Mirei Matsukawa liked to swim alone in the empty pool at twilight. Now that the summer tournament was over, and all the third-year club members had to do was wait for their retirement, it served as a modest refreshment as she studied in preparation for her exams. Waiting for the club members to finish practise and switching places with them, she entered the abandoned pool from the third course, right in the middle. She put on her goggles, sank her face into the still surface of the water, and began to swim.
She dove down about five metres, then let her body float. Using her arms to slowly push her way through the water and kicking with her feet, she enjoyed the breaststroke she'd known since she was a child. During practise, she was crowded by the other members and could hardly swim at her own speed. Nothing could replace the joy of having the pool all to herself in the evening when it was filled with slanted sunlight, the time the watery world looked most beautiful of all. Ah, she was glad to have worked so hard in the club for the past three years.
Even still, the water seemed unusually clear today. Was it because she was wearing new goggles? They were only normal plastic lenses instead of prescription ones, though.
The water seemed to put up little resistance. The silicone face pad was comfortable against her ears, too, to the point where she almost forgot that she was wearing goggles at all. Did goggles have differences in performance the way swimsuits did?
Mirei swam the course casually as she thought. Few stops to breathe, pushing with her arms, kicking the water with her feet. Even the air bubbles that grazed against her cheeks and goggles reflected the sunlight, glinting.
She neared the middle of the course. A square, metre-long drain was visible beneath the water. The bars that covered it were rusted with age, and seemed like they could easily be removed if she put some force into it. Being able to see it more clearly than usual made something so normal strangely interesting. She could even see that the concrete channel on the other side of the bars was blanketed with dark green moss which, coupled with the cracks and fissures that covered the bottom of the pool, reminded her of how old it was.
Passing over the drain at an unexpectedly rapid pace, she approached the 25 metre goal. With her current momentum, if she could just execute the turn well... Timing her quick turns in 50 metre races had always given Mirei grief. If she could just get the turn right, her record would be even better.
She casually took a rest stop just before the 20 metre line. Her sinking face was enveloped by countless bubbles. Just five more metres to the goal. Good. Mirei reached out her arms more quickly to increase her pace, pushing through the water and approaching her goal.
Suddenly, as she kicked out with her right leg, it shuddered. What...? Just before the finishing line, the movement of her field of vision began to slow. Why...?
Her right leg still outstretched, its calf wouldn't stop shaking. Crap... Is my leg cramping...? It didn't hurt, though. The water surrounding her leg felt stabblingly cold, seemingly pressing down against it and gradually paralysing the nerves. At the same time, the feeling of being dragged by a powerful force spread from her leg and through her entire body.
Mirei tried to surface her submerged torso, pushing against the water's surface with both arms, again trying to kick at the water with her right leg, but her right knee refused to bend, her leg still outstretched and her body being tugged on even more forcefully. This had never happened before.
Trying to take a breath, Mirei strained her neck and shoulder muscles to bring her face up to the surface, but she could only manage to suck in one or two seconds' worth of air. Crap...
Her head sank again. She could see the bottom of the pool. She pushed her arms up towards the water's surface, trying to crawl upwards, but her body was unable to move freely and it wouldn't work. Why...?
Feeling a particularly strong force against her right leg, Mirei twisted her side to the right and turned her head to look at her right leg. Something was grabbing onto it. Mirei strained her eyes, then let out an internal shout. It was a white hand. Amidst the water, undulating and filled with air bubbles, Mirei could clearly see a wet white hand grabbing onto her right calf.
In her shock, Mirei let her mouth fall open a little. Water flowed rapidly into her mouth. Choking violently, the more she struggled the more air escaped from her body. Struggling to breathe, she began to feel dizzy. Coughing simply let in more water. Somebody! Help me!
"Mirei?" she heard someone call from above as she struggled on the surface. "Are you okay?"
Their voice was carefree, as if they didn't expect a member of the swim team of all people to be drowning, even though she was dying. She had to call out for help. Mirei summoned the last of her strength and pushed her face to the surface, and a white object appeared before her eyes. It was a float on the water. Mirei clung to it desperately, her momentum carrying her to the edge of the starting box, and she grabbed onto it. She poked her face out from the water, gasping. The finishing line was right in front of her eyes, but she had been in such a panic that she hadn't noticed.
"Are you okay, Mirei?"
Looking up, she saw a female student in her uniform standing next to the middle starting box, stooping over and peering down at her. She remembered her standing out a little from amongst the other new club members due to her pigtails.
"Yeah... thanks," Mirei said, calming her breathing.
"Did you get cramp or something?" Riko asked curiously. She'd made a shameful display of herself, but she couldn't say it.
"I... don't really know myself," she said ambiguously. She'd just think she was weird if she admitted that her leg had been pulled by a strange white hand and she'd almost drowned.
Mirei looked at the younger student, forcing a smile. "Thanks. You're... part of the swim team too, aren't you?"
"I'm Kagami from the first year. Riko Kagami. I'm a phantom member who doesn't show up much, though," Riko said with a smile. Mirei smiled bitterly. A phantom, huh... "Uh, Mirei?" Riko asked, peering at her.
"What is it?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"Why aren't you wearing goggles?"
Mirei touched her face, and realised that she didn't have any goggles on.
"Oh, that's not good..."
Had they come off when she'd been drowning...? Mirei touched her head, too. Her swim cap was still in place, but the goggles were gone.
Mirei looked down at her feet. Her goggles weren't at the bottom of the pool.
Mirei tilted her head, internally flustered. Had she lost them...?
"Um... Can I ask you one more thing, Mirei?" Riko suddenly asked as she stared at the bottom of the pool.
"I've been watching you since you got into the pool. You never had goggles on in the first place."
"I did think it was weird that you were only wearing your swim cap."
"Huh? I know I had my goggles on, though."
"Are you sure? Not that it's a big deal or anything..."
Riko seemed suspicious. Still fairly confused, Mirei thought back on what had happened up until she got into the pool.
"...Yeah, I was definitely swimming with goggles on. They're borrowed ones, though."
"Yeah. I forgot my goggles today. I borrowed someone's goggles that were in the changing room lockers..."
Hearing this, Riko smirked. "Could you possibly mean the ones in the corner locker furthest from the door?"
"I thought so. It was ajar."
"What about it?"
"That's the famous 'forbidden locker', isn't it?"
The forbidden locker. Who'd been talking about that?
"Well, I guess I have heard the rumours about that."
"The lock's normally broken and it won't open, but it did open and there were goggles inside. Doesn't that seem really meaningful to you?"
"It's just a coincidence, isn't it?" Mirei said, slightly annoyed. Riko, however, was unperturbed.
"Have you heard this rumour, Mirei? People say that it's the locker that was used by a member of the swim team who drowned during practise about ten years ago..." Riko moved her face closer to Mirei's. "Not only that, but for some reason the only thing they didn't find on the body were the goggles..."
Mirei had been watching Riko with a serious face, but quickly burst out laughing. "Cut it out. It's just a stupid rumour."
"There's more. The girl who died was going out with the swim team's young coach. She loved staying out late practising in the pool with the coach, just the two of them, until one morning her body alone was found floating on the third course, and the coach was nowhere to be found. According to one theory, the coach was possessed by a ghost lurking in the pool and killed her, then got spirited away himself..."
Mirei scowled as Riko spoke suggestively. "...Why's this 'pool ghost' coming up all of a sudden?"
"There are all kinds of spooky rumours at this school, right? Like the one where the old building was supposedly a Japanese Army facility. There are loads of spooky rumours about this pool, too, like it being a lake where bodies were disposed of during the Edo period, or that the pool was re-purposed for the washing of bodies during the war." Riko sounded like she was enjoying herself.
The school did have plenty of history, meaning that the rumours were ceaseless... Finished swimming and soaking wet, Mirei couldn't help but feel somehow chilly as she listened to Riko's stories. Having just had her leg grabbed by a white hand and almost drowned herself, Mirei almost wanted to believe them.
Gradually beginning to regain her composure, however, she looked back on the strange happening calmly. Her goggles had vanished... Before getting into the pool, she had her goggles in her hand, and put them on right before she began to swim. It wasn't out of the question for the girl not to have seen them, then. If anything, it seemed more likely that she'd been so focused on ghostly phenomena that her prejudice had caused her to make a mistake...
Mirei shook her head from side to side and looked calmly at Riko. "I've heard that the pool isn't allowed to be used at night because a girl drowned in it, too."
"Right, right?" Riko nodded triumphantly.
"But the teacher said that she died because she practised too hard and had a heart attack, and that the coach took responsibility and quit."
"Hmmm? Really?" Riko whined, openly screwing up her face.
Mirei nodded. "A similar rumour went around when I was a first year and the advisor told us, so it has to be true."
"Tch, booring. I thought I'd get a ghost photo for sure if the 'forbidden locker' was open," Riko grumbled, taking out her phone and looking at it.
"Did you come to the pool to take ghost photos?"
"Hehe. I'll definitely come to practise next time," Riko said sweetly, smiling.
"Jeez. Honestly, I really wish you'd help me look for my goggles."
"'Kay, I'll look around the poolside!"
Riko raised her hand unnaturally, moving away from the box and walking around the side of the pool, beginning to search for the goggles. Despite her exasperation, Mirei couldn't help but let out a smile watching her. She was grateful for being saved, at least. Mirei placed the float on the box, looking back over the pool. It was dim and eerily quiet once more as the sun began to cloud over. The pool was definitely creepy at night, but what was up with the white hand...?
She must have been so shaken that it had looked as if her own arm was grabbing onto her leg... And there were so many bubbles around her that she must not have been able to see clearly. Yes, that was it. There had been a weird increase in the number of bubbles while she'd been swimming, and she'd caught her leg, making it feel like she was being pulled. It had been right around the drain when the bubbles had begun to increase...
Mirei began to swim back along the course the way she had come. Even without the goggles, her visibility improved steadily. As the drain at the bottom of the pool finally came into view, she noticed that a black object was lying nearby. She dove down and got closer. The outline of the black object gradually grew clearer. There they are! Those are the goggles!
Mirei moved headfirst towards the drain, grabbing onto the sunken goggles. Thank goodness... The weird things she said had me freaked out. Feeling relieved, Mirei glanced at the drain. Assisted by the gloom, it was harder to see the channel behind the bars than it had been before.
Bubbles came out of the drain and grazed against her cheek. Mirei peered beyond the bars that covered the drain. Profound darkness stretched out inside the concrete channel where the dark green moss grew. Part of the darkness suddenly looked as if it moved, setting Mirei on edge. Was something there? ...No, it had to be the undulation of the water, a trick by the bubbles, or something else.
This time, she heard the faint sound of the bars shaking. If she touched the rusty bars, they seemed like they would snap effortlessly. If something strange were to happen to the drain... she would be sucked inside by a fierce force. Just like when her leg had been tugged on before... Growing afraid, Mirei kicked off the bottom of the pool. It felt like it took an unusually long time for her to reach the air-filled world.
What if the accident ten years ago had been caused by the drain? Poking her face out of the water's surface, she looked up at the sky and took deep breaths. The sunset had mostly vanished, a full moon appearing in the eastern sky. She had never swum in the school pool until so late before.
Mirei looked at Riko by the poolside. The accident ten years ago... But... Mirei swam straight for the finishing line to show the goggles to Riko.
"Hey. If you're not gonna swim, I'm going home," Mirei called to Riko, still by the poolside.
"Mmm, but it's nearly the good time, though..."
"What do you mean by 'the good time'?"
Riko passed by Mirei with a reluctant look on her face, walking beside the pool. Mirei looked back down at the goggles. Ugh, all for these goggles... I'll definitely make sure not to forget mine next time... But what should I do about them? Maybe I should give them over to the advisor...
Taking a closer look at the goggles, she saw that the surface was coated in moss. ...Huh? The goggles I found in the locker were way cleaner than this, I thought... Did they get dirty while they were lying in the pool? But they're so dirty, it's like they were tossed away into the water ages ago...
She touched the lenses of the goggles, and the moss came away easily. Next, she wiped away the moss on the face pad with her fingertip. Something was written on the surface of the black rubber, hiding behind the moss. What was it? Mirei scrubbed a little more with her finger. Letters had been handwritten there in white marker.
Yoshiyuki Hara? It had to be a boy's name. What was it doing in a girl's locker, then...?
As Mirei tilted her head to one side, she heard a groan from behind. Spinning around, she looked down at the pool. The gloomy moaning sound was echoing from it, moonlight reflected on the water's surface. What was going on? She could hear a voice, but couldn't see anyone.
She tried to take a step backwards, but she couldn't move, almost as if she were paralysed. As Mirei stared at the water, she heard a clatter nearby. Gripped in her trembling hand, the lenses of the goggles were knocking against each other. The goggles... The goggles that show too much... Could they really...?
Nervously, Mirei brought the goggles to her face and timidly looked through the lenses at the water's surface. Countless white hands squirmed within the water. A man in his mid twenties looked up from amidst the water at Mirei, as if pleading for help. The young man was finally covered all over by the white hands, vanishing into the expanse of darkness deep inside the water as if pulled in.
Mirei took the goggles away from her face and simply stood there in a daze. What...? I can't move my fingers... The goggles swiftly fell from her hand, dropping into the pool. Riko, who had been walking on ahead, noticed the sound of something falling into the pool and turned back.
"...Mirei? What's wrong?" she asked curiously, but her face was stiff and she couldn't respond. That... must have been the missing young coach. What happened in this pool...? She no longer felt like searching for the dropped goggles.
"...Mirei?" Riko returned, watching Mirei's stunned face.
"..." Mirei looked slowly over at Riko and spoke with trembling lips. "...I don't think we should use this pool anymore..."
Riko stared blankly as Mirei walked across the poolside on unsteady legs.
"Hey, Mirei, wait for me!"
Riko hurried after Mirei. Three days later, Mirei submitted her note of resignation from the swim team.