The two girls left Mary's house, terribly shaken. Michi clutched her pocket camera, muttering, I can't believe it. As they lowered the shutters, Michi noticed a boy with a larger camera than hers hanging from his neck standing around front.
"Oh, you - you're Mary's son, right? Sorry for putting down the shutters when you were just about to go in."
The boy shook his head.
"Is there something you need from us?"
The boy stared at the ground, his face hidden by his long fringe, but looked up as though in determination. "I took... a photo."
"A photo? Of who?"
"The woman who was in the album. With you." He pointed at Aya.
"Me?" Aya said, the sweetness of her voice making the boy's cheeks flush.
"No. She looks like you, but she's different. I took a photo of a ghost that looks like you." Aya and Michi looked at each other. "It's the truth. This camera can take photos of ghosts."
The pair looked into the boy's desperate eyes. They were like beautiful black fountains. He said that the photo had been taken by one of the students at their school. They both thought it was probably Itsuki. That was how the photo had made it inside the school. Neither Michi nor Aya felt like getting mad about it, but the boy seemed to have had it on his mind for a long time. When he was done talking, he looked relieved, and then began to speak about himself.
"I got this camera from my father. We were a photo studio for ages - Kusakabe Photo Studio - since the Meiji period. Before my father died, he told me to continue that legacy and take this camera. But everyone started using digital cameras and sending around photos on their phones and stuff, so the studio went bankrupt. But I never want to stop taking photos, so..." The boy looked down again. His body, trembling with tension, was still young.
Michi turned to look at the shop. Perhaps that was what the flaking paint on the sign read.
"Didn't Mary say her name was Yamada?" Aya said, and the boy bit his lip lightly.
"After my father died, my mother changed her name back to her maiden name. I don't think she liked him much."
Oh, so that's what he's hurt about, thought Michi. It reminded her of how she had been until just recently. She picked up the boy's camera. "Hey - how do you use this camera to see ghosts?" she said brightly, looking through the viewfinder. "I don't see anything."
"Let me try, too," Aya said, taking the camera from Michi. She slowly looked around her through the viewfinder. "A tank under the distant sky. The academy chapel's tower. A shop with closed shutters. Michi. And then... Ah!"
"What is it?"
"There was something above the drainage ditch... I think. I'm not sure, though.
The wind blew, steadily cooling the air. Snow began to fall again. For a moment, she imagined them to be cherry petals. A flurry of snow carried on the breeze. The three walked over to the ditch. There was nothing there. They couldn't see anyone.
"Let me borrow it. I'm good with cameras," Michi said, removing her eyepatch.
Taking the camera from Aya, she looked through it again. She could clearly see a shadow through the viewfinder. Michi was shocked. Even with her eyepatch off, when she looked through cameras she couldn't see "them" that were invisible to the naked eye. But, for some reason, something was there. Michi felt strange. The boy could sense "them" with his father's old camera. Aya had just sensed one. They had both felt it at the same time.
The snowy wind created a small whirlpool on the water's surface, changing into a blue shadow, then took the form of a person.
"Ah..." the three shouted at almost the exact same time. Their voices seemed to give her a solid connection to this world, giving her a human form. It was the missing Risa.
The "thing" atop the water that had turned into Risa fell vertically into the water, sinking to the bottom of the ditch. It had fallen into the water because it had taken on a human form.
Before Michi could even think I have to help her, Aya dove into the ditch up to her waist and tried to grab onto Risa as she was washed away. She reached out her hand, but Risa didn't respond. I have to save her - I don't want to lose anyone else, thought Aya. Suddenly, a flashback shot through her head. It was of a young girl, with skin as pure as porcelain. A girl's hand reaching out, trying to save her. An explosion of water spray. The hand couldn't reach. Countless stars fell from above, making the area into a sparkling galaxy.
Someone slapped Aya across the cheek. When she realised where she was, she was sitting atop the concrete beside the ditch, holding onto Risa. Michi stared at her worriedly. Her skirt was wet, too.Then Aya noticed an unfamiliar man and woman beside the boy, also looking at her with worried eyes.
"I wondered what the hell you were up to. We were passing by in the car, and saw you three writhing around in the ditch."
"Mr. Karatsu pulled us out," said Michi, which was when Aya learned that the man's name was Karatsu.
"This young lady's body is missing its soul," Karatsu said, touching Risa's forehead with his index finger."Anyway, we can't let people see her like this, so get her on the luggage rack. We have to hurry or we won't make it," said the woman.
"Won't make it?"
The woman ignored Aya's question. A black delivery van was parked in the direction she was looking in. I guess they must have been driving that car through, Aya thought absentmindedly. The man lifted Risa up, the woman opening the door to the storage rack, and he lay her down on it.
"Think we can do something with her?"
"Looks like her soul's still floating around."
"Then we can do something."
"I guess so."
The man nodded. The woman looked at Aya and grinned.
"Just leave it to us. It might be a little more difficult than the last time, though."
Aya had no idea what "the last time" meant.
The car moved to a deserted-seeming park. This town had several wide open parks, made meaninglessly with tax money. People were hardly ever spotted around the town centre, so there was no way there would be anyone at the park.
The luggage rack in the van was far more spacious than it seemed. Risa lay there, Aya, Michi and the boy, as well as Karatsu and Makino - whom Michi seemed to have encountered once before - all sitting around her.
"She's not alive, but she's not dead, either," the boy said, peering down at Risa.
"I see. So you can tell."
"Can you do it like you did with Aya?" Michi asked.
"Like with me?" Aya asked in reply.
"Yeah. I put your soul back into your body up in that room in the tower at the school. You were being made to sleep by the effects of the drugs, and it looked like it might take a while for you to wake up, so I did that first."
It was the first time Aya had ever been saved by someone. Once he finished speaking, Karatsu knelt on one knee in front of Risa's body, placing his hand gently to her chest.
"Um..." Aya said, confused as to what was happening. "Shouldn't we call the police, or take her to the hospital, or..."
"Don't worry. Karatsu has itako powers. Like the boy just said, this body isn't completely dead yet. Her soul is still drifting around. So, if we can call her soul back to her body, we can save her," said Makino brightly, the bobbles in her hair wobbling, but no one could take in exactly what she meant. Itako? "Hmm... By 'itako', I mean that Karatsu can call to and summon the ghosts floating around him. In this case, though, I think he's going to use his own body to bring it back," Makino said, putting her index finger to her lips signalling for silence. Karatsu closed his eyes, muttering something, his lips moving faintly.
"She said... Not to come..."
It sounded like Karatsu's voice, but also that of a young girl. Aya and Michi looked at Risa. She was alive. Her lips moved again.
"She said to go back to my world..."
Lights shone in Risa's faintly open eyes. They were large tears, about the size of real pearls.
Risa sat on the luggage tray, wrapped in a blanket Makino had put on her, her bare feet poking out.
"What happened, Risa?" Michi asked.
"I was trying to go somewhere really far away from this world," Risa replied. "But she told me not to go there."
"Who? Who said that to you?"
"Itsuki..." An image of Itsuki appeared in Risa's head from when she was still alive. "She sent me back... But even if I had stayed there, I wouldn't have been able to get near Itsuki, or the girl. Kasumi or the others either."
"What girl?" asked Aya.
"I don't know. Everyone cast the curse so that they could be with her in the other world, but they can't. I wondered if she was you, Aya. She looked just like you. But she wasn't. Why do you look just like her?"
Everyone looked at Aya. She was tongue-tied. That was what she herself wanted to know most of all.
"You want to know? Then we should ask her," said Karatsu. Huh? thought Aya. "She's around you right now. She looks just like you. I've never seen anything like it before - a ghost who looks just like a living person. Maybe if we summon her we can learn something."
Michi looked at Aya. She still had her eyepatch off. She stared hard at the space behind Aya. For a second she saw a white shadow, but it didn't take any clear form. He must have a far stronger power for sensing these kinds of things, thought Michi. Then, Aya looked at Karatsu, her eyes serious.
"We might learn something?"
"Yes... Although you might not want to know it."
Aya shook her head. "I have to know."
"Probably," said Karatsu.
"Please," Aya said, and Karatsu nodded, putting his hand lightly on her shoulder.
"Then let's unravel your sealed memories."
Suddenly, the air around them seemed to plummet a few degrees in temperature. Aya felt "it" enter her body, then began to tell them a terrible tale from her lips. It was from when Aya was still only five years old.