A Simple Survey:Volume1 End2
“What a coincidence. That’s the same as me,” said Hotaru.
She was tall and had long, black hair. She was beautiful, but it was the type of beauty that brought words like “shudder” or “scary” to mind. To be blunt, Anzai felt she would be the hardest to find anything to speak about with.
“You would probably like the same movies,” said Harumi.
“It is not like anyone is wrong, but it would be annoying for everyone else if you talk about it. Well, it is still better than talking about baseball.”
“Aisu, you need to do something about your habit of grabbing strange guys with one arm in the diner while watching TV and holding a beer mug in the other hand…Oh?”
Kozue trailed off.
As they left the auditorium, she looked up into the night sky and held up her palms as if to catch something.
“Is it raining?”
As soon as she muttered that, Anzai felt a large drop fall on the top of his nose. That drop was followed by what seemed like buckets of rain. The school building was a good distance from the coffee shop and none of them had an umbrella. The five of them frantically ran back into the auditorium.
They had turned off the lights when they left, so it was pitch black. However, it was not locked. Or rather, it had been left unlocked.
“Hyaahh!! The rain is really coming down!”
“With rain this heavy, it probably will not last all night.”
“I’m soaking wet.”
“Unfortunately for you, boy, it is pitch black. If the lights were on, you would have gotten a fanservice scene out of all four of us.”
Anzai ignored Hotaru and instead checked on his things. He did not carry much in the way of school supplies in his bag, but it seemed the water resistant spray the department store clerk had talked him into buying had been effective. He unzipped it and stuck his hand inside, but nothing felt wet.
Next, he checked the cell phone he had in his pants pocket.
Anzai pulled out the phone and turned it on. Luckily, the usual passcode screen came up. It did not seem to be broken.
As Anzai focused on his cell phone, the cabaret club-looking girl named Aisu screamed.
“Gyaaahhhh!! Just as I thought our wet and see-through clothes had been protected by the defense of darkness, he brings out that backlight!?”
“As requested, I shall perform the safety blindfold security!” shouted Harumi from behind Anzai who had instinctually turned in the direction of Aisu when she had screamed.
In the next instant, his eyes were covered by two wet hands. His vision was suddenly cut off and at the same time he felt something soft press against his back.
Something like an electric current shot through the core of Anzai’s body.
It went beyond simply seeming like her guard was too low.
“Aisu, you tried to make it look like you were embarrassed while letting out that shout to draw all the attention to yourself, didn’t you?”
“No, that was my real response! And with the way she is clinging to him, I think Harumi has won the most points here!!”
“She is just smiling and keeping that same position!?”
“What? What? What are you getting so worked up about?” asked Harumi.
“Honestly, what are you people doing?” said Hotaru in exasperation.
Anzai then felt someone take the cell phone from his hand. When Harumi removed her “blindfold” from him, all light sources were gone. Someone returned his cell phone to him in the darkness.
“The cell phone is off limits. Got it?”
“I was just checking to see if it still worked, so that’s fine by me.”
“Aisu, you failed to draw enough attention to yourself. Harumi overshadowed you,” commented Kozue.
“We’re always like this, aren’t we?”
Anzai could hear them speaking in the darkness, but he did not try to join in. The best he could manage was nodding in the direction he thought Hotaru was in.
“This rain is lasting longer than I expected,” said Hotaru’s voice. “With how strong it was, I assumed it would end quickly.”
“If it’s going to last until morning, we’re going to have to prepare ourselves,” replied Anzai offhandedly.
He of course was not talking about staying there overnight. He was talking about running home through the rain.
Aisu continued, “This auditorium is pretty big, so there might be an umbrella stand with an umbrella left in it.”
“Taking things that are not yours is wrong, Aisu.”
“We can return it tomorrow. It is at least worth looking into.”
But they could find nothing of the sort near the entrance of the auditorium. They were forced to search by feeling around with their hands, but the umbrella stand appeared to be empty.
“Just like car demolitions, the teachers might periodically remove any left behind.”
“But this means we have no way of leaving.”
“I know!” said Harumi. “This is an auditorium, so they must have lots of trash cans. If we can find the office, maybe they will have new trash bags.”
“If you put one of those over your head, walk through the metropolitan shopping district, and ride the bus or the train, I say they should make a statue honoring your bravery to put at the school gate.”
“Huh?” said Anzai.
Because of the small bit of illumination from the outside lights, the path was faintly lit just outside the entrance to the auditorium. He spotted something shiny there. The girls seemed unwilling to let him see them with their wet clothes making their underwear visible, so they were not approaching the light. However, Anzai was in a different position. He approached the glass door to check and he figured out what it was.
“There’s a plastic umbrella on the ground there.”
Two or three pieces of the metal framework were broken, so the plastic sheet was fluttering. A strong gust of wind or something else must have broken it, so its owner had thrown it away. However, it would likely still keep the rain off of them.
Anzai laid his bag and phone down on the ground, opened the glass door, and headed back outside. He picked up the broken plastic umbrella and hurried back.
“To the victor go the spoils. It looks like we can move on to the next step. …Wait, what is it?”
The area within the auditorium was even darker than the area right next to the glass door where Anzai stood, so he could not see them. However, he sensed a tenseness in the atmosphere.
Hotaru broke the silence.
“For future reference, girls do get embarrassed when they see the underwear of a member of the opposite sex.”
“? More importantly, I got us an umbrella…”
“No, not more importantly! Argh, just come here!!”
“Aisu, are you going to embrace him because you are unable to restrain yourself?”
“What!? I’m saying guys need the defense of darkness as well!!”
At their urging, Anzai headed back into the darkness.
“Anyway, I found an umbrella.”
“Yes, yes. An umbrella.”
“…It is physically impossible for all five of us to fit under this half-broken umbrella.”
“Kozue, did you just gulp in anticipation?”
“No, I would think that was Aisu.”
They were ignoring Anzai as they continued the conversation.
“Anyway, can’t we just have one person use this to head to the convenience store and buy some more umbrellas?” he suggested.
“Oh! Nice one! Nice idea!”
“Well, that is at least realistic.”
“Wait, young ones! You are suggesting one of us heads out into those lights while soaking wet!!”
“This could become a night to remember.”
Anzai decided it would be a bit harsh to force that on a girl when her underwear was clearly visible.
“Well, I suggested it, so I’ll go.”
“Wait, boy!! Personally, I think you would be the most dangerous option!!”
“If one of us must have embarrassment brought upon us, I think we should decide it using rock paper scissors.”
“I suppose, but I’m the guy. I might as well…”
“No, that is the very reason! It is because you are a guy that you must not, you idiot!!”
Anzai was stopped by logic he could not comprehend. It might have been some kind of special rule of groups of girls.
“But we have to head through the shopping district to get home. And you mentioned using the train or bus. We’re all going to have to head out into the light eventually.”
His casual comment received four gasps in response. It seemed to be a matter of life or death for the girls.
“H-how long does it take for clothes to dry?”
“It would take all night for them to air dry. We might need a hair dryer or something.”
“No, that won’t cut it. We need a proper clothes dryer.”
“Give this proper thought,” said Kozue. “Are you suggesting we use a laundromat without a change of clothes? What are we supposed to do while our clothes tumble around in the dryer?”
“You say that, Kozue, but you actually think this might be your chance, don’t you!?”
“C-could you stop projecting your own thoughts onto me, Aisu?”
As the conversation started derailing in a strange direction, Hotaru tried to correct its course.
“Anyway, we first end to acquire enough umbrellas for all of us to have mobility. We must decide who will head to the convenience store using rock paper scissors.”
“Okay, let’s start! Rock, paper…”
“No, wait,” cut in Anzai. “We can’t see each other’s hands in this darkness.”
They all fell silent.
In the end, they chose themselves to abandon the defense of darkness that had protected them all. The four girls were forced to expose their forms by approaching the glass door through which illumination from the outside lights entered. The state of their clothes was less of an issue for Anzai than the way they embarrassedly wriggled their bodies.
“Rock paper scissors!!!!!”
They swung their arms half in desperation, but once the game was over, a thought came to Anzai.
“…I just realized. We could have just called out our hands in the darkness.”
In the next instant, four “rocks” flew his way.
To be blunt, the four wet girls with see-through clothes left more of an impact with Anzai than the mysterious survey. What stuck with him strongest was Hotaru’s underwear. Her atmosphere had been that of a cool beauty from beginning to end, so he had not expected them to be so unorthodox…or to be a little more blunt, crazy.
When Anzai woke in his bed the next day, he had already forgotten about the survey. It was no different from a report he had already turned in, so there was nothing to be gained by remembering it.
The world contained some strange things. They were there whether you wanted to admit it or not.
To put it simply, that thing he had thought was over was not over in the slightest.
Rainy days were so melancholy.
After barely paying attention to a foreign language lecture he doubted he would remember, Anzai ran across Hotaru who he had been 80% sure he would never see again. It seemed the other three were not with her.
She was beautiful, but she was the upperclassman type of girl who was so beautiful that guys would be reluctant to speak to her.
She was the type of beauty that would bring about silence during karaoke.
Anzai himself could feel the gears within him clenching up.
“Anzai-kun was it? What is your next class?”
“Math. Today’s the day I work through my general education requirements.”
“So skip it.”
“What do you mean ‘so’?”
“You’ll never use what you learn in that class, right?”
Anzai had a feeling that same line of reasoning would make all 5 subjects through middle and high school unnecessary, but he did not particularly want to go to math class that day, so he did not argue.
The real issue was what they would do instead.
“So what are we doing? Are we going somewhere?”
“Remember yesterday’s survey?”
They left the lecture hall as they spoke.
Hotaru’s expression did not change.
“Do you remember the name of the professor who ran it?”
“Tanaka-san, I think. I’m pretty sure he introduced himself before the survey.”
“Yes, that is all the information I had. I had some business with the office, so I asked them while I was there, but it seems there is no professor named Tanaka at this university.”
Anzai’s thoughts froze up.
He understood what the words Hotaru was speaking meant, but he could not grasp what she was getting at.
“Tanaka is a common name. It’s probably in the top 5 of Japan’s most common family names. The fact that there is not a single person with that name working here left a strong impression with the office worker I asked. He called it a university with no Tanakas.”
Anzai’s mind was blank, but he could still feel sweat on his cheek. It took a bit longer for him to realize why it was there. It was raining outside. The actual lecture hall may have been a bit warm, but a pleasant coolness from outside had filled the hallway. In other words, the sweat had not been produced by heat.
“…Then who was that professor? …Or what was that survey for that matter.”
“It makes you curious, doesn’t it? Some suspicious person came in from outside the university, gathered some students, gave them a creepy survey related to their minds and hearts, and then left. What was it all for? And how did he do it? This is a national university, so its security is decent. He could have carried out this survey anywhere, so why did he choose somewhere as dangerous as the university. Also, why did he choose us and go so far as to research our personal situations to lure us in?”
“Wait, what does this mean about my credits!? If this supposed Tanaka-san isn’t a professor here, I might not actually make it through the first term!”
Hotaru fell silent and kicked Anzai lightly in the shin.
Anzai cried out, jumped back, and had tears fill his eyes.
“Can you please not ruin the mood?” she said expressionlessly.
“I don’t want to hear that from the person who convinced me to skip class!!”
Their university had no professor named Tanaka.
In that case, who was that supposed professor?
And what had that survey been? What had been taken from them?
That was what they were looking into, but…
“So what exactly are we going to investigate while I skip class?” asked Anzai. “That Tanaka-san is not from our university, right? We aren’t going to find anything wandering around in the university.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” said Hotaru, easily denying his comment. “I may not know what the point of that survey was, but I have a guess as to where he got the short films used in it. They were likely filmed by the university’s film studies club.”
“Do you have any proof of that?”
“I recognized some of the locations in the short films. I think they were shot on campus here. Most likely, whoever this was claiming to be a professor named Tanaka casually requested that the film studies club produce the short films.”
“…So he was on campus for more than just the short time last night?”
“Creepy, isn’t it? It makes him sound like a Youkai or something.”
Following Hotaru, Anzai arrived at the film studies club room. (Was club room the right term? Anzai was not part of any club, so he was not sure.)
“Naturally, it’s locked.”
“You can get a mold by pouring rubber adhesive into the keyhole. Getting it out can be tricky, though.”
“…You seem like a Youkai to me.”
Hotaru used a slightly uneven key made of what was likely tin rather than iron or aluminum, and the door easily unlocked.
As they entered, Anzai asked a question.
“So what is in here that you want?”
“I don’t know what is in here, but there is something I am hoping is.”
“Those short films. I am curious about a few things. I would like to watch them again to check.”
After a bit of searching, they easily found what they were looking for. It was a USB drive with “For the Survey” written on the sticker meant for the owner’s name.
“Huh? Wasn’t it on a giant film reel when he showed it in the auditorium?”
“They probably edited it digitally and then burned it back onto film. The film studies club can be oddly picky about that kind of thing. This is a 20,000 yen high capacity USB drive and the films needed the entire thing to themselves. Video certainly does eat up space.”
“That can be changed using compression, but I suppose this is the film studies club after all. Even though the human eye can’t tell the difference, people like that still refuse to use any kind of video compression.”
Anzai wondered what Hotaru wanted to check about the short films.
She stuck the USB drive into a slot on her smartphone and played the video on the small screen.
Anzai wondered how long it would take, but Hotaru nodded after only 3 minutes.
“Aha, I was right. Look, here, here, and here.”
“Is there a ghost in the video?”
“Even better.” Hotaru paused the video. “Are you familiar with the term ‘gray fiction’?”
“…You mean like alien movies?”
“That isn’t entirely wrong.”
She responded to his joke with a serious expression.
Anzai was feeling a bit over his head, but Hotaru expressionlessly continued.
“It refers to a fiction story that cannot be labeled as nonfiction due to various circumstances. You sometimes hear about this issue due to political reasons, but it was used recently in a film that showed a UFO research facility and a horror film with the motif of a vengeful spirit of a Heian period noble.”
“What about it?”
“These short films are the same.” Despite how ridiculous what she was saying was, her expression was perfectly composed. “Gray fiction works leave small signs that the general viewer will overlook. Those signs can be seen in these short films. It is possible these things just so happened to get caught in the frame, but in all likelihood it was no accident.”
“Eh? Wait…do you mean this white-haired girl at the edge of the frame?”
“No, not that.”
(But then who is this girl?)
Anzai still had questions, but Hotaru was not about to let the conversation head in that direction.
“My conclusion is that all of the short films shown were gray fiction.”
“…You mean they were actually nonfiction?”
“But weren’t there fairies and ninja in those!? Wasn’t one story about slicing apart a troll in an RPG-style Middle Ages-esque fantasy world that never existed in history!?”
“Don’t ask me. I don’t know how it is possible either.” Hotaru sighed. “But it seems like the short films do not show the entirety of some strange world. It feels more like just one room or one section from that world. Perhaps there is some room in some building or some underground dome where those things are happening. Or perhaps there is no mysterious world and there is merely some room somewhere on earth that just looks like some mysterious world.”
If you were told that a hero and demon king existed somewhere on the earth, would you believe it?
And a computer virus that spoke like a human seemed in a way more fantastical than even the hero or demon king.
“But what is the definition of nonfiction?” asked Anzai.
“Nostradamus’ The Prophecies is considered nonfiction. In other words, nonfiction does not mean the contents are true. It just means the author wrote it thinking it was true. In that case…”
“The professor was just insane?”
“Thinking about it that way puts me a lot more at ease.”
“Perhaps,” admitted Hotaru. But then, “Or perhaps there is a single common rule behind all of this that has convinced the professor that he has actually seen these things.”
“…You mean like hypnotism?”
“How cliché. At least go so far as to say he made short films showing what he has witnessed in his time chasing after a certain large plot.”
Anzai had no response.
For one thing, the signs of it being gray fiction may have been something the supposed professor had put in there as a prank.
But what meaning was there in doing that?
“In the end, what did that professor want to do? What meaning was there in having those filmed? In fact, what was the purpose of the survey itself?”
“Who knows.” Hotaru said noncommittally before adding another cryptic remark. “But I get the feeling there is a connection.”
“I feel there is a connection between the strange events told of in those short films and how that professor snuck into the university, carried out that survey, and then disappeared. And if there is a connection, we may become indirectly wrapped up in some strange events that began with those short films.”
“…I don’t like the sound of that.”
“No. But if those short films really are gray fiction, that professor may have come to the proper conclusion.”
“What do you mean?”
“People who loudly insist they were abducted by a UFO are a type of ‘strange’ different from the UFOs themselves. Absurdities, you could call them. Or if there was a specialist who you could ask questions to like a customer service line but only about demons, that specialist would be an absurdity of a different sort from demons.” Hotaru paused for a second. “In other words, those who work to analyze mysterious things will by dyed by the thing they are facing and become a type of absurdity themselves. With the experience it would take to put together that survey based on gray fiction, that mysterious professor has likely been completely changed into an absurdity. …Whoever he might have originally been.”
After hearing all that, Anzai finally realized something.
The survey was not the most dangerous thing.
Neither was the professor.
The most dangerous thing was before his very eyes.
“H-hey, where are the people from the film studies club? If you wanted to learn about these short films, wouldn’t it have been best to ask them first? They were the ones who actually had the cameras rolling before these mysterious things.”
“This would have been a lot easier if that was possible.”
She did not give any specifics.
However, Anzai sensed some kind of ominous end in her ambiguous statement.
They could not check with those people.
They could not speak with those people.
They had no idea where those people were.
It was the same as with the professor.
“Your theory was that the professor went crazy while analyzing these mysterious things, right? Let’s set aside whether it’s due to something physical or something mental, though.”
“Yes, it is just a theory. But that is what it is like with grimoires and magic circles, isn’t it? They merely display the workings of the world in text or diagram form.”
“Well, if the change can happen just by analyzing these things…”
He pointed at the most dangerous thing.
He pointed at the USB drive in Hotaru’s hand that contained the short film footage.
“…Isn’t just having that thing around dangerous?”
“Yes. Compared to the survey, the professor, the people from the film studies club, viewing each individual short film, or gray fiction itself…”
As she was usually expressionless, it was a surprisingly big smile.
“…Don’t you think this USB drive has the absurd in a much, much more condensed form? It is like a magic wand that allows you to level up without end simply by waving it around.”
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