I arrived home, feeling vaguely uneasy. I stopped in front of the entrance hall and took a deep breath. But I already knew that something bad had happened there.
There should have been a nameplate put up in the entranceway that Miku had written "Mafuyu/Miku Hinasaki" on in felt tip. However, the only thing written on it was "Hinasaki" in my handwriting.
My heart felt like it was going to burst, and I was so faint and dizzy I thought I might pass out as I entered the room. Scattered across the room that should have been neatly tidied by Miku was rubbish and old food, just the way you would expect of a man living alone. There was no trace of Miku to be found.
Her favourite mug, her toothbrush, her clothes, her desk... everything had vanished. No, it was like it had never existed to begin with, like I occupied the place by myself.
I had to talk to someone. As soon as the thought appeared in my head, though, I realised that I no longer had anyone to speak with. We siblings had always kept a step away from other people, maintaining our distance. We were both shy and reserved by nature, but this was more to do with the special "power" we had.
To describe it without fearing a misunderstanding, the "power" we have is commonly referred to as a "sixth sense". I have it, too, but my sister in particular has a much stronger power than I do. It was inherited from our mother, who died several years ago.
I say 'died', but I should confess. She committed suicide.
She was exhausted by her own abilities, and when she learned that Miku and I had inherited even more powerful ones she began to lose her mind, and chose to end her own life.
I don't resent her for leaving us behind. On the contrary, I even believe there was nothing else she could have done. She tolerated it long enough to become a good mother. I hadn't asked Miku, but I thought she felt the same.
Because more than anything, though, the main cause of her suicide was the existence of Miku and I. But that isn't something that can be spoken about with others.
There are many people who are curious about the sixth sense. Especially amongst girls around Miku's age, there are people who seem to think of having a sharp sixth sense as being desirable. But that is because all things they have heard are, on some level, falsehoods.
If they really had a strong sixth sense, and could see things that normal people never do, frequently sense things that can't be sensed... Just how many people are there who can accept those kinds of things?
No, there can't be any.
Being exposed to the curious stares of others, looking at you strangely, then before long not even wanting to look. That pain...
Miku and I hadn't got into that kind of situation yet. All of this was told to us over and over again by our mother when she was alive. Even now, the sad expression on Miku's tearful face as we listened to our mother's stories is seared into my eyes.
For that reason, even though I was saddened by my mother's death I also felt something like relief. I knew that my mother was at peace...
Those were the circumstances due to which we lived our lives apart from others. It wasn't a theory that Miku trusted me deeply; I could feel it in my skin. But even still, we had been drifting gradually further apart. I was afraid.
Just like Miku was troubled by that "power", I too was greatly troubled by this. I could find no solution, and found it a struggle. She needed me, and I did nothing, instead keeping my distance. Even though I knew she was troubled by anxiety and loneliness, just like me...
Suddenly, I vividly recalled the way Miku had stopped me before I headed out to the meet-up that afternoon. She had sensed it. Sensed that something like this would happen.
If I had only listened to what she had said, and stayed home. If I had, these mysterious events would probably never have happened. Even as I thought this, a feeling of denial spread through my heart. Even if I hadn't gone to the meet-up, I would have been caught up in something like this sooner or later; I couldn't escape it.
Even if I hadn't accepted the novelisation job, 'Zero ~zero~' would have been released without me knowing about it. We would've become caught up in a game that featured us as characters without our knowledge. And someday, the rumours would reach our ears, and our destiny would be tied up in it, no doubt about it. Because it wasn't only us who appeared in the game, but Mr. Takamine and Hirasaka, too.
When I thought of Mr. Takamine, I turned to the bookcase against the wall. In it, I had several of his books. But where his books should have been lined up were the books of a completely different author.
There was no doubt whatsoever that I had bought the books, but they had been skilfully moved, so as to look like they had been there for a long time. I searched through the shelves for Mr. Takamine's works. Though a part of me realised that however much I searched it would be futile, I couldn't accept it.
If I thought about it using common sense, it was impossible to erase the very existence of a single best-selling author. Even as I thought it, I smiled a wry, self-torturing smile. Me, the owner of a power to which common sense can't be applied, using common sense at a time like this. To be in a good mood was so silly that it was almost comical.
As I turned the bookcase inside out, a notebook caught my eye. It was a Writers Association notebook. Novices like me don't get into the book yet, but when I attended a party Mr. Takamine had invited me to, he asked one of the people who worked for the association to sneak one to me, and I ended up with this book.
Published in the notebook was a list of addresses of famous publishing companies, so it was very useful for getting sales. Naturally, Mr. Takamine would be in it, I thought, and turned the pages, but his name wasn't there. It wasn't like it had been erased, but like it had never been there to begin with.
There, I sagged to the floor. What on earth was going on? Helpless, my chest tightened. I was assaulted by a loneliness I had never felt before. Until then, Miku had always been with me. I got used to not being able to do anything to cure Miku's loneliness, and actually perhaps somewhere in my heart I pitied her. As I thought about this, suffocating tears spilled down my cheeks.
For the first time, I felt as though I could feel Miku's loneliness.
She had relied on me, her only relative, as she possessed the power she gained from our mother, without saying a word to anyone. And even still, I just thrust her away.
How lonely had she been?
How much had she suffered?
I wanted to understand how she had felt. But I could go no further than wanting. Now that Miku was gone, I understood that for the first time.
"No, Miku isn't gone," I said to myself.
There was no way she could be gone. She had to be somewhere. Whatever happened, I would bring her back. If I left her alone like that, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I would keep mourning her, with no solace. I had to save her.
I, her brother, was the only one in the world who could do it.
I gritted my teeth hard and began planning a way to save Miku, when I remembered the 'Zero ~zero~' game. I wasn't sure that the creation of the game had set off this chain of events. But there could be no doubt that it had an important connection to them.
I stood, and took the disc from my bag that I had thrown down in the entrance. I turned on the power to the PlayStation 2, which was still hooked up to the 14-inch TV, impatient for the screen to turn on, and began to play.