Sat at a small pine table in the dorm, staring up at the night sky, Risa reflected on the afternoon's happenings. The constellations of winter sparkled so brightly outside the window, the sky so clear and cloudless, that she felt as though she could reach out and touch the north star.
Risa took out the photo of Aya she had got from Itsuki. She entertained the thought of cursing Aya instead, but shook her head. I chose Itsuki, she thought, slipping Aya's photo inside her notebook and closing it. Suddenly the door opened, and Itsuki slipped inside. Risa turned in surprise.
"How did you get in here? It's locked from the outside."
"Opening these locks is no trouble at all. I'm good with my fingers. If not, I could never aspire to be a nailist." Itsuki showed Risa a bent hairpin, then casually set a tray down on the table. "Supplies. I swiped them at dinner. There's white kidney bean soup and chicken, butter rolls, and milk. I thought you might be hungry."
"Thanks. But I'm not hungry, so..." Risa said, and Itsuki didn't try to force her to eat. Risa knew that she had really come because there was something else she wanted to say.
"Risa, did you... try cursing someone with the curse that Mary was talking bout?" Itsuki asked, seeming slightly angry.
"No, I didn't."
"Then why did you dream about Aya kissing you?"
"I didn't, seriously. Look, I still have Aya's photo here. If I'd cursed her, her photo would have to be on the back wall in the confessional, right?" she said, opening the notebook. She showed Itsuki that the photo was definitely there.
"So by still having it, you mean you just haven't done it yet?"
Itsuki was annoyed about something. Itsuki herself didn't understand the emotions she was feeling. She had become jealous without her own realising that Risa had dreamt of Aya. Then she looked at the clock in Risa's room.
"Don't be an idiot. You really believe in all that? The curse? There's no way it's real."
But if there's no curse, when we graduate then Itsuki and I's relationship might just end. I'll be all alone.
Seeing Risa on the verge of tears annoyed Itsuki. "There's no curse, okay?"
Itsuki grabbed the photo of Aya from Risa and kissed it. At that very moment, the clock struck midnight, chiming softly.
"See? Kissing a photo means nothing. Kissing is something people do with other people, not photos," Itsuki said, squeezing Risa tight and forcibly kissed her. Risa drew back momentarily, afraid, then thought, Oh, Itsuki is cursed; now my curse won't work, and went limp.
Itsuki's lips were hot. It was unlike Aya's kiss in the dream, which felt like the wind caressing her lips - this was a real kiss. It was too hot, lighting Risa's body on fire. They pressed their lips together for a long time, until finally Risa became dizzy and fell over. This time, Risa went in for a kiss from Itsuki. She entrusted her soft body to Itsuki's arms. Her tongue brushed across white teeth, Risa letting out a helpless sigh. Despite her hesitancy at the sweet sensation of her tongue, Risa sought Itsuki more desperately.
"Itsuki, I, I love you..."
Risa's words brought Itsuki back down to earth. She had done something she couldn't take back. She wanted to be friends with Risa for life, whatever happened - but she had shattered their relationship. She regretted it terribly. She had given Aya's photo to Risa herself, and joked about some curse, but she couldn't forgive Risa for choosing Aya. I've fallen in love with Risa. We can't go back to being friends anymore. Itsuki pushed Risa away and rushed out of the room, trying not to look Risa in her teary eyes.
"Itsuki..." Itsuki locked the door from the outside. "Itsuki... Don't go..."
She could hear Risa's sobs from the other side of the door.
Risa waited until dawn for Itsuki to come back. She knew that she wouldn't; that her friendship with Itsuki was over. She had started the stupid stuff about the curse, and broken something precious between them. Hating herself, Risa fell into a despairing sleep.
When she finally awoke it was almost afternoon, and Itsuki was nowhere to be found at the academy - not the dorms, or the classroom, or the schoolyard. Risa spent ages searching for her, but couldn't find her anywhere. And, just like that, Itsuki disappeared for real.
The back garden to the north of St. Loudun's was gloomy even in ther afternoon. As always, the boy with the camera stood there, peering at the drainage ditch. Through the viewfinder his eyes, like the night, reflected the image of a girl floating upstream against the current. It was a different girl to the one before. It was like a midsummer mirage, even though spring hadn't even come yet, floating along in her fluttering black dress with its white collar. She reached a hand towards the boy. His heart beat faster, but when he looked away from the camera there was no one in the ditch after all, just the shadows of acacia trees. He stared at the camera.
What did I see today and the other day? he asked himself.
―My lover, someone's voice said. The boy turned around. No one was there. Just the wind blowing strongly.
Even after Kasumi and Itsuki vanished, life at the academy went on like any other day, as if nothing had happened. People decided they had left for the night without permission. It wasn't like it had never happened before. Acting like nothing had happened took precedence. It was a foregone conclusion.
For the girls, however, things were the other way around. They imagined things that hadn't happened, which instantly became the accepted truth. Wednesday was the day when everyone at the academy gathered together for mass. Until that day, people acted like Kasumi and Itsuki had vanished due to Aya's curse. Somewhere where they couldn't see her, Aya was cursing students at the academy one by one, so the missing pair were off somewhere in bed with her. Some people whispered of wild speculations of this nature. The curse shifted into a rumour, spreading like a virus.
The students assembled in the chapel. They all wanted to talk about the missing people, but were worried that if they did they would disappear too, and kept their mouths shut. Michi blankly looked around the students gathered there with the eye not covered with an eyepatch. Neither Aya nor Kasumi or Itsuki was there. Then I hope it's me next, she thought. She would be happier just to disappear.
It was almost time for her graduation. Michi hadn't yet decided what route to take afterwards. She was probably the only one in the class who hadn't chosen. It wasn't that she couldn't - she just didn't want to become an adult. To be perfectly honest, she just hated the idea of becoming an adult woman.
One day, having a stomach ache, Michi had come home early from elementary school, and seen shoes that didn't belong to her father by the front door. Then she saw something she shouldn't have in the bedroom where her mother and father slept. Michi didn't remember what happened next. The ugly memory stopped there. Michi's body stiffened. Her entire body rejected the memory she didn't want to recall. And then Risa touched Michi on the shoulder.
Risa's upper body trembled as she stood beside her. Maybe she was anaemic. It made some women collapse during their periods. She didn't feel like talking to anyone, but she was worried about her. Peering quietly into her face, Risa stared back vacantly, her eyes unfocused.
Risa's eyes wandered. Michi looked in the same direction, and saw three long, narrow stained glass windows side by side a little above the headmistress' head. Risa wouldn't take her eyes off that spot. She felt an unpleasant presence. One of "them" seemed to be there. "Aya?" someone murmured. The chatter began like a wave.
Michi was shocked. So there's someone else at this school besides me who can see "them"? Suddenly, she could hear the tweeting of birds, as if spring had come. It was followed by a cold, wintry wind that swept through the chapel. One of "them" really is here, then, thought Michi. For some reason, she wanted to see it. If everyone else could see it, then she wanted to as well. She took off the eyepatch, looking with both eyes at where Risa and everyone else was looking.
What Michi saw was a girl with long hair in a white chiffon dress, shrouded in a hazy blue light. Oh, it is Aya, thought Michi. It was both Aya and a "thing" that wasn't Aya. The students in the chapel began to stand one by one.
"Silence!" shouted a nun, but no one listened.
"I cursed Aya with the curse that only affects girls," someone said.
"Me as well." Everyone said it as though it were a competition.
"We all did."
"She's going to take us away..."
"Beneath the water, never to return..."
"An ancient legend..."
"Joining hands and jumping into the lake together..."
"Who? Who's cursed?"
The girls one by one muttered senseless words. They formed a chain of lines, like an epic poem taking form as a single story. But nothing like it came from Michi's lips. It made her feel calmed. The nuns shouted for silence a few times, but as though their voices had pulled a trigger, someone at the front collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut.
Once the first girl collapsed, the rest began falling to the floor one by one like dominoes. It was like someone that released all of their strings from the ceiling in one swoop. But to Michi, it seemed like they were all scrambling to collapse first, as if it was some kind of contest. All of the girls except for the adults fainted, lying on the chapel floor. Michi was the only one left, standing there alone. I can't be with everyone else after all, thought Michi.
She looked at the stained glass windows. "It" had already vanished. Picking up someone's dropped mobile phone from the floor, she saw a photo of Aya on the screen. The other girls' phones would be the same. All of the girls were nervous about going out into the world with their graduation ahead. Without their realising it, they began to feel like they had been put under Aya's "curse".
Someone had taken a picture of a photo given to them by Itsuki, and it spread across the school like an infection. And then Michi, the only one who couldn't pass out, took her camera from her pocket and took a photo of the collapsed girls. I have to see the truth, she thought.
Once, Michi tried to think that it had been Aya's ghost's fault that Kasumi was gone. Then, the Aya she saw by the fountain had no shadow. Her body was transparent. She decided in her heart that it was a ghost. That was the first time Michi called "them" a ghost in her head. Noticing this shocked Michi. She remembered her mother, and wondered if she wasn't just like her now.
Michi's mother looked at her with scorn, like she were a monster, because she could see "them". She had a troubled relationship with Michi's father, wounding her pride, and just about managed to maintain her internal equilibrium by her disdain of Michi.
No. It wasn't Aya's fault that Kasumi was gone. It was her own fault, for realising that Kasumi could see "them" too and losing her calm. So, first of all, she had to search for Aya. It wasn't Aya's fault that Kasumi was gone, but Aya had to know something. In any case, she had to look for her.
Michi thought desperately. How should she look forAya? If the Aya she saw back then was one of "them" (Michi thought it wasn't good to call them ghosts after all), then it wouldn't be hard for her. For the first time, Michi was grateful that she could see "them".
At midnight, clothed in a white nightdown with her initials sewn into the chest with red thread, Michi slipped out of her room at the dorm. She took off her eyepatch. The world changed. Before Michi now was the world where she could see "them". Michi went down the hall. It was long after lights out. Michi strained her eyes in the blue darkness. When she looked at the darkness with the eye that could see "them", it appeared blue.
Then, something a paler blue than the blue of the darkness cut through the dark. She felt something strange. She had seen lots of "them" before, but they were almost always white shadows. The Aya she had seen in the afternoon had been a white shadow, too.
Michi chased after the blue shadow. She had only seen a blue shadow once. Her father, forsaking her mother and moving in with another woman, had been in a traffic accident and was left in a vegetative state. Seeing him in that pathetic situation, her mother took Michi to the hospital with her, overjoyed.
Her father lay in a bed, surrounded by machines that were unfamiliar to Michi. A woman - younger than her mother, but with similar looks - was crying her eyes out by the bedside. Oh, so she's Dad's girlfriend, she thought. Unable to bear it, Michi looked away. It irritated her mother.
"Take off that stupid eyepatch and take a good look at how pathetic he is," she said to Michi, tearing off the eyepatch and grabbing her hair, turning her towards her father. Their eyes met. Her father smiled silently at her. It was one of "them" of her father. It was blue. Michi had thought, So this is the colour "they" are when the person is still alive.
The girl inside the coffin awoke. Someone is calling to me, she thought. But suddenly she felt hungry. The girl put the pearl left atop the coffin into her mouth, rolling it down her tongue and swallowing. Ah, this is the food of the underworld, she thought, and stood. Who is calling me? I have to go and see them. She could hear the first verse of Ophelia's Song in the distance.
―Yomotsu Hegui creates thineself.
This is what "yomotsu hegui" means, right? thought the girl - eating food from the underworld and becoming a resident of it.
Michi chased the blue shadow to the chapel.
"Aya?" she called. The blue shadow showed itself from behind the confessional. "So it was you who cursed Kasumi."
Aya shook out her long hair, with the white camellia hair ornament, and looked at Michi. "You can see me, can't you?"
Michi nodded, and Aya changed from a blue shadow into a white one. Michi couldn't process what was happening.
"It looks like you understand. You've been chasing the thing you call "it" that came out of the living Aya's body, and now me - a real ghost. Aren't you afraid? If you are you can close your left eye, and then you won't be able to see me."
Michi shook her head. She never found "them" scary. They always made her sad.
"If you're not Aya, then who are you?"
"You want to know?"
"Of course," replied Michi. It seemed to her like something she had to know. "It" nodded, as if satisfied, in response. Maybe she had been looking for someone to listen to her all along.
"Then I'll tell you. I was killed long, long ago. But my body matured, to the seventeen-year-old I am now. I was lonely all by myself, so I came back."
"Did you curse Kasumi and Itsuki?"
"No. They cursed themselves of their own free will."
"Where are they?"
"I don't know. They may be cursed, but they don't come to me."
"Not Aya, either? Did you curse her?"
"..." There was no answer. "I am the one who is cursed, Michi..."
"It" returned to Aya's blue colour once more, then vanished. The confessional felt pleasantly cool, but pure. She couldn't sense Aya's presence, but Michi said to the empty, blue darkness, "Then I will lift Aya's curse."