A Simple Survey:Volume1 End1
“Hehh. Your results were similar to mine,” said Harumi with her eyes wide.
They spoke as they left the auditorium and walked through the nighttime university campus.
“Does that mean we think similarly? That professor said something about investigating what was in our hearts, so this might mean we have good compatibility.”
“In any case,” said Anzai, cutting off the flow of her comments.
It was just as Aisu had said. He could see how he too would lose his sense of emotional distance if he got caught up in Harumi’s sweetly flowing words.
“That was a strange event. Everything about it was strange. But the strangest thing of all was…”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Harumi raised her hand excitedly. “The way it was all people I had never seen before was strange.”
“All the other survey participants. I have been here for over half a year, but I had never met any of the other people there.”
“The university’s a big place. That was a collection of problem students, so it shouldn’t be too surprising if it was full of people you didn’t know, right? I mean, I’ve never met any of you before.”
“But I have seen you before.”
“I have glimpsed you in the campus family restaurant. You always wear the same choker, right? That’s why I remembered you.”
Anzai started coughing.
There was so much room for misunderstandings there and he could see the cabaret club girl named Aisu grinning.
Oblivious to all that, Harumi continued.
“But I do not remember ever even glimpsing any of the other people taking the survey. The professor left right after it was over and the next thing I knew, all the other participants were gone. I wonder why? I get the feeling I will never again see those people who slipped off to go somewhere else.”
“Ah ha ha. I know. But when I saw you sleeping in the auditorium, I was reminded of a balloon. A balloon caught in a tree branch. I felt like you would float off somewhere if I did not call out to you.”
Places like the convenience store and family restaurant on campus were in dedicated buildings rather than being part of the school buildings. The coffee shop was the same. Teachers and students alike felt it was a pain having to go outside to reach them on rainy days and there might as well not be any on campus if they have to walk all the way across the campus anyway.
When they arrived at the coffee shop, Aisu gave a cruel smile.
“Oh, the manager in the back just clicked his tongue.”
“Of course he did. He just lost his chance to close up early at 8.”
“There’s no one but us here, but I’ll go get us a table.”
“Hotaru-san, just tell us what you want.”
Whenever they did something, Anzai was reminded of the completed circle of those girls’ group. He had to wonder why they had invited him if their circle was so complete.
While he was wondering what to do, Harumi spoke to him from the side.
“The guy’s role is to carry the drinks to the table.”
“I’ll just consider myself lucky that you aren’t expecting me to pay.”
Once the drinks were ready, Anzai carried the plastic tray to the table while muttering something about 4 or 5 paper cups being no problem at all.
“What is that, Harumi? Did you order a mass of cinnamon?”
“Personally, I do not understand how anyone could order it black. That just stabs into your tongue.”
“You’re the same as ever, Hotaru-san. You don’t care what you get, so you always order a new drink or a special seasonal drink.”
“Well, you order the coffee jelly every time you come here. You’re supposed to get drinks here, you know?”
All four girls then turned to Anzai as if to say “So what did you get?” Having a group of essentially strangers focusing on him like that was not exactly comfortable, so he answered right away.
“You got something alcoholic!? I did not know they served alcohol here.”
“It says 80 proof. Are you really going to drink it straight?”
“If so, you certainly are not driving home. And since you agreed to a chat that could go on for who knows how long, you must not be worried about making it to the last train either. The area within walking distance of here is quite expensive, so there are no student apartments. From that, it seems likely you live in the dorms.”
“There it is!! Her persistent stalker deductions!! I always wonder why she can’t use that for something more peaceful like criminal investigations!”
The continued teasing must have finally gotten to her because Kozue started flicking some of the clear viscous liquid at Aisu from the back of the lids to her used gum syrup containers.
The cabaret club girl then spewed insults that caused her image as a lady to crumble.
Ignoring all that, Harumi spoke to Anzai.
“Anyway, I was talking about how I have not seen any of the other participants around campus, right?”
“You weren’t done?”
“For some reason it reminds me of the rumors about the people who you can hire to do anything.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of those.”
It was unclear how it connected to what Harumi had been talking about before, so Anzai replied without much enthusiasm. People who would carry out any job were often mentioned on TV, but it was unclear if anyone like that actually existed. At the very least, there was no shop advertising that on their sign and no business with that description at the university’s job hunting department.
“Are there rumors of there being a group like that around here? When I moved here, I remember hearing about people you could hire to cheaply transport your luggage…”
Anzai had not been tempted to try it, though. A proper moving company was one thing, but he thought it was crazy to leave your household tools with some strange people.
“I heard they would get rid of any persistent stalkers.”
“I don’t see the point,” said Anzai as he sipped at his brandy. “There are already people to do those things. Just hire a moving company or call the police. Something legit will be more of a sure thing anyway. You don’t need to go out of your way to hire some suspicious people.”
In an attempt to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of the gum syrup battle, Hotaru scooted her seat closer to Anzai.
“And who even knows how to contact them.”
“With the pocket tissues,” declared Harumi with a grin suddenly. “There is occasionally someone handing out tissues in front of the station near campus.”
“…Is there a phone number written on them you call to contact them?”
Anzai doubted many people would call a strange number because of the chance that the number would incur some exorbitant fee.
Hotaru seemed to agree, but she allowed the conversation to continue. Perhaps that was one trick to allowing friendships to form.
“And it’s needlessly complex. If the person handing out the tissues is their contact, wouldn’t it be faster if he just held a sign and took people’s requests there?”
“Maybe that is because no one wants people to know they are contacting them. You can stick the tissues in your pocket while pretending not to be interested and then call later.”
“If they wanted to keep it a secret, would they really tell some strange person about it? And if this group is really doing suspicious things, would they really stand in front of the station for hours on end? There are so many cameras these days.”
“But…” Whether it was her real opinion or she was just adding to the subject, Hotaru gave an opinion from a different angle. “Whether they use the pocket tissues or not, they would likely have a discreet method of contacting them if they really will do ‘anything’.”
“Anything…? You mean other than helping you move or ridding you of a stalker?”
“I heard someone called in as a prank and asked them to gather people for a group lynching and a group actually gathered.”
“…This just took a dark turn.”
“The person who made the joke was supposedly charged with an exorbitant fee and then went missing when he tried to apologize and explain that it was a joke.”
“In that case, I wonder if the other people in the auditorium were from that group,” said Harumi.
“‘In that case’? I don’t really see the connection, but what would they have been doing there? And who would have hired them?”
“Eh? That professor maybe? Y’know, people hired to fill out a crowd.”
Anzai and Hotaru both fell silent. Harumi had likely said that without giving it much thought, but the thought sent a chill down the other two’s backs.
Had everyone but them been fakes?
Had it not been a gathering of people without enough credits or who had gotten into some kind of trouble?
Had the people right next to them been strange people who were there for some unknown reason?
And not just a few. Had they been completely surrounded by people like that?
The entire time?
Even though it was possible they could remember what the people around them looked like and could have stolen a glance at where they had filled out their names?
Anzai could feel a cold sweat on his forehead.
He quickly thought about what he had to deny in order to maintain a stable mentality.
“Yeah, but I doubt that group you can hire to do anything even exists.”
“True. How many jobs would they even get in a year? I just do not see how it could function as a business.”
“If they get few jobs, they would have to charge ridiculous amounts for each individual one.”
“If it would cost millions of yen to get them to pull some kind of prank, it would be easier to just do it yourself.”
“If all those people were from that group, they would have to make enough money to support a few dozen people.”
Harumi was still muttering something in her sweet voice, but Anzai and Hotaru continued to turn down her arguments.
Even so, Harumi’s quiet voice slipped into Anzai’s ears through the cracks in their arguments.
“Maybe they normally run some other kind of business. And maybe they don’t tell you about the money at first and then use violence to get you to pay the very, very high price.”
And that was how the creepy survey came to its end…or so I would like to say. Unfortunately, there seem to be plenty of mysterious things in this world.
It was only the next day.
After one night, the next bizarre phenomenon came in for the attack.
Perhaps seeing it as “the next” one was a mistake and it was merely a continuation.
With his afternoon lecture over, Anzai was done with school for the day.
As he looked through the requests for “safe, school approved jobs” posted on an outdoor bulletin board, Harumi called out to him.
The other three did not seem to be with her.
“Do you need money for your living expenses?”
“No, I was thinking of getting a license. But I looked into it and the driving school is expensive. It costs about 300,000 yen.”
“Oh, I see. I was hoping to get a second smartphone.”
“Eh? You need two at the same time?”
“And that’s why I have this mystery item!!”
Harumi then pulled something out of her pocket with such force that it seemed to ignore the restrictions of the third dimension.
Anzai recognized what the item was just from its silhouette.
But it gave him a powerful feeling of unease.
It was a packet of sample pocket tissues the same as the ones rumored to be handed out in front of the station.
Those suspicious tissues were said to contain the phone number of the group you could hire to do anything.
On the surface, it was a completely normal packet of tissues. However, the space for the sample tissues held a blood red piece of paper that had a string of numbers written in an oozing pitch black. The amount of numbers matched that of a phone number, but it was a complete mystery where that number might lead.
That alone was not enough to prove it was the number of that group.
“A guy was handing out these red pocket tissues in front of the station just like the rumor said.”
Since it was a cell phone number rather than a landline number or a toll-free number, Anzai did not want to call it. However, Harumi did not seem concerned in the slightest.
“Okay, I’m going to call.”
“You’re going to ask them to find a well-paying job?”
“That’s too roundabout. I’m going to ask them to hire the two of us!!”
“I had a feeling you were going to get me wrapped up in this!”
Anzai frantically tried to stop Harumi, but she pulled out her (first?) cell phone and called the number written on the pocket tissue.
However, the young woman (?) who answered the phone seemed perplexed.
“This is the number for customers. We cannot accept requests for jobs.”
The woman was clearly not used to speaking so politely which made it feel all the more dangerous. Anzai did not want to have anything more to do with it, but Harumi did not seem to mind at all.
“But I want you to grant my request for a job. You say you can do anything people want you to, right?”
“I want a job for two people that is only 3 times a week, makes over 1000 yen an hour, is not dangerous, and can be easily done by amateurs!!”
“…W-well, don’t blame me if anything happens.”
She hung up with that line that did not sound like the part of a corporation properly acting as a gear of society.
Anzai’s face was completely pale, but Harumi had an unworried smile as she said, “See? This is a simple world.”
It was a holiday. However, even if his parents had been deathly ill, he had the flu, he was trapped on a desert island in some distant sea, and an asteroid was about to crash into the earth, he would not have been able to cancel the job.
“You don’t get to go back to sleep!!” said Harumi.
“How did you know where my apartment is?”
“Kozue told me.”
“I don’t remember telling Kozue either!!”
They were called out to a completely normal looking vacant lot. A middle-aged man wearing work clothes was there. He smiled and waved over at them. Anzai was prepared to grab a metal pipe off the ground and beat the man over the back of the head if he said they had to be transported somewhere with blindfolds on, but that did not happen.
“There you are. I’m Suzukawa, the section manager. You two are the newcomers I take it.”
Anzai’s response was incredibly halfhearted, but the gears of the world continued turning.
“What is our job today!?”
“It’s nearby. We can walk there. Oh, take these. They’re your tools for the job, so take care of them. They’re the life of a worker.”
“…A bucket and…what’s this? A roller-shaped cleaner used to get hair out of carpet?”
“It’s a roller for paint. Girl, you take the paint can.”
They were to be working in a rundown apartment complex that was a 5 minute walk away.
In fact, it was the apartment complex Anzai lived in.
“Why has everyone done research into where I live!?”
“What is he talking about?”
“He sometimes says strange things.”
Anzai quite reluctantly followed the other two into the apartment building. They arrived at the room next to his own.
“This is an empty room.”
“…What are we going to do?”
“Paint the walls. It has to look nice for the next person to move in.”
“Hmm,” muttered Anzai, but then, “Huh?”
He was overcome by a strange feeling. He had a feeling something about that quickly given premise did not add up.
However, Harumi and the section manager were already heading into the empty room.
And they did not even take off their shoes.
“Here it is. On the roof.”
“Okay, just paint it over. Hurry. Hurry up now.”
Wondering what they were talking about, Anzai timidly entered the room.
What he found was an eerie stain that he felt should get the room nominated for the top 100 haunted spots in Japan.
“Anzai-kun has an over-the-top reaction to everything, doesn’t he?”
“He keeps things lively,” replied Harumi.
“To hell with this!! What is that!? It’s clearly a person!! That stain looks just like a life-sized person with their limbs spread out!! What the hell happened in this apartment!?”
“C’mon, hurry up and paint it over.”
“We are paid by the hour, so we do not want to be too quick.”
“No, wait!! Explain this!!!!!! In fact, I don’t think even having the victim of a fatal stabbing on the other side of the ceiling would cause a stain like this! What the hell happened to create such a horrifying stain!?”
(Come to think of it, a strange girl lived next door up until about 2 weeks ago! She had white hair, was about 12, referred to herself with the first person pronoun “konata”, and lived alone!! How did things end up so this absurd stain got here!?)
Anzai’s brain seemed to be overheating.
“Don’t ask me. I was just told to have you do something about the stain.”
“…So you’re just going to seal it away without knowing what it is?”
“The request wasn’t to figure out what it is.”
As he spoke, the middle-aged section manager removed the lid from the paint can and poured white paint into the bucket. He then took the tool that looked like an adhesive tape roller used to remove stains from carpet and stuck it into the paint.
“Now, get this over with. You shouldn’t need a stepladder for this. C’mon, get to it. You may get paid the same per hour no matter how much work you do, but try not to slack off in front of me.”
“Wahh! The paint drips down on me when I hold up the roller!!” shouted Harumi.
“Isn’t there something else to be surprised by!? And what kind of secrets does this cheap apartment I live in have!?”
However, the other two did not seem to care about anything other than the money.
The section manager spoke to Anzai who was still complaining.
“This kind of thing is to be expected.”
“Eh!? Are you about to tell me this place is haunted because of some horrible incident form the past!?”
“No. People can hire us to do anything, remember? Well, you made the ridiculous request of a three-days-a-week job that pays 1000 yen an hour. You shouldn’t be surprised to get jobs like this.”
“…So you don’t do jobs like this year-round?”
“No. We will do anything requested of us, so we get a lot of different types of jobs. If you are fine with low wages can choose the safe, easy jobs. With the amount of money you wanted, it’s only natural to get something a little more difficult. So quit complaining.”
“Right!! Right, right!!”
“I’m beginning to worry about Harumi’s IQ…”
As much as Anzai disliked it, a job was a job. He could always ask the landlord about that stain later. Of course, he did not actually live in that room, so it was possible the landlord would have no obligation to tell him about the room next door.
He stuck his paint roller into the bucket to gather some paint. When he stretched up, he could just reach the ceiling. When he thought about it, the whole thing seemed suspicious from the point that they were going straight to painting without removing the wallpaper first, but it was the apartment’s landlord that was plotting something suspicious not the group Anzai was working for.
“…That reasoning gets pretty dangerous if it goes as far as killing someone, though.”
“Did you say something?”
Anzai did not want to cause any trouble, so he switched his mindset over to trying to finish the job.
He pressed some white paint against the ceiling.
Just by moving the roller back and forth, the human-shaped stain would disappear. But then…
“It just spoke!! This stain just mumbled somethiiiinnnngggg!?”
“Ah!? Don’t wave your roller around!!”
“You’re getting it everywhere. Well, we’re going to be painting it all, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
They both seemed unconcerned.
That in itself was a problem, but a certain word caught Anzai’s attention.
“All of it?”
“All of it.”
“So we’re not just painting the ceiling, but the walls and floor as well? Wait, is there some reason why we have to do that?”
“That’s what we were asked to do.”
Anzai quickly looked around the walls and floor. One of those walls was shared with his apartment, so he had a serious reason to be concerned.
“W-well, I don’t see any human-shaped stains… Do you?”
“Nope,” said Harumi.
However, a bad feeling oozed up in the back of Anzai’s mind.
“…So there’s something other than a stain there?”
“Probably. Oh, more importantly, hurry up and paint over the stain on the ceiling. It’ll get away.”
“What do you mean the stain will get away!? Does that mean it isn’t actually a stain!? Don’t tell me it’s actually a collection of small, black bugs that just looks like a stain!!”
“Either way, you still need to paint over it. C’mon, hurry, hurry. It’ll escape into the room next door.”
Despite still not knowing what was going on, Anzai swung the roller around like a sacred sword and sealed the (thing that looked like a) black stain behind the paint.
“Wow, I wouldn’t think an amateur could do that.”
“Wait!! Did that actually solve this!? I get the feeling it’s still very much alive and we just can’t see it!!”
“The stain is ‘very much alive’? You certainly say some strange things.”
“How poetic!” commented Harumi.
“No fair!! Don’t take normal views of things only when it’s convenient to you!!”
“Okay, that may be done, but we still need to paint the rest. Anzai-kun, you cover up the hair sticking out from the cracks in the floor. It seems to be slowly but forcefully heading this way.”
“Nooooooo!! This time it’s something clearly physical!?”
“Ha ha ha! How can you call this obviously unnatural hair a physical phenomenon!?” said Harumi.
“Oh, so you’re admitting that these things aren’t normal now!?”
Afterwards, the three were faced with “a large quantity of mold that clearly looked like a baby’s handprints”, “a wall covered in breast-shaped protrusions discovered when they removed the installed bathtub”, “feminine writing saying ‘delicious’ that looked like it had been scratched there by someone’s fingernails”, and other similar phenomena. They sent them all back to the darkness.
In the evening after they had finished, Anzai’s face was completely pale.
“…I-I need to go check if there are any paint trails in my room!!”
“Wow, getting 1000 yen an hour just to paint is great!” said Harumi.
“Yes, but be glad you kept it at the 1000 yen line. You would have gotten even worse jobs if you had asked for the 1200 yen line. Those jobs are at the Ab. Buster level.”
“Things worse than this!?”
(And what's that term he used? Ab. Buster!?)
“Yes.” The section manager who was experienced in such darker things nodded. “There’s a national university nearby, right? We recently had a job to pretend to be students there. That survey is definitely something I want nothing to do with.”
|Back to Introduction to the Participants||Return to Main Page||Forward to Hotaru's Case|