I Hold Your Voice Alone, Under The Starry Sky
My phone buzzed quietly on the desk. I dropped my gaze to look at it and ‘You have a new message’ was displayed on the screen. It was a text chat or something from a social networking app. I tapped it and opened the message.
Eina: September 4th. The weather’s nice. I spilt some juice and stained the carpet. Crap, I gotta hide it…
Apparently, it had been sent by an ‘Eina’. I didn’t know the name. You could set your name to whatever you liked but I didn’t have any acquaintances that would use a refined name like that.
“A spam message huh?” I muttered quietly. That was sort of rare. Usually a spam message would be like. ‘You won ten billion yen! You can accept it here→’ and dangle money in front of you. Or an account with a female name would send something along the lines of ‘I had fun at karaoke yesterday’, tempting you to reply before carefully persuading you to sign up to a dating site and pay ridiculous registration fees.
But what’s with that ‘September 4th. The weather’s nice’? Isn’t that something that you’d put in a diary?
A second message arrived while I was watching.
Eina: Cover up successful! Onee-chan didn’t notice, hurray!
Again, it was just like a diary entry. What on earth do they want from me?
Eina: I found a stain removal technique on the internet! I’ll try it tomorrow♪ Time to sleep, zzz.
A third message had arrived, and that marked the final one of the day.
I should go to bed too, I decided, I had school tomorrow after all.
After school the next day, as usual, I was in the literature clubroom. The door was wide open so any potential applicants or sightseers could come in easily. It didn’t seem like anyone would though.
There was nothing for me to do.
And then suddenly, I remembered the spam message from yesterday. I looked at my phone and there had been more messages from the same account. Three in all, and all during the evening.
Eina: Japanese, had a kanji test, easy marks♪
Eina: We ran in PE. I don’t get why they’ve got to stick a rank on it. Can’t they just let the people that finished feel happy that it’s over?
Eina: I saw a clique fight between some girls in the entrance. I’m not part of any clique so I just walked away. I don’t wanna get caught up in it.
I kind of get what position they’re sending these from. First, they’re a girl. Her avatar was a glass slipper like in Cinderella, and the name Eina seemed feminine as well. She was probably about middle school or high school as far as age went.
She was good at Japanese and poor in PE. She also wasn’t in any clique, so she probably wasn’t the type to group up.
In my head, I started to form a vague image of the girl called Eina.
At the same time, I considered what I didn’t know. How tall was she? How long was her hair? Did she have monolids or double eyelids?
I wanted to see her reaction if I replied, but there was also a part of me calmly thinking that I couldn’t reply.
I didn’t know if she was actually a girl in the first place. It might be some old dude pretending. You heard about that kind of thing, old guys acting as women receptive to men.
I’d never heard of this kind of spam message though, so I couldn’t help but get curious.
If I replied, I wonder how it’d go from there…
“Literature club, I’m coming in.”
I looked up when I heard that. Someone I didn’t expect was walking in, a girl from my year.
She was fair skinned, with a delicate nose and long, glossy hair. Her figure was superb as well. Her looks were good enough that she’d overshadow the word ‘beautiful’ itself.
Her name was Minekawa Yukino, the president of the student council at our school.
“President? This is rare, do we have an applicant maybe?”
I think my voice was rather excited. That wasn’t at all because the president was a beauty though. The literature club was currently recruiting new members. It was September now so the recruitment was out of season, but our club hadn’t had a single applicant since April, so we were still recruiting.
I was the only second year at the moment so our future was at risk. I’d be focusing on university exams before long so I’d have to leave too.
Of course, I’d decided that if we didn’t get anyone new joining this year that I’d try to attract more people next year as well, but I’d still be grateful to get more members quicker.
“Of course not, no second year would join a club this far through the year. They’d end up leaving almost as soon as they’d joined.”
However, the president’s shapely eyebrows crinkled into a frown and she refuted me sharply.
The moment she opened her mouth showed her for the intimidating demon-president she was. She had a frank way of speaking that made you feel like you were talking to a senior or a teacher.
“I wouldn’t even mind a second year you know? I’d take anyone at this point.” I tried to persevere, a pained smile on my face. She wasn’t being abusive or anything, just speaking the truth bluntly. The half a year we’d spent as classmates let me know that much. “You like books too, right? Our activities’d be a perf-”
“I don’t have time for pointless chatter, so I’ll get to the point,” the president cut coldly over my words. And then, said something unthinkable and incomprehensible, “Gather your things and get out.”
“As a result of the recent student council meeting, it has been decided to revoke this room from the literature club.”
“That’s so arbitrary!”
“There are lots of things that would be better in clubrooms. If we were giving clubrooms to clubs like you that don’t actually do anything, we decided we’d be better off giving them to clubs that have a lot of members and will actually do things. Your adviser also gave their consent.”
“Oi, wait a minute, we’re doing things. I’m recruiting right now.”
“You’re just sitting there.”
“Well, no one’s come to visit today.”
I tried to make it look like it just happened to be that no one had visited today. Speaking honestly, no one had come since the end of the summer holidays, but I thought a bluff was my best bet. If we lost our clubroom, considering our poor luck with recruiting anyway, that would spell our end.
“Hmm. Though you seem to be missing the book to greet the new entrants?”
That was painful. Every year the literature club published an anthology they called ‘The New Member Greeting Issue’ but we hadn’t this year. There weren’t any manuscripts.
The reason for that was simple.
I couldn’t write them.
The third-years had left, and no first years had joined, so I was the only one left doing activities. And because I couldn’t write a manuscript, there was no way I could publish the book.
“You hadn’t published anything before the holidays either, can you still call that performing club activities?” I had no reply. That sums the president up, she came because she understood everything that was going on. Our moat had been entirely filled in. “Now quickly gather your things. If you leave things you don’t want behind, the student council will dispose of them.”
She laid out her declaration without even a twitch of her eyebrows. I stood in a dilemma.
But I had some backbone myself.
This clubroom means a lot to me. I’ve come here every day since April in first year.
Besides, my seniors and the old boys had memories filling the place too…
I couldn’t just let us be chased out.
“Making it immediate is unreasonable,” I tried to resist as much as I could, “There are things that the third-years and old boys left behind, so we won’t know what to get rid of, I’d like some more time.”
“Well, that’s true I suppose.”
I raised my mental fists in triumph.
Thus was my strategy. There would be the cultural festival at the start of October. It was a tradition to publish an issue for it, but that made it probable for me to be able to get entries. I planned to get the third-years that had left the club to give entries for the end of their student lives. If I could publish a book, they wouldn’t be able to say the club was doing nothing.
“Well then, could you do so within the fortnight? If we can clear the room before preparations for the cultural festival start in earnest, there won’t be an issue.”
I was lost for words. That was the exact worst time for me. Was she doing it on purpose…?
However, her expression was diligent and asking me to do so rather than a nasty smile. She was strict, but not the type to make others suffer.
“Isn’t two weeks a little too fast?”
“Is it? I would think that if you start contacting them today you’ll easily be able to make it in time. You can just mail the things.”
“Ah, but, um…”
“Ah, don’t worry about the shipping fees, we’ll give you some of the budget. You’re having the room unilaterally removed from you, we can at least be accommodating as far as that goes.”
I could do nothing but close my mouth in the face of her eloquent declaration. It was completely given out of good-will. The president was just a genuine person like that I think.
“Well that’s how it is, so please do.”
After she was finished telling me everything important, the president turned around and happily left the room. Her straight-backed stride was light and all I could do in return was collapse on the desk.
I’d tried to write novels myself. It was the reason I joined the club in the first place, I’d spent so long reading and enjoying novels, I wanted to write one myself.
However, each time I decided to write something and sat down in front of a blank page or computer screen, I couldn’t write a single letter.
Then I started reading dozens of books like How to Write a Novel! But it didn’t help. I tried doing what the books suggested but none of it helped.
There might be people who’d want to ask what someone like me would do in the club seeing as I can’t even write. Several of my classmates actually have asked that.
Roughly speaking, my job would be everything other than writing. For example, I’d read the submitted manuscripts and point out issues with language and plot, and depending on the circumstances I’d also consider how to improve things with the author and help search for materials.
So in short, my job was to make a place that the creators could shine their brightest.
It sounds cooler like that, but with no submissions, there was nothing I could do.
In the end, the day finished the same way it always did, with no applicants appearing and with me not writing a word. I had opened a notebook and strained for ideas, but it was to no avail.
My phone vibrated in my pocket while I was in the midst of my disappointment as I walked home.
Eina: I got a weapon against stains. I’ll win now!
“She seems like she’s having fun,” I let out in a sigh. But then I saw the following message and my heart clenched.
Eina: It’s all over. I want to die.
I was shocked at the sheer lack of excitement and happiness that had been present until now.
The messages halted there. I got home, ate dinner and headed to my room and there still hadn’t been any more.
It shouldn’t be strange for a girl in her teens like she seems to be to send a message in that time period.
Did she maybe give up because I didn’t reply?
Or did she really die?
Or maybe… she was preparing to…
Shuu: Don’t die.
I didn’t mean to do that.
I replied and realised that this itself was a method a trickster would use. They’d send several cheerful messages, then suddenly switch to something heavy…
The mark would wonder what had happened and naturally reply…
But it was too late now.
I’ll accept my fate.
I tried sending another message.
Shuu: You can’t die. Did something happen? I’ll give you advice.
I’d already replied once, and now here I was getting further into things. I guess you could say this followed the saying ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ maybe?
Besides, I’d been wondering what kind of spam this was, so this would work.
Eina: Eh, who’s this?
She replied immediately. Now for the swindling.
Eina: There shouldn’t be comments on this diary app.
But I didn’t really understand what she meant.
Shuu: Diary? It’s a chat app isn’t it?
Eina: I’ve been using it as a diary app though… I guess it’s not? Umm, have you been getting these messages the whole time?
Shuu: Well, yeah.
Eina: I-I-I’m sorry for bothering you!
I could practically see a girl bowing her head in a frantic apology. She seemed to be a good actor.
Shuu: Eh, it’s fine. So, why do you want to die?
I decided to continue, talking to a girl who wanted to kill herself, or that kind of setup at least. Then I waited for a response, sure it would be something girlish like failing a confession.
Eina: I can’t find a reason to keep living.
A reason… to live…?
This was an awfully philosophical spam message.
Eina: Living is painful, there are no positive reasons to live, so I thought I should just die.
Shuu: But there’s still gotta be some enjoyable things, right?
Eina: There’s not nothing. It’s a little fun to read I guess… but there’s much more pain.
Shuu: But if you died, people would be upset, like your friends and family…
Eina: They wouldn’t, not at all.
My breath caught in my throat.
I could feel the loneliness from the words.
I might have hit a nerve, I didn’t know the girl that called herself Eina, or her situation, so I shouldn’t speak carelessly.
I thought that and smiled tightly. I guess I was already well under the impression that she was indeed a girl.
Listen, Shuu, this is just one of their tricks. The calm part of my mind urged me. But what if that one-in-a-million chance was true, and there really was a girl considering suicide? Should I do something?
It doesn’t matter if I’m tricked.
If it wasn’t true, then that was that. If this was a joke, then so be it. You can laugh at me if you like.
Anyway, I decided to continue as if Eina was a normal girl at risk of committing suicide.
Shuu: If you die and then change your mind, you can’t come back, are you sure?
But what I came up with was pathetic and I slumped slightly. I doubted those shallow words would stop someone thinking of killing themselves.
Eina: I wouldn’t change my mind if I was dead. I’d just be a body.
Just like I thought, Eina’s reply supported that.
Alone, I crossed my arms and thought.
How did you stop someone from killing themselves? She had no reason to live, no one would mourn her, and she wouldn’t regret it after…
She enjoyed reading, but there was too much pain in living-
If she could find a reason to live, that would be enough, but finding one in such a short time would-
“Wait a minute…”
She liked reading?
That’s a great idea.
If she didn’t have a reason to live, I’d make her one.
Shuu: I’m changing the topic, but have you ever felt like writing a book?
Eina: Isn’t that a rather huge topic change?
Shuu: It’s important. My literature club doesn’t have enough authors so we couldn’t publish anything. I’m searching for someone to write for us. You interested? You like reading, right?
Eina: Uh, I am interested, but I’ve never written a story.
Excellent, she’s joining in. I sent messages pressing it.
Shuu: You’ve been writing great so far, I’m sure you’ll be fine. If you try and can’t, that’s fine too.
Eina: But is it okay for me to write it? I’m not a member or anything, and I don’t even go to your school.
Shuu: It might be a problem technically, but I’ll do something about that. I don’t think using a pen-name will be an issue. I’ll come up with some excuse like one of the members wrote it anonymously or something. Besides, this is life and death for me too. If I can’t publish something within two weeks, the student council will take our clubroom.
Eina: That’s awful! Okay! I’ll try it!
She seemed completely into it. Was the thing about losing the clubroom effective? She was surprisingly kind-hearted. Anyway, she seemed to have forgotten about killing herself.
And if I could get the manuscript, and publish a book then I might even be able to defend the clubroom.
Truly two birds with one stone.
Eina: Umm, are there any requirements?
Shuu: Not really. Just write what you like. Or would requirements make it easier?
Eina: They would! It’s my first time after all!
Shuu: Then something with a high school girl as the protagonist. The contents won’t be questioned.
Eina: Got it!
It was the next day, and there was a message waiting from Eina with a text file attached.
I figured it was the plot or general setting and opened it before looking at it in surprise.
It was a manuscript.
I couldn’t help but mutter in shock.
There were about five-thousand words, perfect for a short story.
Shuu: Thank you for the manuscript! That’s amazing, did you write it all last night?
I messaged Eina, still in my pyjamas. Immediately, her reply arrived.
Eina: I stayed up all night.
Shuu: You’ve not written before, right? That’s amazing.
Shuu: I’ll read it as fast as I can and tell you what I think. I’ll check for typos and omissions, and look over the plot and stuff as well.
Eina: Please do!
While I headed to school, I wondered, just who was she?
To be able to write so much in a single night…
I’d thought she was in middle or high school, but maybe she was a university student?
Maybe even a worker? I probably should just ask…
While I waited in the clubroom as usual, I started reading Eina’s manuscript on my phone.
It was a youth novel.
The summary was more or less this:
A high school girl met the ghost of a girl on her school roof. The ghost had died in a traffic accident and asked to borrow the protagonist’s body for a single day, because there was someone that she had to meet and tell her feelings to. That person was the boy the protagonist liked…
The protagonist went through something like an out of body experience, following the ghost and boy’s date while floating in the air. Seeing their happiness, she freely chose to let herself fade away and fulfil their love.
It was a fairly sad story, but it was so well written that it touched my heart.
This was even better than I had hoped for.
“Right, this bit’s hard to understand so I should help revise it… I want to know more about her motivations too, there are bits you can’t tell what she’s thinking…”
I noted down my thoughts while I muttered to myself.
I might be saying it for her honour, but I thought that it was a wonderful piece of writing. If you asked why I was writing down ways to improve it if that was the case, then that would be because I was sure it could be even more wonderful.
It was hard to write a complete manuscript in one go, all authors said that. For instance, even if an author felt that what they had written was common sense, it wasn’t uncommon for it to be unclear to other people that read it and there could be unexpected mistakes in expressions. Having someone else look it over was very effective to brush up the work.
But at the same time, it needed a delicate touch. When the author submitted their manuscript, they were submitting their best and having points to improve pointed out to them wasn’t a pleasant feeling. On top of that, I wasn’t a professional editor, I was simply a fan of novels that was part of a school’s literature club. I might make mistakes myself.
Would I be able to convey my opinions without hurting the author, and have her carefully check them…
Until now, I had spoken with the authors directly in the clubroom, but… With Eina, we couldn’t meet.
I still wasn’t sure she wasn’t part of some scam, I didn’t even know her age or if she was in fact a she. She might even be someone dangerous. Besides, I didn’t know where she lived. I lived in Chiba, if she lived in Hokkaido or Okinawa, we couldn’t meet easily.
At that thought, I looked at the manuscript on my phone screen again.
I was there, thinking that we couldn’t meet, but at the same time, at the bottom of my heart, I wanted to do so.
I just wanted to meet and talk to the one that had written something so wonderful.
“Nah, that’s not going to happen.”
I muttered to myself, putting a lid on my wish to meet her. When I thought about it calmly, there was no way I could meet her. But if not, how would I give my impressions…
I’ll put as many corrections in the file as I can.
I pulled out one of the club’s laptops and connected my phone to get the file off.
“Hmm, this one?”
I didn’t know why I felt uncomfortable right away, but I soon noticed that the timestamp was strange.
The timestamp on the file that Eina had sent was xx/09/2013.
It was 2018 right now, so it was exactly five years ago.
Did she lie about staying up all night and sent something she had written before?
So she really was trying to trick me?
But what would doing that accomplish? Besides, the end result was too nice…
Or maybe her settings are wrong? Though I don’t know how you could make that kind of mistake.
I started writing comments in the file.
After I got home and had eaten, I sent a message to Eina.
Shuu: I read the manuscript. It was good.
A reply came back within the second.
Shuu: Yeah. I felt so sad when I finished reading it, but it wasn’t unpleasant. I think it was a great novel.
Eina: You’re praising me too much.
Apparently she’s shy.
Shuu: I pointed out a few typos and issues, but…
Eina: Ah, right.
Shuu: I added comments to the file, would you check them over?
I attached the file and sent it to Eina.
Eina: It sent.
Shuu: Can you open it?
Eina: I opened it. Ahhhhhhhh.
Shuu: What’s wrong?
Eina: I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!
Eina kept apologising.
Dammit. Maybe I put too many corrections in. I’d tried to be as careful as I could about them, but I guess corrections on your first work had a real impact.
Shuu: You don’t need to apologise. This kind of thing is normal.
Eina: But, but… I took up your time, and…
No good, it wasn’t coming through in the text. It wouldn’t be solved like this.
“What do I do? …Hmm?”
I noticed something on my screen. The app had free voice calls. I tapped the button, mostly by reflex.
I put my phone to my ear and listened to the dial tone.
And then — it connected.
The soprano from my phone took my breath away. Her voice was beautiful.
It was a little higher than I imagined while we were chatting, and was a clear sound.
“Hello, this is Shuu. Um… Nice to meet you.”
《It’s nice to meet you too.》
It felt like she was close enough that I could hear her breathe.
We both stopped talking, having started at the same time.
“Sorry. About the manuscript.”
Even through the phone, I could tell she was really nervous. Maybe she thought I was angry with her?
Because of that, I spoke as kindly as I could.
“It was really great.”
《Eh? But there were so many corrections…》
“The corrections are there because it was good. I was sure it could be even better. Sorry, I might have been a bit harsh, but I didn’t want to speak ill of it.”
《I should be the one who’s sorry. It’s sort of… all over the place.》
“It’s just your first time. If you don’t want to revise it, you can just check over the typos and print it as is. I didn’t find anything glaring.”
《No! You put so much effort into editing, I’ll do my best revising it!》
Her voice was much more energetic than before and I relaxed. Actually talking really was important.
《Umm, so, can I ask some questions?》
《What do you mean in your first comment… when you say you want more of a picture of the protagonist’s psychological state…?》
“Ah, that. I thought it might be better if you said more about why she let the ghost borrow her body. It’ll get more empathy that way, right?”
《I see! Then, on the next page—》
And thus the conversation passed peacefully, until we were finished.
“Is that okay? You don’t have any questions?”
“I might have made mistakes myself, so please point them out.”
《I don’t think you have!》
And so we went over her manuscript several times over the weekend, and Eina’s novel was completed.
“Shuu-kun, what’s with this manuscript?” Asked Ruka-senpai as she finished reading the printed manuscript.
It was Monday, and we were in the clubroom.
She was a third-year in the literature club. She was a woman with full, wavy hair and a charming, kind smile. She was calm and spoke quietly so being with her was rather peaceful.
“I got it from an acquaintance.” I answered, garnering a questioning look from Ruka-senpai.
“An acquaintance? Whooo?”
“It’s a secret. They wanted to be anonymous.”
Ruka-senpai really wanted to know about the author, but I could hardly say ‘I got it from someone I met on a chat app.’ I didn’t want to make her worry that I might be being scammed.
“It’s sudden, but can I get you to make a cover illustration and design for this?”
Ruka-senpai didn’t write either. She drew illustrations instead, and designed covers. Obviously, she liked books, but she wasn’t the type to want to write them herself, she wanted to design the actual books. The right person in the right place as it were.
There were two other third-year members who mainly wrote. Incidentally, they were the ones that had retired to focus on their exams.
“Yeah, is by Friday okay?”
Ruka-senpai smiled at me and nodded.
“That’s fine. Thank you so much for doing it while you’re busy studying.”
“No worries. I’d be sad if we lost the room too, and I want to support you.”
I was moved by her kindness.
The cover was sorted. I’d get it on Friday and then print on Saturday and then publish it on the Monday.
Though I’d need to ask the student council to borrow the printing room. That was a little depressing. President Minekawa would be there, and I didn’t really want to see her.
But I had to go, so I said my goodbyes to Ruka-senpai and headed to their office.
I knocked on the door and entered the room. The members were all working away at their desks. They all seemed busy, so no one came to deal with me.
I wasn’t really in a hurry, so I just waited relaxedly at the door.
“Got it. I will go and talk to the baseball club and…”
The president was working at an inner desk. I couldn’t help but stare at the site.
She seemed to be dealing with the sports clubs.
She had a refined smile upon her face and looked somewhat like one of the western paintings of saints.
She really was photogenic.
She noticed me and looked towards me, her eyebrows creasing together.
She always looks upset to see me.
I put a strained smile on my face.
“Do you need something? We’re rather busy at the moment.”
She said as she stood and walked towards me.
“I’d like to borrow the print room on Saturday, is it free?”
She spun on her heel and took a notebook from the shelves.
“Put your class and name here, and when you’ll be using it.”
I wrote it just as she said.
“What are you printing though?”
“The new students’ book.”
“You wrote something?”
Seeing as I was talking with her, I decided to ask about the clubroom.
“Hey, President, if we’re actually doing things, we won’t be driven out of our room, right?”
“I can’t decide it myself, but if you keep publishing, I can bring it back to the agenda.”
“I promise, we’ll keep publishing.”
“Okay. I’ll bring it up at the meeting tomorrow. But there’s one more condition.”
“Give me one of that book too.”
“We give them away for free though?”
We always put them in boxes on each floor by the noticeboards with ‘Please take one’ on the box.
“Bring one to me.”
“There’s no harm in that much effort, is there? I’ve said I’ll undermine something already decided after all.”
I thought that it was putting the burden on us bringing it, but if following that condition let us defend our clubroom, I could answer immediately.
When we finished, she returned to her desk without even a ‘goodbye’ and because of that, I couldn’t even thank her.
She was always so blunt. I knew she was a practical person, but she at least smiled at the people she was dealing with, but she still looked so sourly at me.
“I guess she really does hate me…”
I muttered as I walked through the corridors. I couldn’t help but think back to how I met her.
It was the first day of school. I was a self-admitted bookworm, and curious about what books the school I’d joined had, so I had gone to the library when the day had finished. I liked reading rooms and libraries, they had a nice impression about them when they were filled with books. The dusty scent of old books made you feel like you were being enveloped in the books so they held a different charm from a bookstore.
I looked along the shelves of books starting at the corner.
I had found one of my favourite Sci-Fi books and unconsciously reached out for it.
It was a Sci-Fi book that dealt with time, called The Door Into Summer.
There was another hand reaching out for it so I stopped.
I withdrew my hand.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’ve read it be…fore.”
I saw the hand’s owner and was lost for words.
She was so beautiful that I had to swallow.
That was the Demon President, Minekawa Yukino.
“You’re Yagi Shuu-kun in class A, right?”
“Yeah,” I managed to say when I was addressed by her.
Why did she know my name? I’d only just joined the school…
“I’m Minekawa Yukino from class B. Nice to meet you.”
“Y-yeah, nice to meet you.”
“Do you… like books?”
“Yeah, do you?”
“So are you in the literature club?”
“I’m sort of lost. There’s so much I want to do…”
“I see. I’m joining them, so let’s get on if you do.”
“…I’ll keep it in mind.”
I still haven’t forgotten that soft and kind smile. She didn’t join the literature club in the end and I mostly lost contact with her. You could say that day in first year was our first and last link.
Then, when we met again in the same class in second year, she seemed to treat me harshly. We’d barely spoken, so I didn’t know why she hated me all of a sudden. Life truly is full of mysteries.
I printed a hundred of the booklets.
Though they were being distributed freely, there was a limit to how many students liked books, so it was a fair amount. But when working on it alone, it was a pretty large amount.
It was Saturday and I could hear the sports club members from outside.
I finished up in the print room and carried the printed materials to the clubroom and started binding them.
The work itself was simple. I’d fold each B4 sheet in half, pile them up, then staple them together. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, so just carrying the materials to the clubroom was tiring.
Ruka-senpai had sent the illustration on Friday morning and I had been typesetting everything from after school until this morning. The text itself was complete, but that took until the morning.
I had a nap and then went to the print room, which brought me to noon.
I ate the lunch I bought at the store ahead of time and then began work in earnest.
I folded paper silently as music played from my phone.
The latest printers would read the data and bind the output into books on their own, but my school didn’t have anything so expensive. Because of that, we had to do it by hand… but I was the only active member.
“I have to do it.”
I said, purposefully pompous to motivate myself, the very image of a tragic hero.
Sort of like a late night excitement.
My phone buzzed.
Eina: Hello, how are you?
Eina: What are you doing today?
Shuu: Binding the books.
Eina: You’ve got club today?
Shuu: Well, I’m on my own.
Eina: No one’s helping you!? That’s awful!
Shuu: The third-years have all retired, so I’m just the only one active.
Eina: I see… So you’re binding them alone? How many?
Shuu: A hundred.
Eina: Waa, that’s a lot. I… can’t help you, sorry.
Shuu: It’s fine. Just having someone to talk to makes it easier.
Eina: Then if it’s not a hassle, I’ll call.
The call came through practically as I finished reading and I answered it on speaker phone.
《Do your best. I’m cheering for you.》
《I can’t actually think of anything to talk about.》
“We don’t know anything about each other. Let’s introduce ourselves or something. What kind of books do you like, Eina?”
《Hmm… I like fantasy-ish things. Like fairy-tales. Romance too. What about you?》
“I like pretty much everything, but Sci-Fi in particular.”
《What do you like to eat?》
Eina was the one to ask a question this time.
“Ramen, katsudon, stuff like that.”
《That’s typical for a boy.》
“What about you, Eina?”
《I like anything sweet! Cake, choux creams, dorayaki, anmitsu…》
I guessed that just listing sweet things would be just like a girl.
《Next question then! Do you have a girlfriend?》
《What about someone you like?》
Suddenly, the president’s face came to mind and I immediately gave a wry smile.
She was definitely beautiful, but she was out of my league. I could just admire her from afar. If anything, I didn’t really want to talk with her.
It’s tough to see her act like she hates me when we talk face to face.
“I guess I’ve got someone I look up to.”
《Eh, eh. What kind of person are they.》
“What kind of person? …Hmm, I don’t really know. I barely know anything about her.”
《Ah, so it’s one-sided…》
“Guess so. What about you then? Do you have a boyfriend?”
《Do you really think I would?》
I thought probably not and then asked.
“What about someone you like?”
《Ummm. There’s someone I look up to,》 apparently she wanted to avoid the question, 《and, it’s one-sided for me too, probably.》
She sounded kind of lonely and it made my heart ache. A one-sided love… that’s tough.
“If you need advice, I can help maybe?”
《Thank you. I’m okay for now, but please do when it comes to it.》
We carried on our meandering conversation like that, the time seemed like it flew as I talked with Eina and the sun had set before I knew it, the books were fully bound.
It was Monday, and the books were safely next to the noticeboards. I headed straight to the student council office once they were set up.
The president was alone, sat working.
“President, I brought it like I promised.”
“Thank you, and like I promised, we won’t be taking your clubroom.”
“Yes! I owe you one.”
“In exchange, it might seem boring, but do your activities properly, okay?”
I left their office in triumph.
The new students’ booklet, late as it was, caused a quiet boom within the school. Our literature club had a tradition of publishing things under our real names, but ‘Eina’ was obviously a pseudonym. On top of that, there weren’t many people who wrote stories like Eina’s.
Everyone was curious about who on Earth had written it, and it seemed like more people were reading it than normal. For example, when I was eating lunch on Wednesday, the newspaper club’s ace, Sakai Keisuke appeared.
Sakai had been in the same class as me since first year, and we’d done a lot together, but he hadn’t shown up in the clubroom before then.
“Who’s Eina? A new member? An alias for one of the upper years? Or you even?”
Saki didn’t bother to push up his glasses from where they had slipped and showered me with questions.
“I’m not telling you.”
Besides, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, I knew barely anything about her myself.
“Please, we’re friends right? My boss threatened me to come and ask who they were!”
Sakai was all but on his knees begging me. It was a bit pitiful, but if I couldn’t tell him, I couldn’t tell him.
“Sorry, I can’t.”
“I’ve got my own circumstances, and so has Eina.”
“Ahhhh, I’m gonna get fireeeeeeed!”
It was tough to calm Sakai down from his crying, but I was happy that it was that popular.
I wanted to tell Eina right away. I sent Sakai away and sent a message to her.
Shuu: Everyone likes your story!
The reply came when I got home.
I didn’t normally get messages from Eina during school, so she probably sent them when she got home. Maybe she went to a school that forbade phones.
Shuu: Really! The newspaper club came to cover it. They want to know who wrote it! I dodged it though.
Eina: It’s doing that well!?
I could feel her happiness from the screen.
Then, I remembered something important.
Shuu: Oh yeah, I forgot. What shall I do with the finished book? Want me to post it?
Eina: Posting it… might be a bit of an issue.
Shuu: I guess you wouldn’t want to give out your address.
Of course she wouldn’t. As far as she was concerned, I was just some random person.
Eina: No, I wouldn’t mind… But my family might not like someone they don’t know sending something…
Shuu: I see.
Eina: U-um… Could you… possibly… give it to me in person?
My heart leapt as soon as I saw the message. I’d be meeting with Eina—
Eina: Ah! I’m sorry! I didn’t ask where you live.
Eina sent another message while I couldn’t decide what to reply with.
Eina: I live in Chiba, so I think anything around Kanto should work.
I couldn’t help but cry out in surprise. Eina lived in Chiba too!?
Did coincidences like that really happen?
For some reason, my heart was pounding.
Eina: Shuu-san, where do you live?
Shuu: I live in Chiba too, in C City.
It had ended up with a string of messages from Eina, so I hurriedly replied with where I lived.
Eina: Than shall we meet by C Station?
Shuu: That’s fine.
Eina: Alright, thank you. Until Saturday then!
The station was filled with people, possibly because it was Saturday. The place was clean and tidy since it had been refitted two years ago, and was perfect for watching for people.
I arrived at the ticket barrier ten minutes before we’d agreed to meet.
Shuu: I got here a bit early. I’m in front of the pillar. I’m wearing a black coat and jeans, I’m in my teens.
Eina: Me too. The pillar…? Ummm, where?
Shuu: In front of the ticket gates. Just on your right on the way out.
Eina: The right… can you put your hand up?
I put my hand up like she asked.
Shuu: It’s up.
Eina: Huh, where are you?
Shuu: What are you wearing?
Eina: I’ve got a light knitted shirt, a pair of culottes, and sandals. My hair’s straight and I’m in my teens.
I looked around. I saw plenty of girls in their teens, but no one looking around.
Shuu: That’s weird. Not the private station, right?
Shuu: Guessed so. Then go to the ticket machine, I’ll go too.
Eina: Right, I’m here.
She wasn’t there.
Eina: It’s hard to find people when it’s being renovated.
Shuu: Renovated? That already finished right?
Eina: Eh? They said it would take three more years, didn’t they?
She was probably messing with me, or was somewhere else with the same name.
There was only one station called C Station in Chiba though.
Then I remembered the timestamp on her file, xx/09/2013. It was 2018 now so it was exactly five years ago.
The renovations had finished two years ago, so the time matched with Eina saying it would take ‘three more years’.
Shuu: Could you send a picture of the front of the station.
Eina: Got it.
My phone chimed as it arrived. It was covered in building barriers, so right in the middle of being renovated.
I’m being tricked.
You could fake this kind of thing easily. For instance, if you took the initial messages to me as ‘a girl living in 2013’ it would be simple to follow on from that.
But for some reason, I couldn’t doubt Eina. Was she really someone who would tell such a lie?
Shuu: Eina, what year is it?
Eina: Eh? Why?
She responded with the obvious question.
Shuu: I’ll explain later, tell me?
Eina: It’s 2013…
I read ‘2013’ over and over again. There was no mistake.
Maybe it’s a lie.
But I wanted to believe her, so… I spoke honestly.
Shuu: Don’t be too surprised, it’s 2018 for me.
There was no response for a while.
Eina: That’s… I can’t believe it.
Shuu: Nor can I.
I went to a nearby park, sat on a bench, and called Eina. It was getting annoying talking via text.
《Hello, it’s Eina.》
She answered right away.
“It’s Shuu. Is it really 2013 for you? You’re not tricking me, right?”
I asked bluntly.
《What good does tricking you do me?》
She sounded upset. I could imagine a high schooler pouting at me.
“Maybe you’re a classmate and you had to prank me for some kind of punishment game.”
《You’re thinking too much. Besides, I’d have already shouted ‘pranked’ and the others would have appeared by now, right? I wouldn’t need to carry on, would I?》 That was true. 《I thought you might be tricking me too, but I couldn’t think of any reason for you to, so I thought I should accept it as the truth.》
“Is it possible to talk to someone five years in the past though?”
《Whether it’s possible or not, we at least can’t meet and talk.》
I took out the book from my bag and looked down at it.
I wouldn’t be able to give this to Eina then.
That was a shame… I could make it into a PDF and send it? It might not be like having the real thing, but it was better than nothing.
As those thoughts went through my head, I realised something.
“No, we can meet.”
《Eh, but we’re living at different times?》
“I can meet you from five years later. Of course, you have to wait for that, sorry.”
It wasn’t a hundred or two hundred years, but just five. Of course, in five years a high schooler like me would be an adult, so it was a long time, but not so long that we had to give up on meeting. Or so it shouldn’t have been, but for some reason, Eina was silent.
After a while, Eina spoke quietly.
《…If I tell you to stop, will you hate me?》
“Eh, of course not…”
《Sorry, I’m being selfish.》
She seemed to slump over the phone.
I panicked at the change from her usual bright attitude.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m sorry for bringing it up.”
《No, I’m in the wrong. I really do want to meet you.》
My heart sped up as she said that.
《But I’m scared. Scared to know my future. I mean…》
Eina’s voice dropped, and she whispered.
《What if I’m dead after five years?》
It felt like I’d been stabbed at her quiet words.
“Are you… ill?”
《Eh? No, I’m not. I’m just talking hypothetically. If I died, that’s fine. I might have met with some horrible fate. There are lots of things worse than death.》
She said it hypothetically.
She wasn’t wrong, anyone’s life could change drastically every day. But most people lived with a vague sense they would still be here the next day, the day after that… and even five or ten years later.
People could live a normal life because they didn’t doubt that. But Eina had said she might die.
What would make her say that…?
《I’m sure that if something terrible had happened to me in the future, you’d hide it. But I might be able to tell from your voice, and I’m scared of that. I’m sorry.》
But I didn’t ask what her situation was, or why she was so pessimistic.
She was actually thinking about suicide when we first talked.
It probably wasn’t unrelated.
But I couldn’t ask, there was still too much distance between us. I didn’t know if I could ask such a probing question to someone I’d never even seen before.
“Okay, then let’s keep talking, Eina.”
I spoke as brightly as I could, and possibly because of that, Eina’s voice was energetic again.
I let out a sigh.
While I was lying around in my room that night, a message came from Eina.
Eina: Can I call you now?
The call soon came through.
《Hello, Shuu-san? It’s Eina, I’m sorry to call so late.》
She wasn’t just saying it by rote, it seemed just like her.
“Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow is a holiday. So, what’s up?”
《I was thinking. We should have some rules since I am from five years in the past.》
《Yes, rules to avoid influencing the past. I think not changing the past as much as possible is for the best. It comes up a lot in Sci-Fi, right?》
“That’s true. So wouldn’t talking to me like this count?”
《That’s what I mean by as much as possible. A small impact should be alright, but a big change might make the universe explode or something.》
I had heard that kind of thing before.
《First of all, as much as you can, don’t tell me anything about the future.》
Well, that’s pretty basic.
Hmm? Wait a minute.
“If I tell you what companies did well, you can get rich, right? Then you can split it with me later…”
《Shuu-san! That’s the worst thing you could say!》
I laughed, but it seemed like she was pouting on the other end of the phone.
《It’s not a laughing matter. We have to be careful with things that can make money. I’d prefer it if you didn’t even tell me what products are popular in five years.》
《Also… we shouldn’t talk too much about me.》
《If you know things about me, you might change the future me somehow, right?》
“That’s true. I won’t ask as much as possible.”
《Now that I think about it, it’s mostly me telling you to be careful, I’m sorry.》
“There’s no avoiding it, I’m the one in the future.”
《I should be able to tell you about the past, so if there’s anything you want to know, let me know.》
《Umm, like what Chiba was like five years ago?》
“I doubt it will have changed that much in five years.”
She seemed somewhat disheartened.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m in the future, so you can’t change it.”
《You’re kind, thank y-》
Suddenly, the call cut off.
I called back, but it didn’t connect.
After ten minutes, a call came from her.
《I’m sorry, Shuu-san.》
“It’s okay, what happened?”
《My phone doesn’t seem to be doing well…》
She put it awkwardly, if there wasn’t a problem with the transmission, it should be the phone, but Eina didn’t seem to want to elaborate, so I closed my mouth.
《I’ll leave it there for tonight then.》
The call cut off abruptly again.
As I thought about it, I noticed something.
I didn’t want to know about the past.
The past didn’t matter.
I wanted to know more about Eina.