Chapter 6:


Hello School;

“You sure you’re ok, man?” Suzaku asks as we leave the school grounds.

“Yeah, I’m probably just tired.”

“You did seem pretty rattled. I can walk home with you if you want?”

“No, no, don’t worry about it, I’m fine now.”

“You better not be lying! If you space out and get hit by a car on the way home or something, I’m gonna be angry!”

I smile at Suzaku’s ability to turn even legitimate concern into an amusing statement.

“I won’t, don’t worry.”

“Right,” Suzaku gives in, waving as he walks away. “G’night, see you next week.”

“See you.”

Of course, I’m not really tired at all, but I can’t exactly tell Suzaku that the reason I was freaking out is because I’m going crazy. The thought that I’m losing my mind feels unreal, but what else can it be? This is twice now that I’ve seen something alarmingly strange. The first time I was alone, but this time I was among others, and I’m still the only one who saw it. I must be going crazy, there’s no other explanation.

I rationalised my sighting of the lamppost as being an odd case of light refraction seen from my perspective. But I can’t come up with an explanation for this one. It’s not that the temperature of the fire suddenly increased, since I would have definitely felt it from where I was standing. And judging by how the entire fire changed colour so quickly, I doubt it can be because of something that was thrown onto the fire, at least not something small enough that no-one would notice it. Either way, that doesn’t explain why no-one else saw it happen. It must all be in my head.


I wake up the day after the festival and go about my normal routine, trying to shake the memory of the flame, but, just like with the lamppost, it doesn’t budge. I read up on spontaneously colour-changing flames throughout the day, but nothing I find seems to match what I saw. As before, I don’t mention anything about it to my parents, since I don’t want to ruin the nice atmosphere after I gave them both the gifts I bought at the festival.

On my way to school the next morning, I once again lament the fact that the good memories I made at the cultural festival will forever be overshadowed by my own mind messing with me. I don’t know why, perhaps I’m punishing myself for always thinking that there should be more to high school life than I currently have. I only have myself to blame.

“It’s not you.”

I spin around, searching for whoever just spoke. The voice was as clear as day, but there is no-one around me. I check all around me again. The street is empty, not even a single car in sight.

I stand frozen for a few seconds, but still not a single person enters my line of sight. The words echo through my mind over and over.

‘It’s not you.’

Now I’m hearing things as well… Although it’s hard to tell whether I actually heard it or if it was just in my head. I guess it could be that the voice was from my own mind as a warning to take the other two events seriously. It didn’t sound like inner monologue, though. It was like it was spoken directly into my ear. What I find truly strange is that the voice isn’t even one that I recognise. In fact, it didn’t quite sound human, more like a computer that was talking with a human voice. It also came at a convenient time, as if answering my very thoughts. And there must be something very wrong for me to be able to unwillingly answer my own thoughts in a voice I don’t know. Also, why would my brain try to convince me that what I’ve been seeing isn’t just my own fabrications?

The lamppost… the fire… and now a voice that seemingly answered my thoughts. Was I wrong to simply chalk everything up to me losing my mind? It seems like the simplest solution, but simple doesn’t always equal true.

I guess I’m gonna have to think about all of this a bit more.


Four months have passed since the cultural festival, and nothing strange has happened since then. I haven’t told anyone about what I’ve seen, heard, or thought - I’ve just been acting normally, from their perspective. I have also given a great deal of thought to my situation throughout that time. The more I think about it, the less it makes sense that all of these events are just taking place in my head. It must mean something.

I arrive at the classroom. The class’s mood has been rather different lately, probably since everyone is excited for the upcoming December holiday.

“Mornin’ Aya,” Misu greets, with Saori and Suzaku soon following.

I greet them all back, and another normal day begins.

As I listen to Misu and Saori chatting, I once again notice how they hardly act any different at school since they started going out. Suzaku did indeed make fun of the two of them quite a bit after they got together, but Misu and Saori both had no problems joking back at him. Mr. Gary enters, and homeroom kicks off our classes for the day. Today, however, the school work fades into white noise much quicker than usual, so I start running through the same train of thought that I’ve been repeating for the last few months.

The primary conclusion that I have made is that the lamppost, the bonfire and the voice were all messages directed at me, by someone or something.

Before trying to decipher any message, my first thought was: how can anyone make all of this happen in the first place? Considering the nature of the things I’ve seen and heard, however, it’s hard to justify how someone would achieve that. I’d rather not dwell on the ‘how’ for now, since I don’t see it making sense or really making a difference to the fact that I have a message to decode.

So, I decided to focus on the next glaring question: who is responsible for these messages? I believe that there are two main possibilities to consider.

Firstly, it could be someone that I am regularly in contact with. This was my first thought, considering that it makes the most sense, at least at first glance. I have, however, become less convinced by this first possibility after giving it a great amount of thought.

If it’s someone I’m quite close to, why did the messages stop after the bonfire and the voice? Surely if the point is to convey a message, you’d keep sending them until you get some sort of reaction back? Other than Suzaku and one other student I asked about the bonfire incident, I didn’t react at all, so surely if this was the case, the person would not have stopped sending messages. Unfortunately, as usual in this train of thought, the suspicion of Suzaku comes up, since he and the other student at the bonfire were the only ones who saw any sort of reaction from me. As absurd as it is to suspect one of my closest friends, it’s a possibility that I felt I had to consider regardless.

Fortunately, I don’t feel like I have much reason to suspect him. Why would Suzaku need to resort to abnormal events to try and convey some hidden message to me? If he was really waiting for me to react, then why didn’t he say anything at the bonfire, or at any point after? If his message was something that he couldn’t tell me outright, why would he have stopped after I reacted to the bonfire? Unless the message was already complete, but, no matter how long I tried, I couldn’t see any noteworthy meaning in the three incidents alone.

This same reasoning goes for the other student I asked about the bonfire, but since I don’t even know that student’s name, I can hardly make any sort of logical accusation. The only thing I thought of is that it’s possible that the person needed to send the messages without getting caught, but that makes it seem even more suspicious if either Suzaku or the other student is the culprit. Unless they chose to give up once they noticed my reaction, in which case the message clearly wasn’t that important anyway.

The second main possibility, and in my mind the more likely one, is that the person responsible for the messages is someone who I don’t know at all, but somehow has knowledge of my reactions and even my thoughts. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t explain why the messages stopped after the bonfire. Unless they were just meant to get my attention, and the true messages are still to come. The long amount of time that has passed might be to give me the time needed to come to this very conclusion, so that I can be on the lookout for the next message. Or it could be that the timing of the messages as well as the identity of the person responsible is irrelevant, making all of this time spent on dissecting the possibilities a waste.

I snap myself out of my deep thought as the bell rings, signifying the end of the day’s classes. After greeting Misu, Saori and Suzaku, I make my way to the Shogi and Chess Club, where I’ve been spending more and more time as of late. I pass the time reading by myself until Mr. Gary arrives. After making his usual rounds in the clubroom, he greets me and sits down opposite me to play a game of chess.

Midway through the game, while taking a look at Mr. Gary’s focussed face, I recall the time that he talked to me before the festival preparations started. ‘Be careful out there’, he said. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but I realised after the cultural festival that it was the last time I spoke with Mr. Gary before the bonfire incident occurred. I try not to put too much thought into it, even now, but it has made me wonder whether Mr. Gary might know something. The entire situation is far too outlandish to bring up, though, so I bury the thought and continue with the chess game.

“Is something on your mind, Ayato?” Mr. Gary asks.

“Nothing in particular, why?”

“Well, your moves have been a bit more… spontaneous than usual.”

He was clearly struggling to find a nice word to use there. I look down at the board and realise that, although we have the same pieces left, Mr. Gary has full control over the centre of the board, whereas my pieces are scattered around the edges. How did this game get so out of my control?

“Wow,” I mumble embarrassed, “I didn’t realise how bad this is going until now.”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that. You’ve been reacting to my moves, but you haven’t really made any moves of your own. It seems like you’re not playing with a clear plan for the game, which is honestly quite rare for you.”

“None of my plans seemed to work on you before, so I thought that I might see how it goes if I play more on-the-fly this time.”

Of course, that wasn’t actually my plan, but I have to cover for not paying that much attention without making it sound uncharacteristic.

“Ah, so that’s why you used such a strange opening? Changing your strategy can be useful, but you shouldn’t just discard your strengths in the process. For example, your openings are usually very strong, but this time it was too random, so it was difficult to get good positioning from there. After handing me the centre, how can you hope to recover with aimless moves?”

“I was hoping to throw you off and take control when an opening came, but so far I haven’t gotten the chance.”

“Well, you’re definitely not gonna get a chance now that you’ve told me your master plan. Are you sure you’re not just distracted by the thought of the upcoming holidays?”

“Now that you mention it, maybe I am. I’m in the process of making plans with some friends.”

“Sounds great, I hope it works out! The holidays are better spent with others. Do your plans include celebrating New Year’s with them?”

“Hopefully, if we can get Suzaku to confirm.”

“Well, even if he can’t go, I say the rest of you go anyway. There’s not much use in throwing away all of your celebrations like that.”

“He won’t be very happy about it, but I’m sure he’ll survive.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Our conversation soon dies down, as does my hope of winning the game. Sure enough, I’m checkmated fifteen minutes later. I don’t bother analysing the game this time, since I didn’t pay enough attention to remember all of it. I thank Mr. Gary for the game before taking my leave.


The last school days before the holidays go by rather painlessly. For New Years, I will be hanging out with Misu, Saori and Suzaku, but before that, my parents and I have an outing planned for Christmas. We don’t particularly celebrate Christmas, but it has been a day reserved for family for as long as I can remember. Interestingly, it starts snowing the night before our outing - something that gets my father very excited.

The snowfall is light, but continuous when we start to get ready for our outing.

“I’m so happy that we finally get snow over Christmas this year!” my father practically shouts while putting on his jacket. “The last few years were dry and cold, and that’s no fun.”

“You really like the idea of a white Christmas, don’t you, dear?”

My mother is already at the door, ready to leave.

“Yeah, it reminds me of when I was a child. White Christmases were the best then!”

“So does that mean you want to go and play in the snow to really feel like you’re a kid again?”

“Uhhh,” my father groans, giving the idea some thought. “It’s tempting… What do you think, Ayato? Care to go play in the snow with me?”

I reach the front door, well-equipped for the weather outside.

“Even I’m too old for that, you can play by yourself and I can watch you instead.”

“Nonsense! You’re just not daring enough!”

“Just don’t be too daring, dear, you have work tomorrow morning.”

My father’s mood appears to drop for a second, but picks back up as soon as we open the door to leave.

“Alright,” he cheers, “let’s go get some cake and start the celebrations!”