It’s been 2 hours since we escaped the school. My head was fuzzy, and my memory of what happened before we left was jumbled.
At first, we called an ambulance for Mayu, but we were all carried to the hospital anyway, since they presumed us to be the missing students.
Mayu thankfully held out until they carried her to the doctors, and me and Noriko were all examined thoroughly and were given the necessary treatments. They told us about calling the police and our family after the examinations were over.
Thankfully, Mayu’s condition wasn’t life-threatening, and she didn’t need surgery. They said she should recover soon…
“Himura-san. Mochizuki-san… You may see her.” A nurse called over to us, a business-like, yet warm smile on her face.
“Thank you.” The both of us rose from our seats, and looked at each other with a nod. A small smile playing on our lips. It was still weird seeing people on the outside for me. We’ve been in that school for who knows how long…
We were escorted inside where Mayu was lying on a bed, a tube strapped on her wrist, a blanket over her torso, and a goofy smile on her face.
“Heyo!” She gave a cheerful greeting, to which the both of us smiled even wider at.
“Mayu-san…” Noriko walked over to her with brisk steps.
I quickly followed up. “How are you feeling?”
“Uh… a little sleepy. Maybe it’s the drugs.”
I chuckle at her remark. “If that’s all the discomfort you’re in, then everything is good.”
“Heh, you’re quite the doctor yourself, Ayase-senpai! With how fast you acted back there!”
Noriko nodded along to her remark. “She really did.”
“Ah, I’ve just got a decent memory is all.” I smiled at their comments.
“Eh…” As Mayu’s eyes traveled across the room, my face suddenly fell. I was sure that the impending question would soon come. “Where’s Hideki?”
There it was.
“Uhm, he…” Noriko stuttered slightly.
How could she tell her after all? That Hideki stayed behind in order to save all of us? That idiot… he…How could someone tell Mayu that Hideki is probably…
Wiping my eyes quickly, I turned to look at her, straight in the eye.
“Guys, you’re scaring me…”
Mustering all my courage and gritting my teeth, I opened my mouth to speak
“Excuse me!” The nurse’s voice rung throughout the room, as she opened the door. We all turned to look at her, almost sure her words would be of no significance compared to our prior conversation. Yet, the nurse spoke anyway.
“Someone else from your school just arrived here.”
With my heart weighing me down, and my tears all dried up, I make my way downstairs for one more time. At first I decide to pay a visit to the Home Ec room. The room that we had all bided farewell. The room that used to be our sanctuary. I walked around within it, and memories flashed through my mind.
Eventually, I couldn't handle the silence.
A silence so heavy, my mind could split in two.
So I left.
I wandered the school, but the problem is, everywhere I go is silent. So deathly silent.
Glancing outside the window, I notice a figure of a girl, standing by the biggest tree in the courtyard.
The source of a curse.
The source of so many deaths.
The source of so much pain. So much suffering…
Why would she put others, through the same things she did?
What a petty reason. I wonder if this cycle will ever end.
Go talk to her…
A voice in my head suddenly calls out. Why would I do that?
Talk to her…
With a resigned sigh, I make my way downstairs, deciding to heed the voice’s advice.
There, I see the countless monsters from the basement, sitting at attention. No prowling about. No moving. They just stand, as I pass them by.
I carve a path through the school building and straight onto the courtyard. There, on the other side sits that crazy, abnormal teacher. But he doesn’t move an inch at the site of me. He’s like a prop fixed on the ground, staring straight up into the sky.
With sluggish steps I sit down on the grass, underneath that same tree. No birds are singing, and the light doesn't warm my skin at all. It's like I've grown completely numb. Maybe, I’ve already become a part of this school.
At least everyone is safe now. No more traps. No more keys to find. No more danger… No more pain… No more…
I turn to Misaki and open my mouth to speak. I want to curse her… Resent her... But… why?
She just stares straight ahead, her expression unreadable. Despite her demonic appearance, her face still seems human.
Human. Like any other girl.
“Does it hurt, human?” She speaks first, turning to stare back at me. “To have been left behind by those you call friends. Driven to despair, and left for dead.”
“Now you understand how I felt… How I died. Abandoned and alone.”
“I wasn’t abandoned—“
“Then why did they leave you here so they could save their skin?”
“There was no other cho—“
“Don’t make me laugh!” She cackles, her eyes boring holes through my soul. “Didn’t you all love to say how everything would turn out satisfactory in the end? How to not give up hope?”
Is that it? Is that how someone thinks, when they’ve given up hope?
“They didn’t try to save you… Instead they left you here.” She smirks “You’re the only one that can understand how I feel to such an extent.” She turns to face me, this time her grin growing wider, deeper “What do you say you join me, human? You can be immortal… Torment all those pitiful souls by my side!”
Is that really a proposal?
“Heh…” Somehow, I find myself chuckling. Was that what she wanted all along?
I sigh dejectedly. “Is that what you really want, Misaki?”
Irritated, she shifts her tone “Don’t address me so casually, human.”
“Why? You’re just a lonely spirit after all.”
“What is your point?”
For the past 3 days I’ve been contemplating…” I lie back down on the grass, the soft sensation of nature on my back. “What does death really mean?”
“What are you getting at?”
“How can someone be dead? Death is something that separates you with someone… something, forever. But if I can hear them when I focus, see them when I close my eyes, what does that mean?”
“What is all thi—“
I don’t let her interrupt me, and continue “It means they’re not really gone. Because those voices saved me earlier. They drive me forward. And my voice too, will lead someone. Give them hope.” I sit back up on the grass, and I gaze at the building in front of me. You would think I’d be sick of it by now, but a strange sense of melancholy grows and grows within me. “So, no…. I wasn’t abandoned. And I’m certainly not alone.”
“Hey, Misaki…” I get up from the grass and dust the greenery off my pants.
“I told you to not address me so casually, human!”
“What happened to you, was tragic. No one will ever deny that…” I take a moment to collect my thoughts. Gather the feelings I want to convey. I think I’ve finally grasped the point.
“But, did you really leave nothing behind, when you left? Someone… you loved?”
“What do you know…?” Her tone turns bitter, and her expression pained at my words. “What do you know about me?”
“I know nothing. And I’m not acting like I do. But maybe, I could try to understand you.”
“Understand me? Don’t make me laugh! I’m a spirit bound to this place! Driven by hatred!”
“Why are you bound to this place?”
“Eh?” The spirit looks straight at me, her eyes sharp yet confused.
“Why do you keep making people suffer? Does it help you? Will it save you? Does revenge make you feel better?” Without acknowledging the danger of my own words and actions, I take a step forward “Do you want more innocent people like you… to die?”
She raises a hand, and grits her teeth. “Stop talking!” I feel a palm wrap around my neck, and a strong, squeezing sensation. But it’s not strong enough to stop me.
“Would the person you loved… be proud of you… now?!”
“Shut up!” With a toss, she sends me flying across the courtyard and onto the tree behind me. My back collides with it and the air is knocked out of my lungs.
“Leave me alone!” She shouts, clutching her head. In an instant, I feel the ground shaking violently beneath me.
“LEAVE ME!” She shouts again, and the shaking becomes even stronger, it’s a task to even stand up “LEAVE!”
Somehow though I manage… I have a feeling within me. This is it!
Despite the shaking of the ground, I dash down the courtyard and into the school. The monsters and the teacher have disappeared, and the building remains empty. Small debris lie on the floor. The building is collapsing!
As I make my way up the stairs, jumping over columns and destroyed walls, I eventually reach the rooftop.
There I see them again. Standing before me, and forming a line along the path to the door. My friends.
Despite the desperate and violent shaking of the ground, I feel a strange calm within my heart. They’re here too…
“Hideki.” Kazuya’s visage voices.
“Hideki-kun.” Hotaru alongside him, their hands entwined.
“Hideki!” Tanaka-san cheerfully calls out.
Kurosawa and Yoko too, they wave at me. “Send my regards to Nakajima… I mean, Mayu!”
Alongside them stand countless other students, faces I don’t recognize. But they’re all smiling reassuringly. Telling me to escape… to release them.
As I glance around, I feel as if I had forgotten something…
Those words play in a loop inside my mind. Despite the collapsing of the building, my heart and brain shake even harder. I’ve been preaching all that, and YET…
“Sorry guys, but you’ll have to wait for me a little longer…” I voice as I turn my back to them, and look down and out the window.
There she stands… sitting all alone, underneath the tree.
For some reason, this vision, this moment seems strangely familiar.
“Someone is waiting.” I mutter, as I run back down the collapsing stairs and towards the courtyard again. As I get closer and closer to her, the shaking becomes even stronger. It’s taking my all to even stand, but I press on anyway.
The school building is collapsing, and concrete pieces rain from all over around me. Despite it all, I somehow manage to reach the courtyard, and the tree in one piece.
I brace myself and shout “MISAKI!”
“I told you to leave, human!”
“Shut up!” I grit my teeth and press on, with an extended hand, I reach out “This cycle ends here!” I grasp her hand with all I have. All that I am.
“You’re not gonna be left behind again! You’re coming with me!”
At those words, the resistance I feel on my grip is instantly nullified. Her expression loosens.
“66 Hours are up. Your suffering is over. We’re getting out of here!”
With a pull on her hand, I guide her back into the building. The debris around the school are massive, and the whole building is about to fall apart any minute now.
“I’m bound to this place, don’t you understand?!”
The stairs have collapsed, but we move forward even so
As if I’ll just stand down and die!
At the face of Misaki, the pillars lift up and away from us. The debris clearing forming a path. Dissolved concrete gathers up and forms a perfect set of steps for us to ascend up towards the rooftop, where a dormant flashing gate rests.
“Looks to me this place thinks otherwise.” I mutter at her, as I guide her up the stairs swiftly.
“How can this be…?”
“It’s time for all this to end, Misaki.” With every new step, the shaking becomes stronger, but the stairs hovering in the air stay firm. At the top, I see all of my friends waiting.
“Sorry for making you wait…” I mutter, and they shake their heads.
“Ah, it’s fine.” Kazuya shrugs.
I can’t help but smile.
“Come.” I drag Misaki from her hand through the crowd of glowing souls.
This is the end. This is how it’s ought to be.
I see the light in front of me, and press on. Forward.
“Nobody is leaving you behind ever again, Misaki. Let’s go.”
Misaki’s face breaks, it twists and turns “B-But… But I… I…” Her complexion turns warm, her skin lighter. Her eyes shift from burning crimson to soft hazel, and her hair straight and beautiful.
“I can’t…” As I drag her to the light, a tear escapes her eye. With an outstretched hand, I pass through the gate. It feels warm, welcoming. Before my whole body melts into the light, I push Misaki through the threshold with me.
It’s over. Finally it’s over.
As I pass through the light, I feel a sensation long forgotten. Warmth. The sun against my skin. The heat of a beautiful summer day.
Memories start flashing through my mind, one by one. Memories of the past? Memories of the future?
Memories of what could have been. Memories yet to come, and memories long past.
Memories that belong to someone. Someone that doesn’t exist.
I see a girl named Misaki. Could that be me?
She’s riding her bike to school on a sunny day. She’s chatting with her friend. A short, delicate girl. She watches a boy pass her by. A boy with black hair and blue eyes.
She falls in love.
Back at home awaits a warm meal. A loving family.
She lives life to the fullest enjoying every moment.
She loves, and cries, she smiles and laughs.
Hideki, Shiori and Misaki.
It all feels so real.
I open my eyes to a voice, like I was pulled straight out of a dream. Ah, of course it was a dream…
After passing through the gate, I find myself in an abundance of light. A white fluorescent chamber. Before me stands Misaki. Unrecognizable. Humane, imperfect but beautiful.
“Misaki!” I call out to her and she stirs, shaking her head. “Where are we?”
“I…” She clutches her head, confused. “We’re probably in a distorted space somewhere between the two realms.” She voices, her hands squeezed together. “This is where we part, You need to go back, and I need to face my punishment…”
“Misaki.” Before she can go, I stretch my hand out to her.
The girl whose curse killed so many. The girl that wanted revenge.
I know this is something I must do. That’s how I feel.
“You’ve taken people from me. People I cared about. Put me through hell…” Before my hand can even touch her head, she flinches, thinking this is an act of anger.
“But…" I sigh, and with it I dispell all of my pent up emotions "...I forgive you.” I lightly touch her head, my hand upon her hair.
She’s also the girl that suffered. The girl that wanted people to understand.
“Eh…?” Her exclamation is weak. Full of surprise.
“I will forgive you. So do yourself a favor and lay this grudge to rest. Forever. Put an end to this cycle of pain. Life is too precious and short, to be wasted on games of hatred and revenge.”
“I…” She mutters, her face twisted in silent contemplation. Soon though, she steels her resolve, and looks up at me. “I will face it all. My punishment and sins. My past, too…”
“That’s for the best, Misaki.” I can’t help the smile that rises to my face.
For some reason, I feel like I’ve known her for a long time. Bits and pieces of memories lie within me. Dormant and abandoned. Unused yet alive.
Misaki’s eyes narrow too, to what seems like a smile “Thank you, human—“ She instantly shakes her head “…Hideki.”
The light envelops us both. It embraces me to my core, and I feel my consciousness slowly being stripped away from me.
I hear birds singing, voices. The light sound of a motorcycle passing by, My eyes gradually open, and I’m gazing at a blue, vast sky.
“Eh…?” I exclaim, as I sit up on the concrete. With a quick look around, I realize I’m lying outside the school.
Outside… the school?
Can it be?
I pat myself all around. My head is bleeding, my arms are full of cuts and even my supposed healthy joints hurt. It hurts all over… But my heart is beating. I’m alive…
“Hey, you!” Suddenly, I turn to the sound of an unfamiliar voice. A pair of paramedics rush at me.
“Are you with the group from earlier?”
“The group from… earlier?”
Soon, I’m carried over to the hospital too. I tell them I’m doing fine yet they’re too persistent and don’t even give me the time of day. Failing to convince them, we reach the hospital. After a quick onceover, and some bandages here and there, a nurse comes up to me, and leads me down the hospital hallway. I have no clue where I’m being taken to… All I want is to see that the girls are doing well.
Behind a closed set of double doors, I hear voices. Could this be…?
The nurse opens the door and speaks briefly.
“Someone from your school just arrived here.”
With those words, my heartbeat elevates. It’s definitely them.
I walk through the door, as I’m prompted to do, and I’m instantly assaulted by everyone, save Mayu, who’s looking on from the bed, an oblivious expression on her face.
Insult after insult is hurled at me, yet the warmth in my arms feels second to none.
“You utter fool!”
“Hideki-kun, you meanie!”
“Guys! Care to tell me what’s going on here?!”
I almost sigh in contentment. This is where I belong.
Right then, we hear another set of voices.
“Are they here?!”
A group of adults bursts in through the door. Amongst them, is my mom. I see her face through the crowd. Her eyes don black circles, and her expression is panicked.
Next to her is Mayu’s mom. She has the same, big round eyes as her daughter.
A few ways ahead walks an elegant, tall woman. She resembles Ayase.
And next to the nurses, stands a pale, woman with black hair nervously looking around. Her face is a stark copy of Noriko.
“Is this a mum excursion or what?” I voice, chuckling. Yet despite the comment, Mayu’s father bursts in first. And then Noriko’s.
We’re suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer number of adults in the room. We all hug our parents. Emotions can’t be withheld at a time like this.
The birds are singing. The sun shines through the windows, and a cool breeze blows through the light blue curtains of the hospital.
After what felt like ages, we’re finally back.
“Mom… I’m home.”
As I bid Hideki farewell, a warm light envelops me. It embraces and squeezes me tight. My sensations are numbed. I can’t tell left from right, nor can I see past my nose.
I await pain. Dread and anguish. And it comes. It comes, and dissipates. It felt like a mere moment. Like removing a bandaid. Despite that, I can’t quite keep track of time. I’ve felt death before… Yet this feels so similar, but foreign at the same time.
It’s warm, and welcoming.
The sensations I’ve lost gradually come back to me. Like a wave soaking me to the bone. Like a current in my veins.
I open my eyes, and stare at a vast ocean. Seagulls fly, crying into the orange-hue sky. Into the sunset.
Streams of gold dance on the waves, and a slight breeze tickles my cheek.
Where am I?
I hear a familiar voice. Before me stands Hideki. And further beyond him… a face I thought I’d never see again.
“Hello, Misaki onee-chan!”
“What is all this?”
Instead of answering, Hideki extends his hand to me. A hand draped in golden sunlight.
“We’ve been waiting for you! Let’s go!”
I’m tempted to grab it. To free myself.
But I can’t. I shouldn’t. I’ve always been destined to be alone after all.
“I can’t… I haven’t atoned for all I’ve done…”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’ve already done that!”
The two of them smile warmly at me. Hideki extends his hand even further, urging me on.
“Now let’s go!”
Am I really free? Have I atoned? Do I deserve this…? But…
“To see the world you’ve been missing out on.”
The world… I’ve been missing?
I gaze upon their warm eyes, and loving smiles.
A world I haven’t seen. The world I’ve yearned for.
With a new conviction within my chest, I extend my hand and grab ahold of the sunbathed palm before me.
I grip it tightly, so I never let go.
-------------- FIN ---------------
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