It was a dark dawn. The snow that had been falling until just recently had stopped, and constellations, shifting from winter to spring, appeared in the night sky. That was the night Aya saw the girl with the exact same face as hers.
They didn't just share a face. She, too, wore the same white, linen nightdress as all students of the girls' school; the only different was that she was not wearing in her black hair, the same length as Aya's, the white camellia hair ornament that Aya always wore. Hers was a shell covered with a petal.
Still lying in bed, without moving or speaking, Aya stared at her as she stood in front of the window, illuminated by the glow from the snow. Was this sleep paralysis? - No. She entranced me with her beauty, thought Aya. Then she noticed that her bed was floating in water, the floor having turned into the water's surface. She had brought the water with her, enough that it seemed to flood her soul.
Aya's bed swayed like a small boat. She even heard the faint sound of the water rippling. Then, the girl approached Aya and whispered in her ear, with a hint of mint - or perhaps chill.
Aya felt her breath faintly on her ear. It felt strange, like a tickle, that made her almost let out a sound. Aya hurriedly drew away from her. She felt like this was something she shouldn't be doing. She stared intently at Aya. For some time she stood there, as though trying to decide something, and then, without so much as a hint of hesitation, kissed Aya.
She closed her eyes, so black they were almost blue. It was, naturally, Aya's first kiss. "I just kissed a girl..." Aya thought, touching her lips, where she could still feel the other girl's.
The other side of the girl's body was seethrough. I just kissed a ghost, Aya realised, and was cursed by the curse that only affects girls. It was different to the curse that her fellow students were always whispering rumours of at school. That was nothing more than play romance - just a prayer that the object of their affections would love them back. So?
But this curse was different. This was a real curse. She had been cursed. It was something as normal as waking up on Christmas morning to find presents under the tree. There's no way you could leave the red ribbon on a present - that's what presents are. Except the red ribbon was a kiss, and the present was a curse.
"You understand, don't you? I cursed you."
A curse like a confession of love; an inverted forest reflected on the water's surface. She moved her fingers through the empty air, plucking at it like the strings of a harp. The sound mixed with the sound of the wind, and she and her sorrowful eyes vanished.
Moving the tip of the little finger on her left hand, Aya found that her stiff body had loosened. That was when she woke up. She looked around her. Her room looked just as it always was. It was long after lights out, but her light was on. Drops of water had been left on the floor, as though someone with wet hair had walked through. She had goosebumps from how real it had felt.
That was a dream, right? Maybe her body was saying that wasn't the case, but still Aya tried to insist it - and yet the scent of mint still lingered on her lips. They were still cold. The melody of an invisible harp sounded in Aya's ears. On the contrary; she even felt as though she cold still feel the invisible, no more than metaphorical ribbon-wrapped present in her palm.
Was I really cursed after all, by that girl with the same face as me? The girl... who is she? she thought for the first time. Who could that girl who looks just like me possibly be? For the first time, Aya had met, kissed, and been cursed by herself. She was horrified at the absurdity of it all, not to mention bewildered. That was all Aya could do at that point.
St. Loudun's Academy For Girls was an independent Catholic boarding school. It was a school where the daughters of well-off families were sent, and each year many of them moved on to famous universities. Its name was the only thing known about the tiny, mundane town in which it was located.
Everything else besides it was extremely average, with nothing to set it apart from any other town. If, for example, someone visited hoping to shoot a movie there, there wasn't a single location, even one that would fit into the small lens of a camera, that would make a good shot. Everything was that boring; a world with nothing but ordinary scenery. Sensible children realised how boring it was to be shut away from the world in this tiny town, but this emotive period ended without them learning how to put this into words, turning into mundane adults. That was how all of the average towns in the region maintained their dullness, like a kind of curse.
Each year, the school received many applicants, but it was rumoured that in order to get in you would need not just good grades, but also a special letter of recommendation or to make a large donation - a special environment from the very start that had nothing to do with the girl's own natural attributes. Once joining, everyone was required to live in the dorms, morals were strict, and there were rumours of students dropping out. In actual fact, everything the townspeople knew about the academy were rumours, and they never tried to learn anything further.
Aya, too, was on the surface one of the chosen ones from St. Loudun's Academy For Girls. She was beautiful, and clever to boot. Faithful to her duty as a chosen one, she had taken her entrance exams for a national university in Tokyo early and passed. It was a science university. Back then, everything was going fine for Aya, and had she never been cursed she would have left the town without ever needing to learn the truth.
In February, when the wind was cold and it was spring in name alone, with hardly any time left until graduation, she was in the confessional booth inside the large chapel that stood on the eastern side of the academy. It was the first time she had been to confession since entering the school. That was how troubled she had been. She wanted to believe that it had only been a dream, but the feeling that she had been cursed grew day by day.
She was in turmoil. She felt like the girl was always watching her. During lessons, or every time she turned the page of a book at the library, she felt her presence. Then Aya became aware that the girl was following her.
A curse that only affects girls - a curse of pseudo-love between girls that is traditional at girls' schools. It was a game; more like a magic spell than a curse. Aya had heard of a silly curse where girls pray that they would be liked back, but she didn't know how it was done, nor was she interested. Whether love was with the same or the opposite sex, it didn't seem like her destiny. But now, she was searching for the girl from that day - and the girl was her.
The thought confused Aya. She had heard myths about people falling in love with themselves, and when she remembered that it had been the origin of the word "narcissism", Aya felt a stab of self-hatred. She wanted to talk to someone about it so she could get her jumbled thoughts in order, but realised for the first time that she had no friends.
Girls always separate into groups of a few people, or have someone they're always with, like a twin. Aya wasn't isolated. At lunch, or when doing a group project, she would join different groups and talk to them. But that was all. She had no friends she could spend all day talking to about nothing in particular.
Aya mentally considered a few people with whom she could discuss it, but she was worried about whether or not any of them would listen seriously to what she had to say. She was saddened by the fact that she was the kind of girl who could fall in love with herself, and had no friends. Not knowing what to do with herself, Aya had decided to come to the confessional she had never used.
The confessional had two doors. One was for the students, the one next to it where the nuns would listen to the students' repentance. A lattice inside separated them. The students were to stay on the other side of the screen, thinking of the nun as a substitute for God in their confessions. It was set up so that neither would know who the other was, but it was a small school. The teachers and pupils both knew who was on the other side right away.
As usual, Aya had her white camellia hair ornament in her long, waist-length black hair. All jewellery was prohibited by the school rules, with Aya as the only exception. There were rumours that Aya was a distant relative of the headmistress, but Aya didn't feel as though she were being given special treatment. Everyone saw Aya and the ornament as one and the same. To put it in an exaggerated manner, it was Aya's icon.
So when the nun saw the white camellia through the gaps in the lattice, she knew who it was. Inside the confessional, Aya began confessing to the nun with a depressed look on her face, though it was more like seeking advice than a confession.
"I think I might be cursed by a curse that only affects girls," Aya began suddenly.
If the nun on the other side of the partition hadn't realised that it was Aya, she would have thought, So it's that again. A curse of love that girls cast on other girls. The cursed girl sees visions of the other girl. Some complain of dizziness, or a high fever. Most of the confessions here were those of silly same-sex love. It had long been a plague at the girls' school for a long time where, in this shut away world, they tried to forcibly delay the end of their girlhood. But hearing this from Aya was a surprise to the nun, and she couldn't help but be curious.
"Who was it that cursed you?"
"I think it was... me..."
"You cursed yourself?" the nun asked, thinking, Yes, that's like her, she's too pretty.
At this age, kids' egos are as inflated as balloons on the verge of exploding, often making it impossible to tell it apart from self-adoration.
"I saw a ghost with the same face as me."
To simply explain what she meant by "ghost", Aya tried calling her that again, and froze. She was afraid of saying it out loud.
"A ghost?" The nun laughed, but she couldn't refute it. Everyone who came to the confessional was serious. "And just what kind of curse did this ghost put on you?"
"She just said it was a curse," Aya said, feeling like the nun was knocking on the door to her heart's secrets.
"What kind of curse do you think it is?"
Aya went red and looked down. "Curse" meant only one thing as this school.
"The person who looked just like you said that, right?"
Ah, just like a doppelganger; takes you back, doesn't it? What was it - the expressionist movie "The Student of Prague"? I saw that way back when I was studying in Poland, thought the nun. Aya didn't know that she, sitting on the other side of the confessional in her grey nun's coat and faded lips, smiled a little.
"Maybe someone's in love with you. Maybe they're so in love with you that they became you and cursed you," the nun said with a hint of teasing. But Aya took it seriously, and fell silent. Wondering if Aya had taken the jest to heart, the nun herself felt somehow endeared towards the girl. "I was joking," she said, and could feel her relief. "But you really are very pretty, so perhaps you should take a little more care."
It was true. It's almost time for her to graduate. She doesn't need anything to do with love, thought the nun. So maybe it's a happy omen that she's been cursed. She decided to suggest a wonderful plan to Aya.
"How about we set you up a secret room for you to hide in until the curse is lifted?" she said mentally, thrilled by the thought.
The nun left the confessional without waiting for Aya's response. You can't give the other person time to think at times like these.
Aya had a defencelessness that stirred up the sadistic nature of those she talked to. Her dignified beauty at least generally prevented it, but part of her seemed to want to be punished, so she had simply gone along with it, but it went just as she'd thought it would. It thrilled the nun a little. Watching the nun leave, Aya knew who she was, and believed it - she wanted to be punished by her. That, of course, however, was a mistake.
There was a door inside the chapel, and entering the tower she saw a spiral staircase that continued up high. The nun climbed the stairs, Aya following. They only went up to about the height of the third floor of the school, but seemed to go on endlessly, and she was soon out of breath. Glancing down, the unstable height made her feel slightly dizzy.
And then their eyes met - hers, and the other Aya's. She shook her head, as if to say, She can't go. But all Aya wanted to do was escape from her. She had been cursed by herself. Was that not simple narcissism? Aya felt ashamed by it. She wanted to be sure of herself, so she pushed down the sudden doubts that sprang up inside.
The nun reached the top of the stairs and opened the door, then stood, hidden, behind it. Aya couldn't see her face, and she couldn't see Aya. A bed and chest. A french window opposite. A waxed floor. For some reason, it seemed to Aya like a birdcage. Then, she heard the nun's voice from the shadow of the door again.
"I think you should stay here for a while. I'm the only one at this school who knows about this place. Here, take this, too. It's medicine that will help you to relax." The nun held out a pill case, small enough to fit in her palm, from the other side of the door. "They'll help you sleep. So you don't have scary dreams."
Not outright calling them sleeping pills made Aya feel better. It meant the same thing, but it made her think that they were nothing; just a little assistance in drifting off. What Aya didn't know was that they had a very long half-life. They were strong, like the fake death poison given to Juliet by the friar. Aya took the medicine without suspicion. Her lack of caution was proof that she had already fallen for the nun's trick. Collapsing onto the bed, she fell asleep.
The nun wrapped Aya up in the bedsheets, as though in a holy shroud, and locked the door from the outside.
"Forget that I shut you away here," she whispered. It was a suggestion. The moment she took the medicine and fell asleep, she became extremely receptive to suggestion - not a curse, but hints. The sound of her footsteps moved away. Aya slept in the room, without anyone else knowing, all through the tragedy that unfolded.