It was August, the height of summer, and the air was laden with choruses of cicadas. So many people had gone home for the holidays that the student dormitory of the high school, converted from an old wooden hospital building, felt almost devoid of life. The dorm had an open-air courtyard into which the blazing sun shone, the plants in their beds brought alive by its rays. Sunflowers swayed with a soft rustle in the warm breeze that blew through. In the centre of it all stood a girl.
Marie Shinomiya leaned forward in an easy motion, swinging her arms. With closed eyes, and movements so natural it was almost as though she were being guided by something, she danced flowingly and without pause.
It was a kagura dance.
In time with her movements, she slowly filled and then emptied her lungs. She danced with her whole body, as if trying to flush out something bad from inside her. None of Marie's movements appeared to be her own. There was something in them, something unnatural about the naturalness of it, that made it look like an invisible puppeteer stood behind Marie pulling the strings.
Marie couldn't remember where exactly she'd learned the steps. It would probably have been truer to say that her body remembered them, and she was merely surrendering herself to its whims. But the more she repeated the dance, the more she felt like something came together inside her head. An image of a lost memory taking shape and coming into focus... That was the hunch, or impulse, she felt.
The scene that emerged was of a masked shrine maiden dancing, accompanied by the elegant sounds of a kagura. Herself playing a musical instrument as a throng of people, candles in hand, looked on intently. The words "Rogetsu Kagura".
She wanted to fill the empty hole. She wanted to get back the memories she'd lost. These instinctive desires impelled Marie to dance. The more she did so, the more seemed to come to her, and so she gave herself fully to the dance, losing all concept of time.
As the dance intensified, the courtyard began to fade from Marie's view, replaced by the fuzzy memory of a dancing shrine maiden. She could no longer feel the ground beneath her, or tell left from right, up from down.
"Huh? Where am I, again...?" she asked herself.
The next second, the scenery softly unravelled and gave way, and Marie found herself standing in the courtyard as if nothing had happened.
Marie sighed, wiping away sweat with the hem of her shirt, feeling an inexpressible sense of frustration. It wasn't the vestiges of that vision leaving her dazed. This was what happened when you exerted yourself outdoors with no air conditioning in the middle of summer.
She hadn't got anything out of it today, either, despite her feeling that what she truly desired was right there in front of her.
Feeling an emptiness at her inability to attain what she wanted, no matter how many times she tried, Marie returned to the dorm.
The first floor of the dorm was a communal space; it had recently had a vending machine installed in it, which, naturally, proved very popular with the students, and tended to run out of stock particularly often in the summertime. Fortunately, there was no one around at the moment, so Marie could buy as much as she pleased. She plunked in a 100 yen coin, took out the water, and pressed it to the nape of her neck.
She made her way up to the second floor, the stairs creaking underfoot. Rather than returning to her own room, Marie headed towards a different one.
The windows in the hall had been left ajar. A breeze blew through them, threatening to liberate a notice regarding summer term courses from the bulletin board it had been posted on. Marie paused for a moment to pin it back into place.
"Tomoeee? You theeeere?"
Arriving at her destination, she knocked lightly on the door and opened it. The well-organised room, belonging to her old friend, Tomoe Nanamura, didn't contain much; only a plain desk, a bed and a shelf, plus a uniform hanging on the wall.
It was said that one's room was a representation of their inner self. Each time Marie saw this place, she thought about her own mess of a room and swore to herself that she would tidy it up, only to forget once more a few minutes later.
That summer holiday, Tomoe was the only student besides herself whom Marie saw around the dorm. Because of that, and the fact that they were good friends, Marie took every chance she had to pay Tomoe a visit. And yet...
"Well, if she's not here..."
Then she must be there instead, thought Marie. The two knew each other well enough that she could guess. She retraced her steps back the way she had come, heading in the direction of the nurse's office. (It was close to the school building, and used the former exam room of the hospital the dorm had once been.)
Marie opened the door, poorly fitting in the frame due to its age, and the odour of chemicals blew through it, carried on the summer breeze. Inside was a disused exam desk. White glass shelves. A worn wooden side chest. Any dangerous chemicals had been disposed of so that students might use the room, but reminders of its past still lingered.
A figure stood on the far side of two beds that sat next to each other. It was a slender, delicate-looking girl, staring out of the window absentmindedly as though she were miles away: Tomoe.
"Tomoe?" Marie called.
Tomoe simply continued to stare off into the distance, unresponsive. The only sounds were the echoes of chirping cicadas and curtains fluttering in the breeze. To her, the lifeless Tomoe looked just like a doll.
There was an endemic disease known as "Moonlight Syndrome" that was exclusively found on an island named Rogetsu Isle, the place where Marie and Tomoe were born. No one knew what caused it, or how to treat it. Anyone who came down with the illness gradually lost their memories.
The two of them suffered from the disease. Marie's symptoms had eased and stabilised; Tomoe, on the other hand, wasn't doing too well, and Marie often worried about her.
"Hey, Tomoe. Listen to me for a sec." Marie grinned cheerfully, sitting down on a nearby stool. "I tried doing that dance again. I feel like I'm this close to figuring something out."
Tomoe said nothing, but her gaze briefly flickered in her direction.
"I don't know for sure whether it's right or not, maybe because of that time we got spirited away, but... I feel like one day, if I keep it up, I might be able to remember everything. I think I'm gonna keep trying. And anyway, I'm in dance club. I bet being able to manage different movements must help with that, too, right?"
Marie didn't know much about what had happened. Five girls, the pair of them included, had been mysteriously spirited away on the day of an event called the "Rogetsu Kagura" held on the island they came from; they had been found a few days later; all five girls were suffering from Moonlight Syndrome. That was about it. All of her memories before that point were gone.
Many years had passed since then, but Marie was still in touch with Ruka Minazuki, another of the girls who had been spirited away along with her. Ruka had said that she felt like she was on the verge of remembering something whenever she played the piano. Maybe some physical sensation acted as a thin thread tying her past, before she had lost her memories, to her present. This was why Marie believed that acting out behaviours linked to her lost memories would prove to be the key to getting them back.
In the nurse's office, the seconds ticked by calmly. Tomoe was fond of the room, which meant that Marie ended up spending a lot of time there, too. There was no one else at the dorm. They were the only two people left in the world, with nothing in their way. The feeling was comforting.
"Oh, right - things have settled down at my job at the restaurant, so we can spend all our time together for a while. Ayano's gone home, too. Now we can really have the whole place all to ourselves."
"Okay," Tomoe answered simply.
Marie, who had expected her to be happy to hear the news, was disappointed, but insistently maintained her smile as she spoke to Tomoe. At first, she couldn't read the other girl's expression, but little by little Tomoe began to respond. Each time she did, Marie recited her silent mantra: Tomoe is here. She's with me.
Then, without warning, Tomoe reached out and touched Marie's cheek.
Though somewhat shocked, Marie didn't try to stop her. Tomoe's pale, slender hand stroked her cheek as if to check it. She seemed almost to be doting, touching something fragile. Or maybe she was afraid of something? Marie couldn't tell exactly what was going through Tomoe's mind.
"It's you, isn't it, Marie?" she finally said. "That's your face. Marie's face."
Tomoe smiled gently. She seemed to be looking not at Marie, but at something far in the distance.
"...I've been right here with you all this time."
She placed her own hand on top of the one against her cheek. Tomoe smiled, as if in relief, and Marie gave as big of a smile as she could muster in return.
Marie pondered. If I can get my memories back, maybe Tomoe's will come back, too, or it might at least help her remember something. And even if her memories don't come back...
"We're gonna make lots of memories together, okay?"
Marie gently stroked Tomoe's hand, so fragile it looked as if it might break at any moment, praying that Tomoe didn't go anywhere - that she felt the warmth of the hand covering hers.
Marie continually brought up a steady stream of topics; Tomoe murmured small responses here and there. Marie was a chatterbox by nature, but she seemed to become even more talkative when she was with Tomoe.
The next thing she knew, night had fallen. How had the hours flown by like that? Outside of the window, the moon had risen. Marie sat on the bed, holding Tomoe's hand, and looked up at the moon where it hung in the night sky. The temperature had dropped by a few degrees, the air feeling more comfortable now.
As she listened to bell crickets chirruping, a breeze swept Tomoe's smooth hair into the air, tickling the tip of Marie's nose. She combed her fingers through it, as if enjoying how soft it felt to touch.
Tomoe giggled quietly, her eyes slightly narrowed, telling Marie that her symptoms had stabilised. She didn't know how it worked, but people said that looking at the moon helped to ease the symptoms of Moonlight Syndrome.
Tomoe's glossy hair slipped through the gaps between her fingers. As if reluctant to let go, Marie took a section of hair in her hand.
"Marie! That tickles."
Marie said nothing, continuing to happily comb through her hair.
"...You should grow yours out too, you know."
"It doesn't suit me. Not like it suits you."
"I think it does. Let it grow. I want to touch your hair, too."
"No! I like touching yours better."
Even at night, their conversations were lively. It didn't matter what the subject was. She continued chatting away, as if taking back the things she hadn't been able to do during the daytime. As they went on talking, it felt as though the very concept of time itself melted away. A moment stretched out for eternity; an infinity passed in the blink of an eye.
I wish we could stay like this forever, Marie couldn't help but think. In order to make that happen, there was no other way...
"Hey, Tomoe. Do you remember that detective?"
For the two of them, their memories being so fuzzy, what they remembered and how much was an important topic of discussion. It also served as a measure of just how much of the time they'd spent still remained within them.
"Mr. Kirishima? Um, kind of..." Tomoe answered, tilting her head in confusion, as if to ask, Why do you want to know?
Choshiro Kirishima. The name of the detective who'd found the five girls after they had been spirited away.
"This just kind of reminds me of that day, is all."
The earliest memory Marie had left was of looking up at the moon from the bottom of a well, and four other girls around her doing the same. She didn't know why they had been there, how they had been spirited away, or what had happened at the Rogetsu Kagura; only that a grown-up man had shown up and rescued them. The relief she had felt at the time was etched deep into her heart. Sometimes, as she looked at the moon, Marie remembered it.
"It's okay. I'll make you better, Tomoe, I swear."
She hadn't found a way to do it; it was unlikely that she would. Marie's promise was as much an expression of determination directed at herself as it was for Tomoe's sake.
Hearing this, Tomoe gave a nod, then entwined her fingers with Marie's and linked their hands once more. Marie felt as though she could sense Tomoe's feelings through her grasp.
A firm beam of light shone down on the two of them, like bubbles drifting on the water's surface. Marie drew Tomoe slightly closer to her and closed her eyes peacefully.
I want to shine a light on someone - on Tomoe - just like that detective did - like the waxing autumn moon lighting up the cloudless sky.