The Web Novel Club
The late night operation of publishing Natsuki’s own story actually took a little longer than expected. It certainly kept her up later than expected, but that was mostly because she spent a good few hours tossing in bed, too giddy with excitement to sleep. She fell asleep roughly around the same time Fuyuki would be waking up for the day - right at the first crack of dawn.
The operation started with making her account.
Hmm, what’s a good username?
At that moment, Natsuki realized she didn’t know Masako and Yumiko’s usernames. Actually, come to think of it, she had never actually read their stories. Sure, she read Yumiko’s writing while helping Masako edit it - but she never actually found and read one of her stories online. And, come to think of it even further, Natsuki had actually read very few web novels. Her experience with reading them was limited to a few recommendations Masako gave her. Natsuki read a few chapters, but never got around to really taking a deep dive into them like she wanted to. There was always more writing to do, and when there wasn’t more writing to do, there were other things to do - hanging out with Mitsuko or Fuyuki, homework, and television.
What was the username I used for fanfiction? Oh, yeah. FudgeSundaeLover71-
Natsuki’s thoughts clammed up. Fudge Sundae had certainly become a popular show, but she had joined the fandom during its early days. From the way she sat in her chair - her face scarlet, bringing her knees onto the seat of the chair to hug them in embarrassment - perhaps she had joined the fandom a little too hard.
To overcome the shameful memory of her days on a Fudge Sundae roleplaying server, Natsuki decided to come up with a new username. She glanced at the usernames on Persepolis, searching for a theme or something, but came up empty. Scratching her head, she pulled up an encyclopedia webpage from earlier that week that she studied for homework.
She aimlessly clicked on the hyperlinks, searching for any inspiration. Ferdinand Magellan brought her to Philippines; Philippines brought her to Asia; Asia brought her to Japan; Japan brought her to the Sengoku period; the Sengoku period brought her to Miyohime, a Japanese warrior woman who lived and ruled bravely.
If I close my eyes hard enough, that sort of reminds me of me!
In the create username box, Natsuki wrote Roshi Miyohime. One password later, she had her very own account!
Forgoing a profile picture, Natsuki immediately found the create story button. She figured the whole process would be simple, but not only did creating an account require multiple steps, so did actually publishing a story.
Title. Hmm…well, I don’t want to mislead my readers.
For the title, she wrote Time Cop.
Description. Hm…well, that’s easy!
Time Cop is a story about a time cop, Natsuki typed. He fights time crime across time. Hope everyone enjoys it!
Done! Now, add a cover…nah! I’m no good with editing pictures…oh, maybe I can get some help from Mitsuko.
Deciding to do that later, Natsuki kept rolling down the page. Add tags? What’s a tag? Oh, little description thingies that help people know what you’re story is about. Let’s see…action, adventure, comedy (Natsuki almost woke her sister up from laughing so hard about a scene where Time Cop asks his unsuspected target for the time, and when the target doesn’t know, he goes “Tooth-hurty” (get it? Two-thirty?) and punches him across the mouth), drama (Time Cop hides his heavy heart and love for his adopted daughter with a layer of grumpiness), and science fiction, and-
Oh, I can only do five. Oh well!
Having blitzed through everything necessary to create the story, Natsuki brought her mouse towards the final button. With one push, her story would be online for all the world to see.
Her stomach rolled and her face felt hot. But Natsuki realized her own contradictory nature at the moment. Now that she had ten thousand words to her name, she wanted to show other people - just not anybody she actually knew in real life.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, that was the true power of publishing web novels - the ability to solve that contradiction.
Natsuki hit the publish button.
The screen went white for a moment, and then-
Ah, what? Your story has to be approved first???
Grumbling about this apparent approval process - one that could needlessly take multiple hours, she might add - Natsuki rolled into bed. But then the giddiness took over, the surging excitement that washed through her whole body, and it would be a long time before she finally drifted off to sleep.
Some time later, she slowly awoke, the sun’s rays coming through her window onto her face finally getting her sleeping body to realize it was well into the day. Natsuki rubbed her eyes and yawned - then gasped.
She did a roll out of bed, landing on light feet, then immediately slid into her chair with enough force to spin the chair around in a complete circle. Her fingers slid over the keyboard, her mind almost moving too fast for her typing fingers to keep up.
Did it publish yet? Did it publish yet?
When she pulled up Persepolis, she gasped hard enough to nearly fall out of her chair. Right next to her username in the top right corner was a little red circle over a bell symbol. That could only mean one thing - she had a notification.
Natsuki’s mind frantically examined the possibilities. A rating? A five-star rating? Somebody commented?
Her heart raced and she almost trembled. The anonymity of the internet wasn’t exactly one-hundred percent. It’s one thing to publish out into the vast world of the internet - it’s another thing when the internet actually sends something back your way.
Someone had interacted with her story. Someone had actually written back to her. Despite the existence of usernames, the anonymity of it all seemed to slip away from Natsuki. This was something for her and her alone, directed squarely at Natsuki herself. And that comment could be anything. Words of encouragement? Possibly. A negative response? That was far more likely. What was good about Natsuki’s story, anyway? Was the whole thing futile? What was Natsuki doing with her life?
To put it bluntly, it was spiraling time.
After downing an entire bottle of water and counting to ten, Natsuki composed herself, finally calming her breathing. Her desire to know finally overcame her fear of knowing and with a trembling hand, she clicked on the bell button to open the notification.
Congratulations! Your story has been successfully published!
Somehow, the lone notification coming from one of those website robot messenger things comforted Natsuki. The anonymity returned and she sighed in relief. Then she clapped her hands. Successfully published!
Natsuki pulled up her own story. She looked fondly at the title, the description, and the list of chapters (which currently only consisted of the first chapter, titled Chapter One). When she briefly caught her own reflection in a black part of the screen, Natsuki realized just how wide her grin was. Maybe grin was an understatement. She had a big, wide, dumb, goofy-looking look of pure joy on her face.
Persepolis hid the view counter for the story. Taking a deep breath, Natsuki clicked on the counter to open up-
In the kitchen, Fuyuki poured soy sauce into a pan of fried rice sizzling on her stove when the entire apartment shook.
“E-earthquake!” Fuyuki yelped out, cradling the soy sauce bottle to keep it from flying out of her hands, but then she realized the earthquake sounded far more like her older sister cheering and hollering.
Natsuki kicked open the door to their bedroom so hard that it almost flew off the hinges. “Fuyuki!” she exclaimed, prancing around their apartment. “I did it! I did it!”
Fuyuki smiled and tilted her head. “Good morning. It’s almost 1 PM.”
“Time is just a construct!” Natsuki answered. “It doesn’t matter! What really matters is this-”
She held up four fingers. “I published my story last night, Fuyuki. Four views! Four whole people saw my story!”
Fuyuki looked at her sister in awe. “That’s so amazing, Natsuki!”
Natsuki scooped her sister up in her arms; Fuyuki just barely held onto the soy sauce as Natsuki spun around with her. “Four people! Four people!”
“T-that’s great, Natsuki-”
With surprising strength - perhaps that was the pure strength of sheer joy - Natsuki continued spinning and lifted Fuyuki up into the air.
“N-N-Natsuki, t-the ceiling fan’s on! Natuski!!!”
Still spinning, Natsuki set Fuyuki down on the ground just in time. As Fuyuki caught her breath, Natsuki put on a pair of slides.
“I’m buying snacks at the convenience store to celebrate!” Natsuki exclaimed as she reached for the door knob. “You want anything?”
“I’m all set, but thanks.”
Natsuki winked. “I’ll get you something anyway.”
Fuyuki raised a hand to stop her, but Natsuki was already out the door.
“Um…you might want to brush your hair and your teeth and put some deodorant on before heading out, Natsuki…it’s summer.”
“I can’t go back to that convenience store!” Natsuki complained as she mowed down several bags of donuts. “It’s so hot out! I smelled myself on the way back…the poor, poor people in the store.”
As Fuyuki ate fried rice next to her, she tried to encourage her sister. “It’s alright, Natsuki. At the end of the day, you won’t really see those people again, right?”
That did encourage Natsuki. “You’re right! Just like ships that pass in the night.”
On their television, a Miyazawa Sparrows player caught a fly ball to the cheers of the crowd (and the two sisters in their apartment).
“How does he do it?” Natsuki asked. “Playing in front of all those people. And on so many televisions? Millions of people could be watching him right now.”
Despite the heat, she shivered. “How do you do it, Fuyuki?”
Fuyuki, who played shortstop for the Miyazawa Regional Middle School softball club, watched the next batter step up to the plate. “I’m not sure. It never really bothered me. I guess everything else fades away. Not only the people watching me, but other things, like homework, chores, the fear of making a mistake…it all goes away. All you can focus on is the chase.”
“The chase,” Natsuki repeated, rubbing her chin. “I like that.”
“...I got it from a book you gave me, Natsuki.”
Natsuki grinned. “I’m glad you read it.” She stood up and stretched. “Your older sister will be right back. I need to check the views.”
“You’ve checked between every inning,” Fuyuki said. “I hope it goes up this time.”
Time Cop, the story of a time cop who fights time crime across time, had remained at a steady five views overall for the past six innings. Natsuki hoped things would change in this seventh-inning stretch.
But when she pulled the webpage up, the five views still taunted her.
Amazing. How could I be so happy with four views in the morning and so frustrated by five views in the afternoon?
She slumped in her seat and crossed her arms. How can I gain more views? Maybe I should ask Masako-
Natsuki remembered how Masako planned on teaching her the right way to publish a story this upcoming week. She decided against telling the club president that she published her story earlier that expected.
That left her with few ideas on how to increase the views. But then one popped into her head.
If posting that chapter gave me five views…then maybe posting the second chapter will give me ten!
Natsuki remembered a brief warning from Masako about being careful with your stockpile of chapters, especially when you only have five, but the view counter flooded Natsuki’s mind. After hesitating for a mere moment, Natsuki pulled chapter two into the Persepolis “publish a new chapter” page.
That following Monday after classes let out for the day, Masako and Yumiko were playing checkers when they heard the door to the club room open slowly. Very slowly. Almost a guilty-level of slowly.
They glanced over and saw Natsuki plod over with slow steps, staring right at the ground.
“M-Masako…Y-Yumiko,” she said in a low whine.
Masako glanced at Yumiko; the two couldn’t help but give each other a good-natured grin.
“Let me guess,” Masako said. “You couldn’t wait until this week, so you published your story this past weekend.”
Natsuki glumly nodded.
“And then, wanting more views, you published another chapter.”
Another nod, this one even more filled with melancholy.
“And you ended up publishing all five chapters over the weekend, leaving you without a backlog.”
Natsuki briefly glanced up with teary eyes.
"...I made a mistake."