"How about doing a game novelisation?"
I received the phone call from Mr. Ioka, with whom I had worked once before on research for a magazine, in the spring of 2002.
A popular game was being turned into a novel in the hope of letting its many fans experience the world outside of the game. Even I, who knew little about games, knew of these specialty publishings. But I had thought that these novels were written by people like scenario writers or something like that - people related to the game.
"That's not true," said Mr. Ioka when I asked him about it. "Quite the opposite, in fact; often, people with nothing at all to do with the game are asked to do it to give it a different feel. At the moment, the company I work for want a novelisation of a game, and are currently searching for a writer."
"But are you sure someone like me should be writing it?"
"Of course. I remembered you telling me that you'd written novels when you were a student, so I phoned you."
I was a fledgling journalist who'd done some reporting for magazines. In my student days, I'd also been a member of the literary club, and published several doujin works featuring my own stories.
Come to think of it, when I was working with Mr. Ioka, we'd been casually chatting when he asked me if I'd written any novels, and I answered that actually... And we spoke about it.
Saying that, though, it was just at the level of a persistent amateur and no more. But I would be lying if I said that I didn't aspire to become a professional through my writing.
I was silent, and heard Mr. Ioka's voice through the receiver.
"I thought it might be rude to ask a journalist like yourself, but I thought I'd see how you felt. Do you not want to do it after all?"
"Not at all - I really want to do it," I said, grasping the receiver tightly.
"Great. I'd like to meet up with the creators as soon as possible to discuss it with them; do you have time tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Then we'll go see the creators at 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, together. It's in Ichigaya, so I'll meet you at the JR Ichigaya station ticket gate at 1:50."
I confirmed this, thanked him and hung up. The moment I put the phone down, shivers ran down my back. The cause of it was my fear at unexpectedly doing something I didn't know if I was able to do. For starters, could I really novelise a game? That a novice journalist like myself had been asked about taking a job like that was surprising in itself.
But there was no doubt what a huge chance it was. Whatever form it took, my own name was going to appear on my own published book. Even though my name had been published along with several magazine articles I'd written, having my name appear on an actual book had up until then been nothing but a dream. Perhaps that dream would become a reality.
The next day, when I was heading out for the meeting, I was stopped by my little sister with whom I lived.
"Don't go to that meeting," she said suddenly.
I had lost both my parents, and my sister was the only relative I had to speak of. I knew she also loved me like a parent. I'm not sure how to say it, but to some extent it put a divide between us.
I asked her why, but she wouldn't give me a clear answer. Maybe I should've said even a word or two of reassurance, but... Nothing came to mind.
When we spoke, my sister would slowly lower her head and say little. It was pointless. I sensed there was something she wanted to say to me and was blunt with her. She'd never spoken to me about my work before. And I'd not said a thing to her about the novelisation job. Even still, she'd told me not to go to the meeting.
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"I don't know, but..." Her face tensed as though she were pondering this.
She swallowed her words and looked closely at me. Then she mumbled again, in a weak voice, "...Please, I'm begging you. Don't go." Her words conveyed fear.
What was she afraid of? And why? I had no idea. I felt uneasy. There was a reason she was saying this... I brushed this thought aside quickly.
"I have to go. I've been waiting so long to get some work, I can't just turn it down like that. I'd never be able to turn professional that way," I said, more to myself than to my sister. I pretended that I didn't want to talk any more about this with her. The cause was clear, but... No, I didn't want to touch on that, either.
I knew myself that it was too much, but made a point of ignoring the worried gaze my sister looked at me with as I left the house.
I used the underground to get to the meet-up at Ichigaya Station. It was a route I wasn't familiar with, since I didn't use it often. As I walked to the underground station, a strange feeling bloomed inside me, like some kind of resonance, sticking out in the noise.
It was nothing - all just my imagination.
I heard a voice from somewhere. It wasn't a person's voice.
It was an unpleasant sound, making my nerves prickle as it entered my ears. And then, I saw a white shadow suddenly pass by out of the corner of my eye. I could already feel that it was the kind of sound and the kind of shadow that normal people can't hear or see. I thought too much about this and the sense of discomfort grew, until it got hard to breathe.
I bought a ticket and entered the platform, sitting down on a nearby bench. My heart began to beat violently. To make matters worse, the entire platform began to feel like an old cave. Maybe it's just because it's an underground station I hadn't come to often, but it the whole atmosphere of the place made me feel as though I was being shut in underground.
It was a truly horrible feeling. The sensation was like I was being dragged deep underground by an invisible evil force.
No... I can't stay here any longer...
I stood up from the bench, about to flee, when the train arrived with a piercing sound. Somehow I regrouped, and got on the train.
As I boarded the carriage, I wiped away the sweat and took a deep breath. Then, suddenly, I heard a voice in the car calling to me.
I turned and, amongst the few early-afternoon passengers in the carriage, sitting in the seat right beside me was the novelist Mr. Takamine and his assistant Tomoe Hirasaka, sitting together. I covered up my feelings of ill ease and bowed my head deeply in their direction.
Mr. Takamine had written several best-sellers. Perhaps the description is unnecessary at this point, but he was the Junsei Takamine who had made a name for himself as a mystery novelist. Mr. Takamine had actually taken very good care of me.
We had got to know each other perhaps a year earlier. He was a lecturer at the journalism school I was studying at at the time. Since before then, I'd personally been a fan of his novels. Because of that, I had more passion than I had for other classes, and devoted myself to attending his lessons.
When he gave me his class report, he praised me greatly, telling me that my works were excellent. Then he asked me if I would help him out with work, if I wanted to.
Mr. Takamine was not only a mystery novelist, but also had a strong interest in non-fiction works. He had planned to go right away on a research expedition, and asked me if I'd like to go along with him as an assistant.
I was near the end of my schooling, and was just about to start trying to get a job. I was so happy that not only was it around that time, but also that I was being asked by someone I admired. The fact was, however, that I was incredibly anxious about whether or not I could really play the role of an assistant to Mr. Takamine, being around 20 years old.
"Won't you come with me? You only get one chance. If you let it pass you by, it's gone forever. You have talent. That's why I asked you," he said to me. His words touched me so deeply that as soon as I was done with school I became his assistant, and went along on the trip with him.
I was totally absorbed in it, but wherever we were he spoke often to me. From the view of a greenhorn, I didn't do anything stupid and listened to him intently. The results of that trip were published as a book titled "Benmei no Sho" (Book of Vindication), which became a well-known best-seller.
After that I became a kind of protege to Mr. Takamine, and he got me various jobs. Thanks to him, I was somehow able to get away from my start as an unimportant journalist, and get this far. Come to think of it, it was Mr. Takamine who introduced me to Mr. Ioka, who I was going to meet.
I stood before Mr. Takamine, and apologised for not contacting him for so long.
"Don't be so overly formal. Come, have a seat. Though I guess it doesn't belong to me," he said with a sincere smile, indicating the seat next to him. At his insistence I sat down.
"How've you been?" Hirasaka asked me across Takamine, sitting on the other side of him.
Tomoe Hirasaka was Mr. Takamine's assistant and secretary. She was in her late twenties, and possessed quite good looks. I heard a story from her that, as an even more passionate fan of Mr. Takamine's than me, as soon as she graduated from university she rushed to him, and was quite insistent about becoming his assistant.
But then Mr. Takamine had said, "She was excellent, and so had taken a job at a top corporation, but I begged and pleaded with her."
Rather than wondering which version is true, I think it's correct to think that they both incorporate the truth. Actually, Hirasaka wrote novels herself. In her career, she'd been left as a finalist for a newcomer's award. I've read the things she's written myself. It had a delicacy unique to women, but even myself as a man reading it was surprised by her bold depictions, and had to admit that I was surprised by and admired her talent...
"Are you going to a job somewhere?" Mr. Takamine said to me in my absent-mindedness. Flustered, I told him about what was going on.
"Wow. I guess it's going to be your debut work, then," said Hirasaka. The eyes of the passengers dotted across the carriage turned to us.
"Saying that, though, it looks like it already has a story," I said as I slowly looked down in embarrassment. "I guess that's why they asked me," I added, intending to be modest.
"Thinking like that will only hold you back," Mr. Takamine said in a stern tone. "Sometimes, taking something from another form of media that's already been created and turning it into something original is even more difficult. It's an old example, but take Mario Puzo's "The Godfather". With the talents of Coppola it was made into an even more amazing film. There are examples like that all over the place."
I felt as though cold water had been dumped on my head. I could do nothing but ashamedly say "sorry" and lower my head. I was so unbearably embarrassed that Mr. Takamine had heard such words, intended to be humble, coming from me, a fully-grown man.
But Mr. Takamine kindly placed his hand on my shoulder and said sympathetically, "I understand how you feel. You're nervous. You blurted it out without thinking."
I felt like crying. At the same time, my heart rose with enthusiasm. To have such an amazing person to look up to and study under.
Shortly thereafter, the train arrived at Ichigaya Station. I promised to contact Mr. Takamine and Hirasaka, and got off the train.