and past the school gate I make my way upstairs on the first floor. From there, I take a left turn, and spot my classroom. As soon as I set foot inside, the bustle of a typical classroom greets me. Thankfully, my classmates pay me no mind, as I find my seat at the back of the classroom and sit down. Just like that. Without saying a word to anybody.

As I sat down, I turned to look out the window, in my usual tedious fashion, trying to find comfort in my solitude.

Until...

"Good morning sleepyhead!" I hear a familiar voice and turn my head towards the source.

"Good Morning Mayu." I speak up, unable to hide the frown on my face. "Why the long face?" She throws back almost immediately after reading my expression.

This lively and energetic girl, is none other than Nakajima Mayu. She is basically my childhood friend, and before you jump to conclusions, that’s also why we’re on a first name basis. We’ve known each other for a long time, since our mothers used to hang out a lot back when we were still in diapers. Naturally, we were pulled apart when my family had to move, and I was pretty sure I was never gonna see her again. But as fate would have it, I returned to Kirihama, and to my surprise, not only did she remember me, but she acted like nothing had ever happened. And thus, she’s been my one and only friend ever since.

"Earth to Hideki..?" Mayu snaps me out of my thoughts, as she waves a hand in front of my face curiously.

"Oh yeah sorry. I'm just sleepy that's all." I shrug it off, and explain.

"Figures! Did you stay up late playing games again?" This time it's her turn to frown.

"Uhm... Maybe?" I hesitantly admit, as she sighs in exasperation.

"Anyway do you notice something different about me today?" Deciding to change the subject, Mayu flashes a cocky smirk.

Something different about Mayu…? Hell if I know...

"Uhm... you... dyed your hair?" Having no clue what to say, I decide to roll the dice.

"No dummy that was last month!" Mayu suddenly glares, in clear disapproval.

"You changed your hairstyle?"

"I got new earrings, dummy! Come on! That was easy!" She finally lets the cat out of the bag with a sigh. And sure enough, I notice the new shiny dots on her earlobes. I refrain from telling her accessories like that are prohibited in school grounds. I bet she’ll learn that herself. Of course that rule doesn’t really apply to delinquents, though. But Mayu was fairly popular herself, so maybe they would let is slide?

Short shoulder length brownish hair, cheekbone freckles and green eyes. That's Mayu. It's true I don't really pay attention to smaller details but I can tell that she has grown up to be a fine looking girl. I wonder why she doesn't have a boyfriend by now…

"Yeah I don’t think I could have guessed that…" I admit.

“So? What do you think?” She flashes yet another smile, trying to look all cute.

“Well, they’re nice.” I force a smile on my face as I speak.

"Thanks but you look kinda creepy when you smile like that, Hideki." She replies with a smoother but honest, almost heart-breaking tone.

Ouch, Mayu!

"Everybody take your seats, class is about to begin!" Our homeroom teacher who had just walked in, announces in a somewhat loud but firm tone, as Mayu takes her usual seat next to me.

As soon as she had taken her seat I turn to look at her one more time.

I’m well aware that I should appreciate her more since she's my only friend, but it's kinda difficult for me to warm up to people, especially after what happened...

Not to mention opening up sounds like a major pain in the ass.

"…Okay Listen up, class. Today we have a transfer student that only recently moved here in Kirihama." Our homeroom teacher, Matsumoto-sensei, a middle aged woman with short hair, announces with her usual polite grin. "Please go ahead and introduce yourself Himura-san." She finally gestures towards the door, as the class looks on in anticipation.

Almost immediately after Matsumoto-sensei’s introduction, the door steadily slides open and inside steps a lean girl, with sleek and long black hair. Her bangs fall over her forehead, covering the entirety of her eyebrows, and her crimson red eyes, make her skin look even paler than it already is. She is already wearing our school's uniform, the female version of course, which consists of a dark blue pullover wool vest, a white shirt underneath and a grey checkered skirt. She's also wearing black high knee socks which I'm assuming is her personal preference since not all the girls wear them. Case in point, Mayu’s wearing short white ones today.

Don’t ask me why I noticed.

The last part of the outfit, is a regular pair of brown pumps.

Suddenly I realize how hard I’m staring, and intentionally look out the window. But, naturally, I wasn’t the only one in the class checking her out, since everybody in here is dead silent, eyes fixed on the new girl.

"Hello my name is Himura Noriko. I hope we can get along." She speaks plainly, in a flat, somewhat disconnected tone.

"Does she look kinda pale or is it just me?" Mayu turns to me and whispers, covering her mouth with her hand.

"I don't know... Maybe?" I reply in the same volume as her, but without caring to cover my mouth.

To be fair, I don't think she looks THAT bad.

But maybe I'm the only one who really thinks so since the whole class has already started their whispering sessions.

Damn, I feel kind of sorry for her.

I shoot her a glance as she takes the unoccupied seat in the first row opposite from the window. Judging by her body language and expression, she seems hardly bothered by the whole thing. It’s almost like she’s used to it.

With a posture straight as an arrow, she looks ahead to the blackboard, without batting an eye on all the comments about her drifting through the air.

“She’s deathly pale…”

“She looks like a ghost…”

“Ahem…” Matsumoto-sensei, on the other hand, clears her throat, determined to get on with homeroom.

After some more whispers, and the usual boring lecture I lost focus on half-way, first period came and went without anything out of the ordinary happening.

"Come on, let's go grab lunch!" Mayu bolts out of her seat and grabs my arm.

"You sure are energetic..." I reply in a lot less enthusiastic way, letting myself get dragged out of my seat.

"Oh, I forgot to mention! I need someone to take Himura-san on a tour around the school, make sure she learns her way around it. Is anyone up for it?" Matsumoto-sensei perks up right before she is about to leave class, her hand already resting on the handle.

But, of course there is no response by anyone as they completely ignore her.

"So you want to play it that way..." She hisses and I swear I see a vein pop up on her forehead. Soon, an evil smile spreads across her face, as she looks at me. "Kobayashi-kun. I'm counting on you."

Before I even have a chance to protest, the middle aged teacher is already out the room, as swift as a ninja.

"Are you for real...?"I mutter to myself.

Seriously why me of all people? Mayu would be a lot more suited in this sort of thing.

"Oops, I guess I'll go have lunch with the girls then." Mayu states as if adding fuel to the fire, with an apologetic smile. “Hey, wait up!” Then, she runs off after a group of girls.

Mayu had always been a social butterfly, since we were kids. Everybody likes her, and she gives the impression that she can be relied upon. That’s why she’s the class representative after all.

Class representative, and somehow I still got roped up in showing the new girl around…

"Whatever..." I bluntly reply as I rub my temples and head towards the still-seated transfer student.

Despite my only friend being the most popular girl in class, my presence pretty much still goes unnoticed most of the time. Of course, hanging out with Mayu earns me some weird looks here and there, but that’s about it.

Soon, I’ve reached my destination.

"Hey."

"Hello."

We initiate a back and forth, of similar tones and excitement levels.

Well she sure is a talkative one. Not that I am one to talk…

"So uhm… I’m Kobayashi Hideki... Shall we get on with the tour?" I explain, while not bothering to sound all that friendly.

"Nice to meet you Kobayashi-kun. Let's go." She replies blatantly yet again, giving me a second to ponder if I'm actually talking to some sort of advanced human-looking robot.

Since I'm the guide, I take the lead and show her around the school exactly like I was asked to.

"Our school’s main building has three floors. You might expect the classrooms to be organized in some way, but they really aren’t. You'll get used to it in no time. Over here…" I try explaining to the best of my ability as we walk down the hall of the third and last floor of the building.

I continue talking about the classrooms, until I realize that Himura-san isn't following me anymore. She's only standing a few steps behind me, staring into one of the empty and dark classrooms.

"Himura-san?" I voice as I walk back to her and turn to face the direction she’s staring into.

I take a look inside the room, but the shutters are closed, making me squint in order to make out that “something” Himura-san’s looking at. As my eyes adjust fairly quickly I can faintly make out something at the far corner of the room, right next to the lectern. Something… or more precisely someone, is standing there looking directly at the both of us. His face... twisted in pure fury. Although I can’t make out much of his visage, I can sense his glare piercing through my soul. Then I blink, and the silhouette is gone.

I blink yet again, and wipe my eyes furiously. But now, the man that was looking at us is nowhere to be seen.

A shiver runs down my spine, as I even forget how to breath for that spilt second.

"Did you see that?" Himura-san asks from beside me, staring straight into my eyes.

"I guess?” I suddenly release a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “…Must have been some trick of the light…”

I try to play the whole thing off, while the mysterious girl gives me an ominous reply.

"No... Something is wrong… I can feel it." "There's something dark... I sense darkness in this school..." She says, her gaze distant, as if disconnected from this world.

"Darkness… you say? Care to elaborate?" I involuntarily gulp.

"I can't really explain it. I just feel it." She states furrowing her brows, deep in thought.

Yikes, too many Junji Ito novels maybe?

I think to myself, trying to calm down. The last thing I need is a ghost, after all.

"I... I see." I reply somewhat hesitantly.

What is one supposed to reply, when met with such a statement, after all?

"Sorry. I didn't really mean to scare you." She finally looks up at me, as if she just woke up from her trance.

"No… it's okay. Wanna continue that tour we were on?" I finally regain my composure and ask.

"Sure."

I continue to lead her through the halls and she trails after me. "So if you take those stairs you'll find yourself on the roof so-"

"Uhm... Kobayashi-kun?"

While I’m trying to get back into my role, Himura-san cuts me off mid-sentence and I stop to look at her once again. With eyes wide like saucers, she raises a trembling finger, to point over my shoulder. Without even having time to think, I basically spin around in place.

There's nothing there...

There's nothing there, but the hairs at the back of my neck prickle all the same. For a few seconds, I could feel my heart just about ready to jump out of my throat.

"What was that all about?" I voice, after taking a deep breath.

"Nothing... I just felt something and..." Himura-san looks like she is about to get lost in thought once again, her voice trailing off.

This has to be some kind of joke right? I bet she's enjoying creeping me out.

"Look, I'm not really into your jokes so I'd appreciate it if-"

"No, no it's not a joke... I felt it, I really did!"

Slightly irritated, I voice a complaint, but I'm cut off once more.

As the girl tries to preach her case, she looks at me with the eyes of a kid trying to explain itself to its parent after doing something naughty.

"I'm sorry I need to get back to class... Thanks for the tour!" She abruptly stops, and fumbles with her words, before running past me and down the stairs still flustered.

She needs to get back to class? Does she even know what’s next?

Suddenly, I’m left all alone on the third floor, my questions left unanswered. But of course I don't plan on sticking around here for long, especially after what happened… so after heaving an exasperated sigh, I take my own leave.

Darkness? Seriously... what the heck was that all about?

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The Official Cover

66 Hours


Katsuhito
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