We have successfully made it out of the basement, and with all that’s been going on today, it’s safe to say we’re all more than relieved to see we didn’t lose anyone else. My foot has started to ache slightly, but it really is a minuscule price to pay in exchange for my life.
“Hota-chan! I missed you!”
Mayu, always her energetic self, latches on to Hotaru yet again, her face full of delight.
We all walk in high spirits, back to the Home Ec room, when I notice an absence amidst our group. Hideki.
Just when I’m thinking to myself where that idiot could have gone, I turn to the sound of a muffled thud.
Once I do, I realize he’s lying there on the ground, probably unconscious. It takes me a moment to register the sight…
Without another thought, I rush to his aid. What’s wrong? Is he hurt somewhere?
“Hey, doofus! What’s wrong?!” I shake his shoulder, yet there’s no response. Panic slowly starts setting in. What if he’s…?
“Somebody, help!” I turn to the others, and raise my voice as loud as possible. “GUYS!”
“Huh?” Mayu turns around with furrowed brows, but her expression turns grim in an instant.
“Hideki!” “What’s wrong?”
Everybody has soon gathered round our fallen friend, who shows no sign of regaining consciousness.
“Ayase-senpai, what happened?”
“I-I don’t know, I just t-turned to the sound of him falling!” My voice is jittery as I reply.
Why am I in such a panic? My hands are all shaky too…
Mayu quickly turns him over on his back and checks for a pulse. Soon, she breathes out a sigh of slight relief.
“He’s got a normal heartbeat…”
I release a breath I didn’t know I was holding. And then Mayu snaps.
“That idiot! I told him not to push himself too hard!”
Hideki was pushing himself to the edge? And Mayu could tell that?
I didn’t even have the faintest idea that something like that could happen. Sure, he looked a little on edge, but I never would have guessed that…
“This must have been caused by the exhaustion…”
Everyone looks slightly relieved to hear that, yet my anxiety is still here… What if it’s something else?
What is going on with me? I need to get my mind off of things…
“Mayu, how can I help?”
“Don’t worry Ayase-senpai, Kazuya and I will carry him to the Home Ec.”
I don’t even have the time to protest, before Mayu and Kazuya hoist Hideki up, and slowly pull his arms over their shoulders.
Soon, I’m already left behind, as the group shuffles onwards. What am I even capable of? I couldn’t help Hideki, I was just sitting there, panicking…
What if Mayu wasn’t here?
What can I even do to help the group? Help… him?
After we’ve all reached our base, and we’ve had a chance to let Hideki lie down, Mayu has deduced that it was indeed due to exhaustion. Everyone had a light snack for dinner, since they didn’t have much of an appetite, and we decided to call it a night.
After the lights were out for a good half an hour, I started tossing and turning underneath the covers, restlessly.
They said it was exhaustion. They said he would be fine.
Yet I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling off my mind.
When I had seen him fall like that, it felt like my heart dropped too. What is this weird feeling in my chest? Why have I constantly been thinking of Hideki every chance I’m alone with my thoughts? Could I be…?
My restlessness has reached its peak, when I shuffle out of my covers and make my way to Hideki’s sleeping spot. Thankfully, everyone’s asleep and he’s just a few steps away from me. Careful not to wake Kazuya sleeping across from him, I fold my legs neatly on the floor, and sit next to him.
I stare at his sleeping face for a few seconds, and let my mind wander.
It’s barely been 2 days since I’ve met him… how could I harbor such strong emotions for someone I just got to know? Yet it feels like it’s been more than that. These 2 days felt longer. Almost as if a whole week had passed. I didn’t know if it was a trick of the mind, or a trick the school itself was playing at us. But that didn’t matter right now. What mattered to me, was this weird feeling that I harbored for this younger boy in front of me. What IS that feeling?
Suddenly, my lips curve up into a smile, instinctively. His sleeping face is so calm and relaxed. Whenever he’s awake, his eyes always give off the feeling he’s thinking of something. Silently assessing the situation.
Back at school he was somewhat of a loner, yet he seems to have a grasp of how people feel. Why was he alone? I wanted to learn more about him. And in return… I wanted him to see more of me.
He is the only one that knows how I really am. How foul my mouth is, and how short my temper can be at times. I must have been a handful. Maybe…. Maybe my mom was right…
As I’m lost in those spiraling thoughts of mine, I reach out to brush a strand of his hair away from his eyes. And that’s when I realize something.
I’m not anxious anymore. I’m not panicking.
Just seeing his face is enough to calm every raging storm inside me.
Somehow, I reach a conclusion. One that finally feels… right.
I’m in love with him. Plain and simple. That’s the origin of this burning feeling within me.
I let out a relieved breath. It feels so liberating to admit, it’s actually ridiculous.
Man, Ayase… of all the places to fall in love, you had to pick a haunted school, huh?
But right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s the feeling I get.
But, there’s one more problem.
Now I can’t sleep for a whole new reason…
I open my eyes to darkness. While I’ve been fairly acquainted with darkness in these past 2 days, somehow this feels… different. And not in a good way. It feels strange, foreign.
I can’t see anything, I don’t even understand if I’m standing up or lying down. All I feel is the overwhelming darkness ready to swallow me whole.
I’m certain this isn’t the Home Ec room… yet again, I don’t even remember what happened. I don’t recall anything after realizing that Hotaru and Kazuya are fine…
Thank God they’re okay… But what about me? Where am I?
As I look around, I notice an unfamiliar girl hugging her knees. Her suppressed sobs come in waves, as her shoulders shake.
“Are you okay?’
I walk over to the girl, and crouch beside her. Yet she doesn’t notice me. She just keeps on crying, her face buried and low.
I get a slight feeling of sympathy, even melancholy as I watch her.
She feels unreachable, although she’s but a step away. She feels lonely. Forgotten.
And full of an emotion I can’t quite explain. It’s bubbling up slowly, yet surely.
Then, there’s a voice.
It’s a familiar voice.
I spin around in place, and come face to face with…
There he stands, the middle-aged man I had thought long gone.
“Hideki.” He repeats, his tone low. “You mustn’t give up.”
What was he saying? Of course I wouldn’t…
“The last day, will be the hardest of all.”
“The last day?” I repeat after him in confusion. Does he mean tomorrow? But there’s also half a day after that too.
“Everything you stand for will be challenged. Your trust, your will…”
“How do you know all this?” I can’t resist the urge to ask. His tone is so certain.
“I’ve seen it.”
He’s seen it?
“You need to stay…” His voice trails off, descending into even lower volumes, while his eyes turn hollow.
“…Strong.” After he utters the last word, the point of connection between his head and body forms into a crimson ring. Soon, his head, having no means of hanging onto the rest of his body, falls off like a prop in a play.
I instantly feel sick to my stomach. My sights are filled with crimson red blood, filling the darkness around me to the brim, over spilling into my senses.
Suddenly I can hear another set of voices. This time less familiar, yet more animated. Alive.
“You cold-hearted bastard!” “I trusted you!”
What were they saying? What were they accusing me of?
“I thought you were a nice person!”
Why does this feel familiar?
And instinctively, I try to defend myself. Yet the words, sharp as nails, are stuck in my throat.
“Hideki, how could you?”
Suddenly it feels like I’m buried in an avalanche of overwhelming voices. Like a mob has gathered to burn a witch to death.
And that witch is…
“Hideki, I had you figured for a better person…”
Please, make it stop.
My mind is filled with anxiety, and my vision with red. I can hear a million voices in my head, shouting, roaring.
MAKE IT STOP.
“I didn’t do it!”
I shout at the top of my lungs, and the earth starts to shake. Then, they appear. The bodies of the friends we lost to the traps. I can see them. They’re looking at me.
And atop it all, there’s a silhouette. A silhouette of a girl. She hovers over them slightly, her hollow gaze fixed to me, through her short, yet unkempt hair. Her lips part, and she whispers. She whispers, yet I can hear it loud and clear. As if she’s next to me. Breathing down my ear.
“How does it feel?”
“HAAH!” I immediately shoot up from my covers, a hint of sweat on my forehead.
What the hell was that?
I think to myself, before scanning the area to see I’m lying down in the Home Ec room, while the others are sleeping. I have no recollection of how I got here. Did I pass out?
I take a minute to compose myself, before I take a look around. I can’t possibly go to sleep so soon after that. My heart is about to beat out of my chest.
As my eyes travel across our base, I notice someone sitting in the corner, a set of blankets wrapped around them. It’s Ayase.
She’s sitting away from everyone, just underneath the window, where the moon shines up above.
Why isn’t she asleep?
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