As soon as the game began, I felt a discomfort like a chill run down my back. On the screen in the vividness of polygons was me. Even I thought he looked a lot like me. The me in the game was alone, visiting the setting of the game, the large house called Himuro Mansion.
His friend and benefactor Junsei Takamine and his party went missing when they arrived there to investigate. Just like the relationship between the real me and Mr. Takamine, it was like I was under the illusion that not only in the game but also in reality I was searching for my missing teacher, visiting the mansion.
Inside, the mansion was falling apart, and it was clear that no one had lived there in a long time. I exited into a dark hallway, and saw a person's shadow in the gloom.
It was Mr. Takamine.
Even though I called out to him, perhaps he couldn't hear, because he turned the corner and vanished. I jogged after him. The hallway floorboards creaked, a sound like a kitten's mew echoing throughout the mansion. I focused on following Mr. Takamine.
I entered a room with a hearth, and climbed the stairs. When I arrived at a room with a wooden planked floor, a notebook lying on the ground caught my eye. I casually picked it up, and at that moment - a rough, coarse-grained image played in my head.
It was Mr. Takamine and the others, when they came to this mansion. It seemed as though the afterimage had permeated this notebook, and conveyed their sentiments to me. Aside from Mr. Takamine were Hirasaka and another - a young man. He seemed to be the editor who had come along with them on research, but when I saw his face it took my breath away. His skinny frame and brown hair were just like Mr. Ioka's.
I looked for his name in the manual. His name was given as "Koji Ogata", but there was no mistaking that he was Mr. Ioka. So this game really did hold the key to solving this case - my intuition, or perhaps I would say my sixth sense, told me this clearly.
But there was no time to be surprised. The instant the image of Mr. Takamine and the others vanished, a ghost suddenly appeared and attacked me. The me in the game had only been provided one weapon, though "weapon" was probably the wrong word for it: the Camera Obscura. To describe it better, it was a camera.
By taking photographs of a ghost attacking you, you could seal it inside the photo. If you managed to seal it completely you would be fine, but if you failed, you would get a game over. For me, not an experienced gamer, fighting ghosts was extremely difficult. But once the fight began, I hallucinated that it was no longer the game, but that it was a real fight I was having. It was, after all, me myself on the screen, however you looked at it.
I caught the ghost in the viewfinder, and concentrated hard as I clicked the shutter. If I was even a little negligent, the ghost would touch me and strong vibrations would shake the controller in my hands, echoing straight through into my heart.
Without even the slightest idea what I had to do to win, I simply put distance between me and the spirit and quickly clicked the shutter as I faced it. As I was thinking that it would be a bad thing to get too close, with my depleted health, I desperately shot at the ghost.
As the ghost screamed, its mouth torn to its cheeks, it was sealed within the Camera Obscura. The danger gone, I took a relieved breath, and stopped using the controller. With a disconcerting shadow came an ominous feeling.
I suddenly turned to the ageing mirror on the wall, and something attacked me from inside it...
I noticed that my whole body was drenched in sweat. The palms of my hands in which I held the controller were covered in perspiration from my heat. But the shocks continued.
It was Miku.
A level titled "First Night: Tearing Ropes" began. The figure shown was of a girl who was like two peas in a pod with my real sister - Miku Hinasaki.
"It's been two weeks since I lost contact with my brother. Using the note he left as a clue, I came here. I had a strange feeling, like something was calling me here... My brother..."
The whispering voice in the game was unmistakably that of the real Miku. Miku had gone to a mansion in the mountains to search for me. I had vanished and she was worried about me, and even though she was afraid... for my sake...
I couldn't watch the game calmly any longer. This wasn't just a game anymore.
The sister of the real me was sealed inside 'Zero ~zero~', the game in which ghosts could be sealed away using the Camera Obscura in the game, and she was trapped - this was the only conclusion.
"Miku, Miku, look over here... Mikuuu..." I faced the screen, fixated, and repeatedly called my sister's name once I noticed her. If I had been thinking rationally, I would've thought I was going mad. But I could feel that the Miku on the screen was not simply an image made of polygons, but my actual little sister.
I kept calling out her name in earnest, while trying to convey my thoughts to Miku as hard as I could. As I did so, the Miku on the screen suddenly stopped moving, irrespective of the controller, and looked at me through the screen.
"Mafuyu," she murmured, looking straight into my eyes.
"Miku. It's you, isn't it, Miku?" Miku nodded her head in response to my question.
At that moment, a large teardrop spilled from her eye. Even as the tears flowed, the sobs catching in her throat, she spoke to me.
"After you went to that meet-up, I couldn't stop worrying about you and followed you. I looked for you on the train platform, but you had got on the train. After that, I was beckoned by my power to see invisible things, led here..."
So that's what happened back then. I remembered the discomfort I felt when I arrived at the platform. Something abnormal really did happen.
Perhaps it was a dimensional rift. But if I wrote that, a lot of people would probably say I was faking it. But in slightly strange airflow a vacuum can be created, chewing to bits the body of any living thing that enters it - like the commonly-called "kamaitachi", injuries caused by a whirlwind, dimensional rifts do exist.
When I was little, when I went out with my mother, we passed by empty roads and carried on, or suddenly doubled back, like we were leaving the area to escape from something. I asked my mother why we were doing this, but she said nothing. As this experience repeated, however, I gradually began to sense something strange-feeling in the places my mother avoided.
Even though there should be nothing there the darkness was thick, there were horrible smells, and I could see ominous shadows. When I said this to my mother, she looked at me sadly and said, "Listen; you mustn't tell anyone about this. If you feel that way, though, don't go any closer. If you do, you'll be caught and possessed by people like us with sharp sixth senses. Hey, promise?"
Now that I think about it, I'd forgotten a long time ago, but what I felt on the platform before was that sensation. My mother called places like that rifts in space-time. I had unconsciously run away from it, but Miku, following me because she was worried, had been trapped by it... was that what happened?
"Mafuyu, please, get me out of here," Miku said to me.
Her face shown on the screen was not made of polygons. It was Miku in the flesh. As the tears flowed from her lovely round eyes, she looked at me and sought my help. Her expression was innocent, weak, like a young child. Even as she endured the fear, she leaned on me, her only family member, for aid.
As though drawn to her, I reached out my hand to Miku. Just as my fingertips looked about to make contact with her cheek, they touched the screen of my 14-inch CRT TV. That that moment, the picture shut off.
Removing my fingers, it was restored. But the Miku from just a moment ago was no longer there. The polygon girl, holding her torch, faced the wall and kept stepping towards it. My left hand, still gripping the controller, hand kept pushing the movement stick. I took away my hand, and the girl on the screen stopped walking.
I pressed the reset button, and began again from the scene where Miku appeared. But however many times I did this, the images I saw earlier would not appear again. I faced the desk, starting up my notebook computer. I connected to the internet, having to send an email, and sent it out immediately.
It was to Mr. Ioka. It was a straightforward email.
"I would like to go to the mansion 'Zero ~zero~' is set in right away for research. Please make the arrangements."