Hyouka:Volume 4 Sappy New Year
Story 5 - Sappy New Year
There's this axiom that goes, "What you do over the new year, you repeat all year." When I was young, during the period when I was busy preparing for my high school entry examinations, I was so afraid of that myth that I took a break from studying on New Year's Day itself. That was quite a long time ago... No, that's not true. It was only last year.
Now, in the darkness, I wondered if the alternate saying "What you do on New Year's Day, you repeat all year" was true. As they say, "The whole year's plans are made on New Year's Day." To befall a disaster early in the very first month of the year. This kind of thing should be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and definitely not a yearly event, right? I wouldn't call myself a superstitious person, but if someone said, "Disaster will strike again for the impure", I would probably just go for a purification ritual obediently.
I could sense Chitanda thinking about the question I had just asked her regarding the old saying.
"Well... I don't think that superstitious belief would be true. If it were, then if you didn't do anything on New Year's Day, then you wouldn't do anything all year. That seems too unreasonable."
Accepting that explanation, I heaved a sigh of relief. My worries having disappeared, I felt liberated.
However, although I couldn't see her emotions in this pitch black environment, but I could tell that Chitanda was deadly serious when she added,
"But Oreki-san... I'm more curious about the situation we're in right now, rather than the remaining 364 days ahead of us."
I understand the serious situation we're in. But Chitanda, couldn't you let me escape reality for a little while more?
The wind blew in through the cracks, so cold that it was as if our cheeks were being cut. At the same time, those small cracks brought in a little light into the darkness. It seems that my eyes have gotten used to the dark.
I could now see a bamboo broom, a metal shovel, a long prole probably used for housekeeping, and a cardboard box of which contents I was unaware of. As well as Chitanda, who was wearing a kimino and a troubled face.
And also, the four walls that surrounded us.
We were currently in the grounds of Arekusu Shrine, which was of prominent scale, even in Kamiyama City. To be precise, we were in a corner of the compound which received hardly any light from the lanterns outside and was not easily spotted by people. There was a dilapidated outhouse there, and we were in it.
The problem was not the place being an outhouse or that it was run-down.
A single door was the only exit and entrance of this outhouse. But right now, it was closed, and locked with a bar... from the outside.
On the night of the first of January, Chitanda and I were trapped in an outhouse in a corner of Arekusu Shrine.
The wall and roof had probably gone past their service life a long time ago, but there was just one spot in the outhouse that was brand new and firm. The door, and only the door was sturdy, being made of shiny aluminum. It's a great thing to have, if you're considering from a theft-prevention perspective. No matter how much we pushed or pulled, it would only shake and clatter a little.
A late grumble escaped from my mouth.
"How did we get in this mess?"
"I wonder. Perhaps..."
Even in the darkness, I felt that Chitanda was smiling.
"It was because you drew a bad fortune?"
I sighed deeply.
Could that really be the reason?
The incident began when Chitanda gave me a call on some day close to New Year's Eve.
"Oreki-san, do you have any plans for New Year's Day?"
I thought for a while.
When I was an elementary school student, I used to go for a shrine visit every New Year, as my sister like these kinds of annual events. She could have gone by herself, but she always had to drag me along. I was fine with accompanying her to the nearby Hachiman Shrine, but it was terrible when my sister was taking her university entrance examinations. I was ordered to pray for her to pass her exams, and she brought me on a long, arduous journey to Tenmangu Shrine that took us a few hours. As I recall, while my sister asked me to pray for her, she didn't buy a single amulet for herself, and instead amused herself with a game where she would continuously draw fortunes until she obtained a "Great Blessing".
When my sister went to university, she started flying off to a remarkably larger range of places, and thanks to that, she stopped bringing me along, and the need for me to attend annual events disappeared. If I don't have to do it, don't do it. I have have to do it, make it quick. Therefore, I had no plans at all for New Year's Day.
"Nope, not really."
Chitanda's voice became more cheerful.
"I see. Then would you like to visit a shrine with me?"
"...It wouldn't be Tenmangu, would it?"
"Eh? You want to go to Tenmangu Shrine? That's pretty far away."
Did I just get mistaken for a Kanke fan? Chitanda lowered her voice, as if she was trying to wait and see how things would go.
"If you're fine with it, would you like to go to Arekusu Shrine?"
Arekusu Shrine isn't far away at all. If it's not snowing, it would only take a few minutes to cycle there. But I wasn't really interested in going there. Arekusu Shrine is the largest shrine in Kamiyama City, so it would be really chaotic during the New Year. I would be betraying my energy-conserving principle if I tried to squeeze into a large crowd in such cold weather. I passed the telephone receiver to my other hand.
"Is there something there?"
"It's not exactly something, but..."
Chitanda said, as her voice became more lively.
"Mayaka-san is working part-time there."
Ibara? I tried to imagine Ibara working in front of the confusing crowd of people at Arekusu Shrine on New Year's Day.
"Ah, you laughed."
Yes, I did. Working part-time at a shrine during the New Year would mean putting on white clothing and make-up, and Ibara looked inappropriately under-aged for that. I replied,
"I bet she looks bad."
"That's mean, Oreki-san."
While Chitanda was criticizing me, her voice was filled with mirth. If my impoliteness caused Chitanda to laugh, Ibara must have joked about her own appearance earlier.
"Fukube-san will be going too, so I thought you might want to go too."
Satoshi certainly wouldn't want to miss seeing Ibara in that costume.
I see. Making fun of Ibara would be fun in itself. But it would be in bad taste to visit a shrine simply for that purpose. Well, I suppose it would be fine to go there to pray for peace and good health in the coming year.
"Is there something else?"
"It's not really something else in particular, but..."
This time, Chitanda lowered her voice, indicating her bashfulness.
"... I would kind of like to show off my kimono too."
If I were to reject Chitanda's request, I'm positive that the reason would be none other than the cold weather. Obviously, it is cold in winter, and while I could endure it, I wouldn't want to pay for my sins later on.
But then again, the new year is the most suitable day for a change of heart. The Japan Archipelago was currently being surrounded by a powerful cold front, so after sunset, Kamiyama City would become atrociously cold.
I put on the white trench coat that I usually wear, settled for a beige muffler and gloves, then slipped a heater pack in my pocket. Even so, my teeth wouldn't stop chattering. Thinking that it was because of my unprotected feet, I chose a pair of laceless boots that looked like they were made of leather. I glanced at the television while going out, and noticed that today's temperature was apparently the lowest recorded this winter. I did not see a single cloud when I looked up at the sky, but the stars were scattered so crisply that I go a little annoyed. This serene atmosphere only helped to foster the coldness I was feeling psychologically.
I was waiting by the stone archway outside the shrine. Even at this time, Arekusu Shrine was filled with throngs of people, but it was still possible to walk without bumping into others, and joining a crowd would stave off the cold. Compared to the chilly sky, the road to the shrine, which was lined with blazing lanterns, looked a lot warmer.
The multitudes of people milling around were wearing jumpers and coats and seemed to be withdrawing themselves in order to reduce their exposed areas. Although it was so cold, not one of them had a grim face. There were a few small groups of people who, upon meeting their acquaintances, exchanged new year greetings. But I still couldn't find Chitanda.
Am I too early?
It's certainly not appealing to wait for someone in this temperature, I thought as I checked my watch. At that moment, a black taxi stopped outside the archway. The back door opened, and with a "Thank you very much", a girl got off the taxi. Her kimono was a quiet shade of red that shone like starlight and radiated like a bonfire. She had something like a black coat on top of that kimono, and held a light purple purse in her hand. It was decorated with a golden string, embroidered to look like balls. The girl's hair was tied back in a bun, and she had an ornamental hairpin that was shaking around. Lastly, she had a sho bottle wrapped in some white paper, probably a gift to the shrine.
As expected of New Year's Day, people are wearing such flowery stuff.
As I had that thought, the person turned out to be Chitanda.
I didn't think she would arrive by taxi. So taxi services still run on New Year's Day, huh. While holding that worthless thought, I looked at Chitanda, who turned to look at me with a smile.
"Did I make you wait?"
"Happy new year."
"Ha-happy new year."
"I hope we can get along as well in the coming year."
"As do I. Please overlook my flaws."
That was bad. Having suffered a psychological attack, I could do nothing but give a stupid reply. Chitanda must have overlooked my hesitation, for she slightly raised her arms and lightly waved her sleeves.
"I'm here to show off!"
The kimono was based around the color red, so it would probably fit in the "elegant" category, and yet it did not shine glaringly at all. It was certainly a bright piece of clothing suitable for the New Year, though I find it strange that it doesn't seem too heavy on the eyes when Chitanda is wearing it. The kimono was flowery, but at the same time, mellow. In the past, whenever my sister put on a kimono, all I could think was, "What's with this tomboy?"
Since Chitanda was wearing a black coat, I could only see the front design of her kimono. It was of butterflies flying on a red background, with an embroidery of a flowing river near the hem. Or is that supposed to represent the wind?
I was unable to give a comment, but it seemed that Chitanda was satisfied with just showing off. She didn't even seem to be waiting for any reaction from me. With her left hand holding her bag and her right hand holding the bottle, Chitanda looked at the road to the shrine.
"Shall we go, then?"
Chitanda's clogs made a clacking sound as we walked towards the shrine. As I looked at her back, I thought that I should have at least said "You look good in it" or something like that.
We walked on, the clack-clack sound blending with the slight commotion around us.
As expected, the cold wind wasn't so bad when we were surrounded by the crowd. The stone paving stretched out ahead of us as the lanterns' light caused human silhouettes to appear under the night sky. I suddenly realized that the bottle Chitanda was holding seemed to be really heavy. It's dangerous to have both hands occupied in a congested area. When I told Chitanda that I would carry it for her, she had no reservations.
"Thank you very much. Please."
"A bottle of sake."
I guessed as much. There wasn't a chance that it would be soy sauce.
"Our family is friends with the shrine caretakers. I'm here to pay them a New Year's visit."
"Running errands so early in the new year? Sounds tough."
"I was even busier during the day. I spent the whole time putting on my best behavior while my relatives came to visit."
An image of Chitanda putting on her best behavior surfaced at the back of my mind. She was dressed gaudily, had her face powdered, lipstick applied, and was sitting properly by the side of the seat of honor, not moving an inch.
I'm not sure if that would be considered to be good behavior, but I knew that the Chitanda family was a considerably large and old one, and I'm not just talking about their estate. The person next to me was an only child of the Chitanda family, so she sometimes has to socialize at a level I could never hope to understand.
I just thought of something strange. Why would a shrine visit be designated to be at night, when it's so cold? I was certain that it was due to Ibara getting the night shift, but it seems that the errand of the Chitanda family's only daughter was also a factor.
"I only had a small piece of mochi, so I'm feeling a little hungry right now."
Chitanda said as she put her hand on her stomach. There was a refined, light purple obi there, probably to match the color of her purse.
"What did you do?"
"I experienced the life of a hermit crab."
It was really cold today.
It was simply way too cold in the morning, so I couldn't help but decide to learn to live like a hermit crab.
In other words, only my head was out of the kotatsu, and I passed the time while becoming inseparable friends with a bowl of tangerines. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was living like a snail. My father was visiting someone for work, and my sister had left the house for some unknown reason, so I was able to conduct my biological studies to my heart's content.
I passed the time by reading a novel, eating some New Year snacks whenever I got hungry, and sorting out New Year cards when I felt like it. Before I knew it, the clock struck noon and it became the afternoon of the first of January. I turned on the television and carefreely watched this "New Year Drama Special - The Winds of Change: Odani Castle" until the day ended.
Looking back, I felt quite ashamed of myself for sharing about my laziness from the first day of the year. I didn't really want to touch this subject any more, so I changed the subject somewhat unreasonably.
"What's Satoshi doing?"
Chitanda didn't seem to mind the sudden shift in topic at all.
"Mayaka-san is probably giving Fukube-san a call right now."
Besides Classics Club-related work, Ibara calls Satoshi for many other purposes. You could say that it's because she likes talking to Satoshi, but there's a more practical factor at work. Basically, it's because Satoshi and Ibara carry mobile phones, while Chitanda and I don't. I've been thinking that I should get one soon, but since I don't have the dough, it's impossible for the time being.
The road finally approached a steep flight of stone steps. Thankfully, this wide flight of steps had metal railings on both sides as well as the center. But when I looked, there wasn't a single old person using the railing to ascend or descend the flight of steps.
The lamps that were on the pathway to provide some flickering light were absent from the stone steps. Instead, there were white flags with the words "Arekusu Shrine" placed at intervals by the side of the steps. I could see traces of snow here and there on the slope beyond the flags.
"Be careful Oreki-san, it's slippery here."
Chitanda spoke as she went on ahead.
Right after reaching the top of the stone steps, we passed through another archway. Arekusu Shrine was huge, and had a few times the commotion at the pathway. I suppose it was too much to hope that it would be filled with a calm atmosphere, what with everyone celebrating the coming of the new year.
There was a large bonfire in the center of the grounds, and I could only see the shadows of the people who had formed a ring around it. It would be natural to yearn for fire under this cold sky, but perhaps the bonfire was too strong, for most people had their backs towards it. The only people who extended both hands to the flame were kids who were noisily frolicking around. I also noticed a few hands holding onto paper cups. Seems like someone's giving out hot drinks somewhere around here.
On the right was the shrine office, which had been converted into a shop selling charms, amulets and the like. It seems that the peak hour of the shop has passed. While there were many people there, the scene wasn't one of chaos. Ibara's probably there. When I looked away from the shrine office, I noticed a small, red archway in an inconspicuous location. Seems like there's a shrine for Inari here too. In contrast to the white flags all over the place, there was only one red flag with the words "Number One" placed in front of the red archway. There was also a small outhouse at the back. For a shrine that was built discreetly, there were quite a lot of people praying there, perhaps because businesspeople also came here to pay homage to Inari.
The sho bottle was starting to feel heavy in my hands.
"Do I put this down somewhere?"
I held the bottle up slightly. Chitanda shook her head, thought for a while and spoke.
"Shall we say our prayers first?"
To get to the main hall, we had to go up another flight of stone steps. Thankfully, it was a small and had a more gradual incline. It was only about ten steps, but the top half was congested with worshipers. Chitanda and I queued up behind them.
We went up one step every one or two minutes. There was a horizontal line at the front, and people there would drop their monetary offerings, clasp their hands and walk off. It was only when the whole line had dissolved could the next batch of people walk up for their prayers. It certainly looks like they are praying from the perspective of humans, but to the gods, wouldn't it look like requests are being conveyed in conveyor-belt style? The standard prayers like "I hope I will live in good health" or "I wish for world peace" aren't so bad, but those complicated prayers like "I wish Grandpa would recover from his illness, but it doesn't have to be immediate. Also, I wish my children will do well in their examinations. Specifically, I would like them to give up on private education and be accepted in a public school" would take a herculean effort for the gods to even understand.
While I was on this ridiculous train of thought, it became our turn. I threw five yen into the monetary offering box, which had a unusually large white cloth. Hmm, I guess this wish should be fine.
May this year be easy on my energy reserves.
With that, the main event of the shrine visit was over. Now all we had to do was put down the sake bottle, tease Ibara and head back home. Well, it's cold. As I was thinking of throwing myself into the crowd of people purchasing amulets, Chitanda rolled up the sleeves of her coat.
"Where are you going?"
"Aren't we going to see Ibara?"
"Yes. I'll be entering the shrine office to greet the priest. We can meet Mayaka-san from inside."
There were a few red-faced men gathered outside the shrine office. There were men in their forties, and the oldest was seventy to eighty years old. They were probably shrine parishioners who had come to help out. Chitanda cut through them without a hint of bashfulness and opened the lattice door, while I shrunk myself and followed Chitanda. I also thought that I looked pathetic, but then again, I hadn't socialized with adults before.
Chitanda shouted to the back of the room, but no one appeared. They were probably busy. Chitanda shouted two or three more times, and a white-haired man finally arrived. This man was also red in the face and looked somewhat offended. With a throaty voice, he asked,
"What is it?"
Chitanda gently bowed.
"Happy new year. I'm Eru, here on behalf of Chitanda Tetsugo, who offers his wishes to you for a happy new year."
Contrary to his sullen appearance, the man smiled.
"Ah, Chitanda-san's daughter! Please come in. I'll call the caretakers."
"Thank you for your hospitality."
I'm Oreki, tagging along. Sorry for intruding.
The man led us to a huge hall, which was the size of tens of tatami mats. It was surrounded by sliding doors, and the ceiling was quite low, in contrast to its large area. There were many daruma stoves in the room, and I could see the red flames from their small windows. Also, there were tens of low tables arranged for men and women to sit as they please and peck at their food or drink sake. Bursts of laughter continuously rang out, giving the room a warm feeling.
"Shall we wait in that corner?"
It was probably too early for the banquet, since there were quite a few empty seats. Chitanda and I headed to a table in the corner. Before sitting down, Chitanda removed the black coat that was above her kimono. I thought it was just a coat, but seeing it under the bright glow of the electric light, it seemed like the cloth had a somehow twisted texture, and the design was shaded off. Chitanda noticed me scrutinizing her coat.
"Is anything the matter?"
"No, I was just thinking that your coat has a very unique texture."
"Thank you. It's made of crêpe."
The story of Mito Koumon flitted past the back of my mind.
I also took off my trench coat. Mine was a cheap coat, so I didn't care how it was handled, but Chitanda removed a hanger from the lintel and hung up her coat.
Before long, a sliding door opened and a young girl appeared, wearing a white robe and a scarlet hakama. She had long hair that was tied at the back, making her look like a miko, but her small spectacles didn't really fit her appearance. That flaw aside, I found it strange that this girl seemed to be used to wearing these clothes. I couldn't imagine her being a part-time worker. That would be my first time seeing a real miko, then.
I know that she's young, but I wonder what's her age. Not even twenty, I think. On seeing Chitanda, the girl headed straight for us. Soon afterwards, the miko in the scarlet hakama and Chitanda, who was in a red kimono, were sitting properly facing each other. Only now did I notice that Chitanda's sleeves were also decorated with beautiful flying butterflies.
Chitanda's head bowed first.
"Happy new year. May this year be even better than the last."
The miko replied politely.
"Happy new year."
"My father sends this bottle of sake. I hope you accept it."
Ah, it's this. I held out the sho bottle. The miko bowed while pressing three fingers of each hand on the floor.
"Thank you very much. We accept."
"No, it's just a trifle."
As I ran my mouth without thinking, Chitanda couldn't help but giggle.
"Oreki-san, I'm supposed to say that."
Yeah, I just realized that there's no reason for me, who was only holding it because it was heavy, to be humble over the Chitanda family's gift. Crap, I was caught up in the unfamiliar atmosphere and said something stupid.
As I became disconcerted, the miko spoke.
"We don't accept mere trifles."
Chitanda replied with a mirthful voice.
"Come now, please accept it anyway... Trifling as though it may be."
I finally noticed that the miko's lips were curved slightly upwards. It seems that Chitanda and this miko are acquaintances who are close enough to joke around with each other. Come to think of it, all those polite greetings were probably all a joke too. I worried so much for nothing.
The miko asked.
"You're from Class B, right?"
I was indeed from Class 1-B in Kamiyama High School.
How does she know my class? I was starting to suspect something, when she asked her second question.
"Is Fukube-kun not with you?"
She even knows Satoshi! Is this the power of Shinto? The shrine maidens of Arekusu Shrine must have the power to see others' pasts! She must even know that I spent the whole day lazing around!
It seems that my inner unrest was shown clearly on my face. Chitanda whispered into my ear,
"That's Juumonji Kaho-san."
"She's from Class 1-D."
I looked at the miko in front of me again.
She had a calm bearing, and was taller than average, so I didn't think that it was impossible. I certainly thought that she was below twenty, but...
"We're in the same year?"
I shrieked hysterically without thinking.
Chitanda and Juumonji Kaho laughed out loud.
If she's in Class B, she would be in the same class as Satoshi. Naturally, she would know him.
The two clad in traditional Japanese clothing exchanged words closely. But Juumonji was in the middle of some work. She got up, as if realizing something.
"Well, I'll see you next time."
Juumonji said while exiting the room. Chitanda called out to her retreating figure,
"We would like to see Ibara Mayaka-san. Is that alright?"
"Ibara... Oh, her? Hmm, I guess it should be fine. You can go through this passage to the back of the shop and check on her."
I was a little shocked to hear someone involved with the shrine actually call it a "shop". Should that really be called that? Not that I was holding some sort of romantic expectations, but... Chitanda and I stood up, and opened the sliding doors, as directed by Juumonji.
When we entered the corridor, a slight commotion reached our ears, so we immediately knew where the shop was. Chitanda, who was wearing a tabi, smoothly shuffled her feet and advanced down the corridor. My feet, on the other hand, were unbearably frozen by the coldness of the floorboards.
We gently opened the wooden sliding door at the end of the corridor.
Curse-breaking arrows, bamboo rakes, darumas and amulets. Those were some of the items on display at the shop. There was a total of three people dressed up as shrine maidens at the counter to deal with the customers. But are that many people really necessary for this period of time? I think two would be sufficient. Chitanda had bent her knees, leant inwards and was about to thrust her head through the doorway to search for Ibara, but she didn't get a chance. When we opened the door, we immediately knew that the one closest to us and obviously more free than the others was undoubtedly Ibara. Like Juumonji, she was wearing a white robe, a scarlet hakama and had her hair tied up at the back.
Wait a minute, that's strange. Ibara doesn't have long hair. That must mean that it's a wig, then. Would I have thought the same if Ibara had actually grown her hair and tied it up?
Chitanda smiled. Ibara abruptly turned around, smiled as she saw Chitanda, but scowled as she met my eyes. In front of the customers, Ibara didn't raise her voice. Instead, she moved her reddened lips slightly and warned in a low voice,
What a mean thing to say at the start of the year. Why would you take up this part-time job if you don't want to be seen wearing the costume?
"Happy new year."
Ibara nodded in response to Chitanda's whisper. She then scanned her surroundings, and seeing that there were no customers, leaned only her upper body towards the door.
"Happy new year. That kimono is so nice! You look beautiful!"
"Thank you very much."
"Is it a formal kimono?"
"No, it's a common one. I'm keeping my formal kimono for college."
Common? Is that the "common" from "common sense"? That means it's for general use, right? Has the English language taken over the world of kimonos too?
"My shift ends in an hour. What are you going to do?"
"I think I will be a guest in the main hall. What about Fukube-san?"
"He came in the day. But he went home to watch some drama, 'New Year Drama Special - The Winds of Change: Odani Castle', I think it was called? I think he'll be back soon."
While they were talking, there wasn't a single customer going up to Ibara. Come to think of it, there were no goods displayed in front of Ibara's seat. I asked,
"What are you selling?"
"Fortunes. I'm also in charge of lost kids, lost and found, and breaking change."
The fortunes could be drawn by the customers themselves. All they had to do was place a hundred-yen coin on the offering stand covered with paper, and it seemed that the rest was self-service.
Ibara must have followed my train of thought, for she insisted forcefully,
"I was busy in the day."
It seems that she's admitting that she's free now.
Ibara certainly wasn't lying when she said she was busy in the day. There was a tray next to her filled with items like phones, wallets, keys and foldable umbrellas.
"The shrine parishioners patrol the area, and if they see anything that might be valuable on the ground, they bring it here. There were also many lost children. That's why I was busy in the day."
Even if you didn't emphasize it, I wouldn't think that you're slacking on your job. Not in the slightest.
Changing the subject, Chitanda spoke.
"A fortune sounds like fun! May I draw one?"
Chitanda, who had been leaning over, stood up. As she turned back, Ibara called out.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"Going around to the front..."
"It's alright, you can draw it here."
Having gotten permission from the salesperson, Chitanda retrieved her wallet from her purse, and took out a 100-yen coin. The wallet looked like it was made of leather, so it was probably expensive. Ibara, however, had laid eyes on Chitanda's purse.
"Ah! That purse is really nice too! It looks so elegant!"
Having received praise for her personal effects, Chitanda smiled joyfully. I found that to be surprising.
Chitanda seemed to have a different set of values from that of other girls her age, so I felt that it wasn't like her to show honest feminine reactions like "feeling happy after her bag was admired". Of course, those were just my arbitrary thoughts. Thinking that I can deduce everything about someone with the little information I have about them would be committing the sin of pride. I should turn over a new leaf this year.
Indifferent to the extremely unreliable decision that I just made, Ibara was deep in thought about something. She muttered,
"Yeah, I suppose purses would normally be like this..."
Well, the linen drawstring bag that Satoshi always carries around definitely wouldn't be considered elegant.
It's my first shrine visit in such a long time. It can't hurt to draw just one fortune. I took out a 100-yen coin, and dropped it into Ibara's hand after Chitanda. Ibara placed the two coins on the offering stand, and held out the hexagonal cylinder towards us.
"Here you go... May the gods' divine protection be with you."
That seems a little wrong, I think.
Chitanda was the first to draw a fortune. She opened the starched paper tensely. Before I had even opened mine, Chitanda shouted excitedly,
"Wow! It's a 'Great Blessing'!"
That's auspicious, but she should probably wait for me to check that there's nothing bad written on my fortune before rejoicing about hers. I opened my fortune.
"What's wrong, Oreki-san?"
"Nothing. Looks like this is going to be a great year."
The sleeve of Ibara's white robe fluttered as she pointed at me.
"You've drawn a 'Future Blessing', right?"
Is that really shown on my face? I sighed and showed my fortune to the two girls.
The ear of grain that reaches the heavens
Is pecked at by the birds
And shows signs of being bent by the wind.
Good fortune does not reach the body.
And in large text,
It is rare to draw a "Misfortune". It is auspicious to get something rare. Ergo, drawing a "Misfortune" is actually a sign of good luck.
The conclusion that can be drawn from that perfectly sound Modus Ponens is that this bodes well for the new year. We returned to the guest hall, leaving behind Ibara, who was looking at me like I was an abandoned puppy.
Chitanda, on the other hand, was beside herself with joy.
"What would a 'Misfortune' be like? I'm curious!"
Chitanda exclaimed as she grabbed my fortune and stared at it intently. Her first subject of curiosity in the year was actually about the text on a bad fortune I drew. I couldn't help but respond to that excessive innocence.
"Are you that happy about my misfortune?"
Chitanda tilted her head in puzzlement, as if she had no idea what I was talking about.
"Didn't you mention earlier that you don't believe in these kinds of things?"
Yeah, I did, I think.
If I had to choose between believing and not believing in superstitions, I would have to say that I don't believe in them. But it would be a lie to say that I have never been drawn into believing in certain things, thanks to some rare cases. As I was thinking deeply about this, Chitanda's face suddenly drew near, denying my chance to reply to her question.
"Wh-What is it?"
"I am sorry."
Her head abruptly bowed down.
"That was just a show of courage, right? You're actually quite worried about it."
I couldn't think of any words to say regarding that statement.
"Just give it back."
A person swiftly walked past my field of vision as I reached out to retrieve my fortune. Juumonji was going down the corridor with quick steps and a tense face. Chitanda held out thte fortune.
"Ah, of course. Thank you for letting me see it... But, what should we do about it?"
"Nothing at all."
It can't be helped. The only thing that can be done is to dispose of it somewhere in the shrine, but I would feel so awkward doing so. I could just tie it on a sakaki, I suppose. Juumonji walked by again. She could probably tell us a suitable method to deal with it.
I thought that she had left, but she returned again. Unable to let her walking around pass unnoticed, Chitanda called out.
Juumonji did have some errands to do, but it didn't seem like she was so busy that she had to fight for every second. She stopped when she was called, dropped her firm expression and put on an apologetic one.
"I'm sorry, Eru. I didn't bring you any tea..."
'No, that's alright. Did something happen?"
Juumonji's lips slightly slackened. I had already learned that that was her way of smiling. In these circumstances, it would be a wry smile, I suppose.
"Well, sort of. One of our part-timers tipped a pot. We're currently remaking all the dumpling soup and sweet sake for the guests."
Chitanda's eyes widened.
"Did they get burned?"
"No, they're fine. They escaped with an amazing backstep."
With such strong reflexes, how did they tip the pot in the first place?
Although there were somewhat less shrine visitors at night compared to the day, there were still quite many of them. Sweet sake was definitely still needed. Furthermore, the pot was tipped when the banquet was about to begin, which explains why Juumonji had to run around the guest hall.
Chitanda did not hesitate at all.
She was about to stand up, but Juumonji stopped her. Was it impossible for Chitanda to help?
"No, you don't need to."
"Why is that? I think my cooking should be fine..."
"I know that you can cook, but do you plan on going into a kitchen wearing that?"
Chitanda took a long hard look at her own clothing. It was a kimono that was red all over, an elegant piece with dancing butterflies and flowing wind. As expected, it was impossible to cook while wearing that. It seemed that Chitanda also understood.
"Is there anything else I could do, then?"
Juumonji thought for a moment and swiftly came up with a decision.
"Could you go to the warehouse and get some sake lees? You should see them on your left when you go in."
"On my left, got it!"
Chitanda immediately stood up and wiped her sleeves. Then to me, she asked,
"I'm sorry, but could you please help me look after my purse?"
No matter how much of an energy-conserver I am, I can't just sit by while Chitanda helped out in her kimono.
"I'll go as well."
"Sorry for your inconvenience, and thanks for helping."
With those parting words, Juumonji left the guest hall with haste. Chitanda held on to her own purse.
After some consideration, I concluded that it was just a small matter. I probably don't need my trench coat for something like this.
At the entrance, Chitanda asked me a question while I was putting on my boots.
"She said that it was in the warehouse, correct?"
These boots were difficult to put on, as might be expected from something cheap. There was a buckle, but the hole was small, so I could only continuously force my foot in. I succeeded in putting on my left boot, and answered while squeezing my right foot into the boot.
"It's behind the Inari shrine, I believe... Right, my boots are done."
I opened the door. As the freezing wind hit my face head-on, I suddenly regretted agreeing to help out.
Not even a second had passed before I started longing for the daruma stove.
It number of worshipers hadn't changed much. The number of silhouettes surrounding the huge bonfire in the middle of the grounds hadn't decreased, either. There was probably still some sweet sake left, for there were still many people holding paper cups.
"I guess that's it."
I said, pointing at the outhouse. Since Chitanda was wearing wooden clogs, it was probably difficult for her to move quickly, so she followed behind.
As we drew nearer to the outhouse, we could clearly tell that it was really dilapidated, even in the semi-darkness of the night. The wooden walls and ceiling looked totally unstable. It looked like it would collapse if you gave it a good kick, like in a comic. Was the Arekusu Shrine that strict with its finances? Or was is perhaps unnecessary to rebuild an outhouse in a corner of the grounds? Although the red "Number One" flag for the Inari shrine was just nearby, there was a white "Arekusu Shrine" flag in front of the outhouse, leaving an extremely shabby impression. Furthermore, it seems that the flag picket was too short, so the flag couldn't stand stably on its own, and as a result the top of the flag had to be tied to the eaves of the outhouse with a vinyl string. That's seriously run-down.
But there was one part that was shining with a radiance enough to catch one's eye. It was the door, which was made of aluminum and was mostly likely brand-new. It was probably just replaced, the evidence being the fact that the remains of the previous door were still there. It was locked by a wooden bar, of all things. The bar was supposed to be put through the handles of the door, then it would be fixed with a padlock. However, on New Year's Day, with an unspecified large number of people moving around the shrine, the padlock was unlocked. They were probably careless, or perhaps magnanimous. Then again, there's probably nothing worth stealing in that outhouse.
After removing the bar, we opened the door and entered the outhouse.
"I hope there's a light..."
But we couldn't find a switch for an electric lamp. Come to think of it, the outhouse didn't seem like it was connected to any power cables, so it would naturally have no electric lighting.
"She said that it would be on out left upon entering, right?"
But this instruction caused a great deal of bewilderment to the two of us, because the only thing on the left of the entrance was a wall.
"Perhaps she made a mistake, and it's actually on the right?"
"No, I don't think Kaho-san would have made that mistake."
"But it's definitely not on the left."
I turned to look at the right side of the outhouse. We were in a building without light at night. We couldn't see anything in the absolute darkness. However, I said,
"It's not there, I think."
"That must mean..."
"Maybe it's further in?"
I reached out with my hand in the darkness and shuffled forward. It would have been quite dangerous if I hadn't done that, although it would have been much better to wait for my eyes to get accustomed to the dark. I gradually advanced to the inner part of the outhouse, trying to feel for the sake lees, but there was no positive response from my hand.
"I thought it would be an easy job, but it's turning into a pain..."
Chitanda, who was suddenly right behind me, called my name. A gust of wind blew the aluminum door shut, causing the light outside to be unable to enter.
"I don't know how to say this, but..."
Indeed, it did seem difficult for her to voice it out, as she was holding her purse with both hands and fidgeting restlessly. I continued groping in the darkness, while thinking that it was rare for the usually direct Chitanda to be so hesitant.
"This is an outhouse, right?"
"Right. You could also call it a shack."
"You are searching for the sake lees as requested by Kaho-san, right?"
"What else would I be doing?"
"I'm sorry if I misunderstood, but, erm, this is an outhouse."
"Yes, but what about it?"
In the darkness, Chitanda shook her head and for some reason, spoke in her smallest voice.
"No, the warehouse."
"It's in the warehouse. That was where Kaho-san told us to get the sake lees. This is an outhouse, but the sake lees are in the warehouse."
By inverting her word order in her second explanation, Chitanda finally gave me a complete picture of what was happening.
I was at a loss for words. I instantly thought of hitting my head and saying, "Oh, man! I got it wrong since I don't have a warehouse at my place!", but I couldn't really say that, so I gave up on putting that idea to action. Instead, I replied quietly,
"You noticed from the beginning, didn't you?"
"Well, yes, but I was not sure of myself. I do know that there is a warehouse behind the shrine office."
"You could have told me earlier..."
It's common for people to hide their embarrassment by finding fault with others. Well, I'll apologize later, but we have to hurry. The sweet sake's running out, and more importantly, it's too cold.
It was at the moment when we changed direction in the darkness.
We could hear a drunk voice outside the shack.
"Hey, the bar's off."
Then, an inauspicious thud sounded.
"Eh? That was..."
Chitanda still didn't realize it. I immediately raced to the door, or rather, since it was too dark to actually tell, the place where the door should stand according to my memory. I felt the cold sensation of the aluminum doorknob.
The door would only shake and clatter a little. I turned to look back at Chitanda. I could not clearly see her outline, but I imagined her tilting her head worriedly.
She probably couldn't see it, but I shrugged anyway.
"We've been locked in."
"Hey, Chitanda, would you say that the phrase 'whatever you do on New Year's Day, you repeat all year' is true?"
I asked, and I could sense Chitanda thinking about the question.
"Well... I don't think that superstitious belief would be true. If it were, then if you didn't do anything on New Year's Day, then you wouldn't do anything all year. That seems too unreasonable. But Oreki-san... I'm more curious about the situation we're in right now, rather than the remaining 364 days ahead of us."
The wind blew in through the cracks, so cold that it was as if our cheeks were being cut. At the same time, those small cracks brought in a little light into the darkness. It seems that my eyes have gotten used to the dark.
I could now see a bamboo broom, a metal shovel, a long prole probably used for housekeeping, and a cardboard box of which contents I was unaware of. As well as Chitanda, who was wearing a kimino and a troubled face.
And also, the four walls that surrounded us.
A late grumble escaped from my mouth.
"How did we get in this mess?"
"I wonder. Perhaps..."
Even in the darkness, I felt that Chitanda was smiling.
"It was because you drew a bad fortune?"
I sighed deeply.
Could that really be the reason?
...No, that can't be it. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the old man was drunk, so he locked the door using the bar without checking if there was anyone inside. I said the other reason, or rather, the root cause of our problem, aloud.
"Sorry. It was all because of my stupid mistake."
Chitanda shook her head.
"It's okay. Neither of us imagined that we would get locked in."
That might be true, but I hadn't apologized for my mistake yet.
We might be locked in, but fortunately, we weren't trapped in a soulless factory or the school premises in the summer. This outhouse is on the edge of the grounds, in a place that is hard to notice, but those praying to Inari shouldn't miss it. If we shout, it should be simple to get someone outside to help us remove the bar.
"I'll try calling for someone. I'm going to shout as loud as I can, so you might want to cover your ears."
I certainly couldn't get Chitanda to shout. I practiced getting my voice out a couple of times.
I was troubled about what I should actually shout. A competent high school student wouldn't go "Helllp meeee!", right? "Heey!" would be good enough, I suppose. Anyway, I just need to shout loud enough to get someone to come over and help. I took a deep breath and was just about to yell, when...
"I said, please wait!"
A white thing suddenly reached out in the darkness, and then a soft object covered my mouth. Startled, I swallowed my words, focused my eyes to my front and saw that Chitanda was using her palm to cover my mouth.
Surprised, I darted my eyes about, while Chitanda leaned over and used her left hand to roll up her right sleeve, with her right hand still firmly on my mouth.
"I'm sorry, but please wait."
There was an unusual graveness in her tone, causing me to nod unconsciously. However, what was the basis for asking me to wait? Removing her hand from my mouth, Chitanda asked,
"If you yell right now, what do you think will happen?"
Although I didn't know what was going on, I answered anyway.
"Someone would come over here?"
"And we would ask them to take the bar off the door."
"Yeah, and they'll probably help us."
"And they can open the door."
"Yeah, they can."
"And how will they interpret this situation?"
I couldn't reply immediately.
I finally realized what Chitanda was so afraid of. If I had been trapped together, with Satoshi, or if Chitanda had been locked in with Ibara, there would be no problem. However, that was not the case.
Would the kind person who removes the bar from the door understand our situation, given that the two of us are in an unnoticeable outhouse at the corner of the grounds in the middle of the night?
After a brief moment of silence, Chitanda spoke in a voice so soft that it was difficult to catch.
"It would be absolutely fine if our rescuers were people who do not know me at all. However, the parishioners patrolling the area know me well."
I recalled an old man's reaction upon hearing Chitanda's name at the shrine office.
"If we are rescued by one of them... they would definitely get the wrong idea. Moreover, the sake lees are in the warehouse, not the outhouse, so we do not have room for explanation. Oreki-san, I'm here today representing my father. It would be a different story if it were another time and place, but it would be troubling if rumors of me being seen with you in an outhouse in Arekusu Shrine on New Year's Day spread..."
Just by listening to her explanation, one would think that she cares too much about her reputation. Or that she would like others to think that she's such a person. But I would think that way only because I'm Oreki Houtarou, merely a plain high school student.
On the other hand, Chitanda belonged to a different world. She's acquainted with the son of the Tougaito clan, who have a great degree of influence in educational administration, as well as the daughter of the Irisu clan, which runs the largest hospital in Kamiyama City. They not only have a senior-junior relationship in school, but are also quite good friends. Furthermore, Chitanda is representing her father on New Year's Day in giving a bottle a sake to the Juumonji clan, which runs the Arekusu shrine.
That's a world that I'll never understand. I don't know if Chitanda's worry, that raising our voices now would lead to rumors, is a valid concern or a needless anxiety.
For a short moment, I felt that it must be quite lonely to be in that world.
I let out a short sigh.
"Fine, but what should we do?"
While there were many cracks here and there on the walls, there were none at all at the door, so it would be impossible to unhinge the bar from the inside.
"In any case, we have to get help from outside, and as soon as possible. If someone really needs something from here and opens the door, they would definitely get the wrong idea. Come to think of it, who would understand our situation?"
"...and Ibara, I suppose."
"Now that I think about it, we should have shouted immediately when the bar was placed on the door, but it was so sudden that I could not react in time..."
Chitanda's downhearted voice suddenly turned bright with hope.
"But that's alright!"
"Oh, you thought of a good idea?"
She was awfully confident of herself. Did she really have such an eye-opening solution?
I could imagine her smiling in the darkness.
"It's simple. We just have to give them a call."
Well, that wasn't really a jaw-dropping proposal...
"It's certainly simple, Chitanda, but I don't think there would be any public phones in a place like this."
"What are you talking about? Are you joking? Of course, we use a mobile phone."
My head hurts. The wind from the cracks was penetrating my bones.
"I see. It's a good idea. Please go ahead."
"Ah, but I don't bring a mobile phone around."
Are you serious? You're just confused about this situation and forgot that you do have one, right? Right? I spoke in a subdued voice.
And the, silence fell once again.
"Oh no! What do we do?"
It's a little late to be foaming at the mouth only now.
Besides shouting for help, would there be other ways to escape from this outhouse? I tried thinking for a while.
Is there a way to remove the bar from the inside? I should think this through seriously, without immediately dismissing it as impossible.
First, to consider the structure of the closed door. This door has no key, so if you push it hard enough, it would open a bit. However, it would open only up to the bar.
In the short moment I had to observe while entering the outhouse, I noticed that there were metal fixtures shaped like the character コ installed on the door and walls. Obviously, I don't know the details of these fixtures, like whether they were installed using nails or screws, but it can be assumed that they were fixed well and will not fall off even if we knock on them. Also, there is a wooden pole through these fixtures. That would be the bar.
This means that thee bar slides horizontally through the fixtures. If the bar fits vertically or in some weird position, we could probably be able to force a gap in the door somehow, then use that gap to lift up the bar. But it would be impossible for a bar that fits horizontally.
In conclusion, it is impossible to remove the bar from the inside.
"There's more than one way to open the door."
Upon hearing my mutterings, Chitanda reacted with an "Eh?" I waved my hand at the door.
"For example, we could take the entire door off its hinges. Depending on how it was installed."
In the darkness, I focused on the point where door met wall. There were two hinges, one near the top and one near the bottom. Well, that's how a door is usually fixed.
The problem with these hinges is that to remove them, we would need a screwdriver to loosen the screws, and on top of that, the door has to be open for that to be done. With the door closed, the screw heads are blocked by the edge of the door.
The plan to remove the hinges is also impossible.
Chitanda whispered in a bitter voice.
"I forgot that you don't carry a mobile phone, which is why I asked you not to yell... But now the situation's changed. We should just call for someone. At this rate, you'll..."
What will happen to me? Chitanda was being really unclear.
"You'll catch a cold!"
Indeed, my entire body was shivering from the cold. I had assumed that retrieving sake lees would be an easy job that wouldn't even take a minute, so I didn't wear my trench coat. With only my sweater on, it was painful to be out in this weather, but it's not like I would die from the cold.
"But you're still worried that someone will misunderstand after seeing both of us together, right? If we completely run out of options, I'll resort to calling for help. Until then, I'll try to think of some other way."
Chitanda lowered her head. I didn't know if Chitanda could see me in this dark room, but I smiled the biggest smile I could manage.
"Well, it's not that bad. We can't remove the bar or unhinge the door, but there are still four ways to escape that we haven't considered."
"Wow! That many?"
I started counting with my fingers.
"First, break the door. Second, break the wall. Third, dig a tunnel under the wall. Fourth, make a hole in the ceiling."
Having counted off four fingers, only my little finger was left pointing outwards. Chitanda kept silent, but that silence seemed to say that she was tired of my jokes.
Except that I wasn't joking at all. There's a phrase from a Sherlock Holmes book that I borrowed from Satoshi: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unreasonable, must be the correct way." Or something like that.
I pushed against the wall with my fist.
"All of these can be done if we try hard enough, I think. The door might be sturdy, but the wall it was fixed on is brittle. If we kick it a few times, the area around the hinges should give way.
"Also, the wooden walls have corroded, so if we use the tools here, we could break through without much effort."
As expected, a voice of restraint rang out.
"These are all no good! No matter how old this outhouse is, it's still part of the shrine!"
"No good huh. I guessed so."
The shrine owners would probably get angry at us. Even if that doesn't cause us that much trouble, if we made too much noise, the parishioners would rush over, and it would defeat the purpose if we're seen escaping. In that case, breaking through the ceiling would also be out of the question. That leaves...
"How about the tunnel-digging operation, then?"
Thankfully, in this outhouse there were shovels that had sharp edges and looked reliable. Furthermore, there were no floorboards on the ground. Ah, that must be the reason for this abnormally cold temperature, because with no flooring, the coldness from the ground is directly transmitted to us.
"...Shall we begin digging?"
"How long would that take..."
I think we should be out by morning. Assuming I don't collapse in the midst of digging.
There's no use changing the direction of the escape plans. This is an outhouse, so it contains a few tools. However, a tool that could possible help us escape has not yet appeared in this present stage. Besides the broom and shovel, there was also a long metal pole used for housekeeping or attaching flags, as well as a platform for a taiko. The cardboard box turned out to contain a large quantity of teacups... What should we do with these?
The wind continued to enter through the cracks in the walls.
In any case, it's probably impossible. There's no way we can get out without opening the door, since this outhouse doesn't have a single window. But as we wait longer, it would become more difficult to come up with an excuse if a third party does come to rescue us. If we wanted to get help by shouting, we should have done so much earlier. I realize that I keep thinking if I can do anything more to get us out of this situation. Would that be considered willpower? No, I don't have that kind of spirit. It's just that I felt that Chitanda's fears are real, and I just wanted to be considerate to her, I suppose. Ahh, but even so, there's so much space outside!
Yearning for freedom, I took a peep at the outside world through a crack.
while it was a small hole, it unexpectedly provided a wide field of vision. My eyes were immediately drawn to the huge bonfire. How nice it would be to be there, where it's so warm! I wonder if there's still any sweet sake left, though. Our failure must have caused some trouble for Juumonji.
The shrine visitors were clearly in a very different mood compared to us. I could see a drunk elderly man approach the outhouse. That would be one of the parishioners, right?
"Ah, he's coming over!"
Only then did I realize that Chitanda was also peering at the outhouse world through a different hole in the wall. The crack I was looking through was around my waist, but Chitanda's was around her eye level. As I was leaning over, my hand was right next to Chitanda's purse.
The elderly man did not come all the way to the outhouse. I thought he was headed this way to go to the Inari shrine, but he crouched to pick up something, then turned around and went back the direction he came from.
"What was that all about?"
I muttered, and Chitanda replied in a voice that lacked confidence.
"He picked up something that looked like a mobile phone strap."
"You could see that?"
"I think so."
"At this distance? And at night?"
Her reply was exceedingly earnest.
"I can see quite well in the dark."
So Chitanda possesses night vision in addition to her 20/20 vision? She not only has excellent eyesight, but she also has sharp hearing and sense of smell. On top of that, she's good at cooking, so she probably has a good sense of taste, too.
I lost sight of the elderly man as we were talking, but Chitanda could still track his whereabouts. She spoke after a short while.
"Ah, he went to hand it in."
"Hand it in? Where?"
"At the shrine office. Ah, there's too many people, I've lost sight of him."
At that moment, a stroke of inspiration flashed in the back of my mind.
"Hey, Chitanda... Is it okay if I break the wall just a little?"
5 (side B)
"New Year Drama Special - The Winds of Change: Odani Castle" was really entertaining, with its unprecedented direction. What I found really amazing was the opening scene at the Battle of Okehazama. While other dramas would depict Imagawa Yoshimoto to be a master fencer, he was shown here to be a hero unparalleled in history, and cut down the Oda army even in the rain, beating them hands down. That would make Mouri Shinsuke, the warrior who took Yoshimoto's head, an unparalleled hero as well. When I saw Yoshimoto and Shinsuke clash swords amidst mountains of corpses and rivers of blood in the opening, I was laughing so much that my stomach hurt, and that was when I realized that this drama was actually a comedy.
I shouldn't have jumped to that conclusion so quickly, as there were some unexpectedly good parts in the drama. As I hummed the theme song, I idly returned to Arekusu Shrine. I flipped open my phone on a whim and read Mayaka's message again.
"Chii-chan and Oreki have arrived. They're waiting at the shrine office."
Well, she probably shouldn't send a message while doing part-time work.
I swung my bag around as I walked down the path to the shrine. With light steps, I ascended up the stone stairs, and with a sidelong glance at the crowd of people looking to buy amulets, I entered the shrine office.
I met Juumonji-san as I opened the lattice door. Of course, she was in her miko costume. Compared to her, Mayaka was unable to hide the pretension in her costume.
I guess I was lucky to immediately bump into an acquaintance, but I'm not that good with Juumonji-san. I started off with my usual lively greeting.
"Ah, Juumonji-san. Happy new year!"
Contrary to my expectations, she followed up with a question.
"Fukube-san, have you seen Chitanda?"
Chitanda-san? Isn't she here?
"I just got here, so I haven't."
Her eyebrows furrowed slightly. Did something happen?
"Sorry I can't take you there right now, but go on inside. There's a stove in the main hall."
With those parting words, Juumonji-san shuffled into a corridor. Well, I have to be thankful that I've been allowed to come in.
I suddenly felt like taking a peek at how Mayaka was doing from the back door. Although this was my first time in the building, I had a general idea of which direction to head in. I don't look like one of those people serving sake, but I put on a face that said, "It's natural for me to be here!" and no one commented about my intrusion.
"It should be around here," I guessed as I slid open the door. Jackpot! Mayaka, clad in her scarlet hakama, was sitting in a proper position, close enough that I could reach out and touch her, and had a slightly tired expression. It must be tough to endure the cold for so long, but it'll be over in thirty minutes.
In the day, the store was bustling with activity, so she couldn't really talk with me, but it looks fine now. I whispered secretively,
Is it my imagination, or is Mayaka blushing? If it's the latter, I kind of understand the reason. She's still embarrassed about her costume. It would be good if she could get used to it after wearing it for so many hours, but that's not really possible, since Mayaka is still Mayaka this year.
I had already wished her a happy new year in the day, so all I said for now was, "Good work." She was probably tired and didn't have the energy to even force a smile, so she only nodded in a childlike manner.
But then, probably having just thought of something, Mayaka's actions were filled with vigor once more, and she picked up a handkerchief from the lost-and-found tray.
"Hey, Fuku-chan, do you recognize this?"
It was a laced handkerchief that looked pure white, but actually wasn't. It could be considered to be pearl-colored, I suppose. It also looked expensive. I don't think it would be found anywhere, but it didn't strike me as particular special or impressive, even after being asked if I could recognize it.
I shook my head. Mayaka muttered in a vague voice.
"I think Chii-chan had something like this..."
Come to think of it, it wouldn't be strange for Chitanda-san to use something like this. Of course, she wouldn't bring this to school, though.
"Well, it's good that you have an idea of who the owner is. You can ask Chitanda-san when she returns."
Mayaka forced a weak smile and replied, "Yeah, that's true."
5 (side A)
"Help doesn't seem to be coming..."
Chitanda, who was looking through the cracks, murmured. I groaned.
"I thought we were on the right track with the handkerchief, though..."
The wind penetrating the outhouse was growing stronger. As they say, you reap what you sow. I had broken part of the wall with the shovel. Due to that, more wind was blowing in. It's cold. Really cold.
I actually only chipped off a small bit of the wall, and I was only enlarging a pre-existing hole. It was now only large enough for Chitanda to stick her small hand out.
It is impossible for us to escape from this outhouse by ourselves.
I had drawn that conclusion earlier. While it was built in a barely noticeable place, there were still people milling about. It's not possible for us to get out without anyone seeing us if by using proper, acceptable methods. If only this room had just one window. It would then be possible to somehow dislodge the bar and open the door.
If we can't escape by ourselves, the only way was to call for help, but we could only contact Ibara or Juumonji. Both Chitanda and I don't carry mobile phones, but sadly, it doesn't seem that humans, even with their wisdom, will ever get rid of this primitive method of communication in this fast-paced, information-oriented society.
Thankfully, Ibara's part-time job as a miko included being in charge of the lost-and-found. As Ibara mentioned, the parishioners patrol the grounds, pick up anything that looks valuable and deliver the items to her.
In other words, if we drop something of monetary value, it would have a very high chance of making its way to Ibara.
There has been nothing wrong up to this point. The item that we dropped was picked up by the parishioners and sent to the shrine office, which was all according to the plan.
However, the problem was still not solved. We've established a method to send an item to Ibara, but we have no way of conveying our message for Ibara to help us.
"As expected, we can't do it with just one handkerchief."
We chose to drop Chitanda's handkerchief. It was our first choice as it looked valuable enough to be picked up and delivered by the parishioners, and Ibara would know who it belonged to.
Chitanda distanced herself from the wall.
"Yes, Mayaka has seen that handkerchief many times already, but it's not really something that leaves a strong impression..."
Even if we assume that Ibara knew that the handkerchief was Chitanda's, it would be difficult for her to make the logical leap and deduce that we're trapped in an outhouse. We would have to give Ibara the train of thought:
"This item was picked up near the outhouse. Why would Chitanda Eru be around that area? Wasn't she at the main hall? Ah, this has to be a serious problem!"
So it's impossible to do this with only one handkerchief, huh?
Then it's time for my next move. What would be the perfect object that would tell Ibara about our predicament when she sees it?
6 (side B)
The banquet had started in the main hall.
there were many empty seats, and I'm not the type of guy who gets bashful when doing something alone, but since I was bored beyond boredom itself, I immediately pulled out of the hall.
There was no other destination except for Mayaka's place. I didn't want to be a hindrance to the part-timers. I thought about the two people working with Mayaka, but I felt at ease after exchanging some words with them. Apparently, Mayaka had made a declaration to the two of them.
"I'm aiming to go out with that guy," she said.
The three shrine maidens-for-hire must have gained a feeling of solidarity after working with each other for a long time, for the two of them were supporting Ibara vehemently. I wonder where those girls came from. They're not Kamiyama High students, I think.
As soon as I slid open the door, I could see Ibara beckoning me to enter. But if I stepped out of the threshold of the door, I would be in full view of the customers. No matter how few customers there were present now, I couldn't do that. Instead, I stretched my neck as much as I could.
"Fuku-chan, look at this!"
She produced a foldable wallet with two denim surfaces. Ah, I've definitely seen this before.
"Isn't that Houtarou's?"
"Yeah. That idiot must have dropped it."
"Well, Houtarou's a guy with many chinks in his armor."
Houtarou might think that he backs up Chitanda on many things, but that's only one exceptional case in my memory. Houtarou has actually caused Mayaka and Ibara to worry quite a few times already during our normal club activities. I remember the time when we all went to the hot spring this, I mean last, year thanks to Ibara's connections, Houtarou actually fainted after being in the hot water for only a short time.
Anyway, it would be just like Houtarou to drop his wallet. But if that's the case, I'm starting to doubt that Chitanda is the owner of that handkerchief.
"This is strange. Here, take a look."
Mayaka said as she opened the wallet. It's improper to look into others' wallets! Even so, I concentrated on staring at the wallet. This is...
Mayaka accurately summed up the state of the wallet.
"It's an empty wallet."
There was nothing in the part used for keeping notes, as well as in the part for coins. Not a single yen.
"Isn't that strange? Oreki came here for a shrine visit. He would at least be holding a monetary offering."
"Nah, that's not weird at all. He could have used all his money as an offering."
"Him? Are you serious?"
No, I think that would be unlikely. Then again, he could have had some really intense wish. I pointed at the wallet.
"What's strange is the card slots. Houtarou would usually carry around a point card or membership card, but there's none here."
"Ah, yeah, that's true."
"So this wouldn't be Houtarou's wallet, right?"
But Mayaka strongly rejected that theory.
"No, this is definitely his wallet."
"... Why do you think so?"
"Because this was tied to the wallet at the metal fixture usually used to attach a metal chain."
Mayaka removed a scrap of paper from her purse. It was a small, crumpled piece of paper.
I knew what it was when I received it. It was a fortune.
"Take a look at it."
I unfolded the fortune... and burst into laughter.
"Misfortune! Misfortune! Man, Arekusu Shrine sure is nasty. To think they actually have bad fortunes!"
But Mayaka didn't laugh at the bad fortune. A wry smile surfaced on her lips, but her voice was dead serious.
"That's the fortune that Oreki drew. It also said something like 'Pecked at by birds' or something like that. Oreki dropped his wallet while his bad fortune was tied to it."
I furrowed my eyebrows. As I had suddenly fallen into silence, Mayaka was worried.
"... This means..."
I gulped in awe.
"Because Houtarou tied this inauspicious fortune to his wallet, on top of dropping it, its contents were also removed!"
That's really unfortunate of Houtarou, to suffer hardships so early in the new year.
This is the power of a fortune. It predicted Houtarou's calamity so accurately. I should also make use of this power.
I retrieved a 100-yen coin from my own wallet.
"Mayaka, let me draw a fortune too."
6 (side A)
"Help isn't coming, huh... Tchoo!"
And I had thought it would be fine since it wouldn't be cold at all. How wrong I was. Being a guy, I've never worn a kimono, but no matter how you look at it, it can't have the best insulation.
Chitanda gave a troubled smile in response to my mundane question.
"Yes... I should have worn my Michiyuki..."
"Yes, that black clothing made from crêpe."
Ah, that coat. So it's called a Michiyuki, huh? It did seems very Japanese.
"I also regret not wearing my trench coat."
"It's certainly gotten pretty cold..."
Pretty's a total understatement. To be precise, we're reaching our limits soon. If I didn't have a heater pack in my pocket, I would have definitely given up and shouted for help.
Now, my pocket held various items, besides the heater pack. A 1,000-yen note. Some small change. And a point card for the CD shop.
It had been a momentous decision to throw down my wallet. I had thought that throwing out Chitanda's wallet would have been the better solution. If I tied my bad fortune to Chitanda's wallet, Ibara would understand the situation and would probably judge it to be an emergency.
However, I refrained from using that method. Chitanda's wallet wasn't the one that she normally used when buying bread from the canteen, but was a part of her New Year costume. I had taken a glance at it while she was paying for a fortune. Chitanda's wallet today was made of real leather and looked expensive.
I thought that it we removed the wallet's contents, it wouldn't be so painful if it were stolen instead of returned, but that was naive of me, as Chitanda's wallet was packed. If anyone besides the patrolling parishioners found the wallet, they would definitely go through its contents. That would be a problem.
Having no other choice, I emptied my wallet, and to show that the wallet belonged to Oreki Houtarou, I tied my bad fortune to the wallet. Since it was a piece of paper, I wanted to write "Help", but unfortunately, no matter how much I wracked my brains, I could neither find any writing equipment, nor think of any substitutes. I did think of scratching out "Help", but the creases from tying it to the wallet would make the word unreadable. I could have inserted the paper inside the wallet, but then Ibara wouldn't be able to tell that it's my wallet just by looking at it. I was at a dilemma as to which option I should take.
In the end, it seems that I chose the wrong on. The wallet undoubtedly got delivered to Ibara, but help still didn't arrive. Ibara should have suspected something after receiving Chitanda's handkerchief, followed by my wallet, but... It hadn't made her think of leaving her post and checking on our situation.
"Sorry, Chitanda. We might not have any other options."
I was somehow in a self-sacrificial mood and felt like giving the freezing Chitanda my clothes to wear, but I was also cold. If I removed this sweater, I would probably get hypothermia or something.
Chitanda returned with a smile.
"No, it's my fault for being selfish and dragging you along with me."
"You're not being selfish. It's your responsibility, right?"
"... That might be true, but that's no excuse for getting you caught up with this. Let's just call for help. We'll just have to put up with any rumors that spread."
I was filled with chagrin, having to give up after enduring the cold for so long. But we've exhausted all possible means. Since we can't think of anything else, we shouldn't delay pointlessly any more. I nodded.
However, at the very last moment...
"Ah, I imagine Fukube-san is already here, too."
Chitanda's lamentation reminded me of what I had forgotten. Of course! Satoshi's probably here already. He said that he would revisit the shrine at this time, so it would be natural for him to be here.
AT first, I thought of the physical ways to break out of the room. That proved to be too difficult, so I considered trying to contact Ibara. But Ibara wasn't the only person we could contact. There was also Satoshi. Satoshi would understand!
Ah, but we don't have the tools!
"Chitanda, do you have some sort of string?"
Chitanda faltered after receiving my sudden outburst.
"About this long... Something around 50 cm would do. That will definitely be enough to convey our situation."
Chitanda started feeling around her body to search for a string.
"How about my sandal strap?"
"Ah! There's a drawstring on my purse!"
I shook my head.
"That's no good, since we'll be using your purse."
Unable to understand, Chitanda tilted her head in doubt. Well, I'll save the explanation for later.
"How about your bootlace, then?"
"Ah, right! There's that!"
With a spirited disposition, I looked down at my feet, but was immediately disappointed. If I was wearing normal sneakers, that would work. However, I was wearing laceless boots today. It's not like i was trying to look good. It's just that I was afraid the grounds would be slippery from all the melted snow. Boy, was I seriously unlucky for that decision to bite back at me here.
"If we absolutely must..."
Chitanda gently touched her obi.
"We could use the string on my obi."
"Is it long enough?"
Chitanda nodded, and for some reason, looked away. Not caring about the small details, I spoke.
"Is it difficult to remove?"
"Well, yes, it is. It will take quite a bit of time."
At that moment, a bout of uneasiness passed by.
"Erm, Chitanda, I'm not familiar with kiminos, but..."
"Will the kimono be fine after you take off the obi string?"
The answer to that question took a long time to arrive. Chitanda cast her eyes downwards and spoke in a small voice.
"The obi would kind of come off..."
"Come off? We can't do that then!"
"I guessed so. Since it would be difficult to fix..."
That's not the problem here. Even if we manage to get help from Satoshi, if he sees Chitanda's kimono in a mess it would be... Let's just say that it wouldn't look good. It would make all that caution we've practiced up to now absolutely pointless.
"Is there any other string here?"
This outhouse contains a bamboo broom, a metal shovel, a long pole for housekeeping, a platform to support a taiko, a long rod laid out horizontally, as well as a cardboard box, which is filled with a large quantity of teacups, all with the same design. We've reached this situation where we have nothing but the aforementioned items, but what we really need right now is just one string... If we had a blade, we could cut off the linen string fixed at the end of the broom. Would I be able to cut it by swinging the shovel? I don't think so, but it's not long enough anyway.
As if she couldn't take the silence, Chitanda timidly asked,
"Er... Why do you need a string to get Fukube-san to help?"
More importantly, where's the string? I'm about to freeze soon.
7 (side B)
Mayaka shrieked hysterically.
A lost object had been delivered yet again. This time, it was a purse. Not the cheap kind that I use, but an elegant purse that a woman in a kimono would carry.
Mayaka was shocked because that purse belonged to Chitanda. Apparently, Chitanda had taken out that purse before I arrived, and Mayaka clearly remembered that it looked like that. A handkerchief, a wallet, and now a purse. The two of them had lost that possessions three times in a row. Is that the consequence of Houtarou's "Misfortune"? Incidentally, I have a "Middle Blessing". I'm a little disappointed, but if I look down the scale, I do feel a sense of superiority.
"This was also picked up near the outhouse. What are those two doing?"
It was light purple in color, was tied with a plaited cord, and was decorated with balls. That's nice. But it's clearly not something a guy would carry, so I shouldn't compare it with mine.
"And there's some dirty string tied around this, too..."
That line caught my attention.
Mayaka held up the purse. Indeed, there was a string tied around at the bottom. A purse that was tied at both ends. My eyes widened.
I suddenly jumped up to my feet from my sitting position, causing Mayaka to look up in surprise.
"Wh-what is it, Fuku-chan?"
"Mayaka, where is the outhouse?"
"It's over there, near the Inari shrine."
"I'll be right back!"
With quick steps, I left the shrine office. As I ran with all my might under the starry night sky, only one thought crossed my mind.
Houtarou, Chitanda-san, I'm coming to help!
7 (side A)
"Satoshi would understand. The meaning of a purse that's tied up at its opening and base."
Since I had done what needed to be done, I was free to give Chitanda an explanation. To be precise, I was explaining while being barely conscious after being driven to the wall by the cold.
"Because he knows a lot of trifling things."
Chitanda was also shivering from the cold. But it seems that her physical suffering was being outweighed by her curiosity. She drew closer and urged me to carry on.
"What do you mean? I don't understand."
"The purse is a bag. If the opening and base are tied up, it means that the insides are trapped. This implies that we're 'trapped like a rat'."
In the darkness, a white head tilted in puzzlement.
She clearly doesn't understand yet. I smiled.
"I didn't come up with it. It came from an episode in history. You know the Battle of Anegawa, right?"
Chitanda, with her exceptional grades, was strong when it came to memorizing details from the textbook. She answered smoothly,
"The Battle of Anegawa was fought in the year 1570, between the Oda-Tokugawa coalition and the Azai-Asakura coalition. Oda Nobunaga won that battle."
"It's a famous story from just before that... Do you know the Siege of Kanegazaki?"
Since this didn't appear in the textbook, Chitanda, even with her superior grades, did not know about it. She shook her head.
I then gave a concise explanation.
"When Nobunaga was attacking Asakura, Nobunaga's brother-in-law, Azai, betrayed him. Nobunaga's sister sent a small bag tied at both ends to Nobunaga, who was at the front lines. Upon seeing the bag, Nobunaga realized that his sister was trying to convey the message that he was 'trapped like a rat'. I don't know how much of this actually happened, though."
This explanation made me seem very knowledgeable, but I only knew about this from the manga I borrowed from Satoshi. I read it at the hot spring inn during the summer holidays, I believe. I also watched that same story unfold in the "New Year Drama Special - Winds of Change : Odani Castle" in the afternoon. I did doubt if just one bag would work, and I thought that perhaps putting the effort to write a letter would be better... Anyway, if it doesn't work now, it'll be extremely troubling for us.
Well, it should be fine. In any case, Satoshi would be free, and like us, he would definitely go over to see Ibara. He should understand when he sees the purse. He's the one who lent me the manga, and he also watched the New Year Drama Special earlier. He's the type to be easily influenced by something he sees. If he sees the purse tied at both ends, he'll definitely think back to that historical episode.
"I never knew that such a story existed..."
Finally convinced, Chitanda nodded deeply, as starlight illuminated her profile.
Since the wallet was also picked up and sent to Ibara, I could rely on the patrolling parishioners to deliver the purse as well. If not, I wouldn't have been able to throw the purse out.
But in order to get the message across, we needed a string to tie around the base of the purse. It's impossible to convey the message using the purse alone, no matter how you look at it. However, we couldn't find a suitable piece of string to use in the outhouse. Without the tools, it would just be an empty theory. And then I realized that I was following a mistaken assumption... The string that we needed to find was not necessarily inside the outhouse.
The walls of this shack are brittle. Using the shovel, I broke off a corner of the wall, while apologizing in my heart. This brought the number of small holes I made to two. Since the hole was just small enough to put a hand through, Chitanda consented tacitly,
After that, I climbed onto the taiko platform. My aim was to get to the area near the ceiling of the outhouse, right under the eaves.
I pushed my hand out of the hole to get the string. A white "Arekusu Shrine" flag was placed near the outhouse, as if cuddling up to it. The flag pole seemed to be too short, so to stabilize the flag, a vinyl string was used to tie it to the eaves of the outhouse. I was aiming for that string. As expected, the solution was waiting outside the outhouse.
This way, I managed to produce the message "trapped like a rat". The rest is up to Satoshi. Well, it should be fine.
The door clattered. And then, a loud voice sounded.
"Houtarou, are you there?"
Chitanda stared at me with widened eyes, as if not being able to believe it. I shrugged and replied,
"Thanks for helping, I was about to freeze to death."
"There's some hot sweet sake waiting for you in the shrine office. Right, I'm opening the door."
Sweet sake, huh. It was the reason we got in this mess, and I don't think I want to see a cup of it right now.
Clatter, clatter, clunk. The aluminum door slowly opened.
Illuminated by the moonlight and the blazing bonfire, Satoshi smiled.
"Yo. Happy new year!"
"Hey. Sappy new year."
Buffeted by the winter wind, Chitanda sneezed.
Translator's Notes and References
- Shinto purification ritual
- As opposed to a double door
- Refers to the best fortune one can draw at Shinto shrines for a few yen
- Refers to Sugiwara no Michizane, a scholar, poet and politician who is revered as the God of Learning
- A 1.8-liter bottle usually containing sake
- A sash for traditional Japanese clothing
- A low table covered by a heavy blanket, with a heat source underneath
- Note that this story is set in 2001, so mobile phones aren't so ubiquitous.
- Inari is the god of harvests, wealth and fertility
- Refers to the highest rank given to a shrine
- A daruma is a round doll that will always return to upright position when tilted. A daruma stove is a stove that looks like a daruma
- Silk, wool, or synthetic fiber with a distinctive crisp, crimped appearance
- Mito Koumon is an old Japanese drama. The main character, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, proclaimed himself as "a crêpe merchant from Etsugo"
- A type of traditional Japanese clothing, tied at the waist and falling to the ankles, worn on top of a kimono
- Shrine maiden
- Japanese sock with a separation between the big toe and other toes
- A future blessing indicates that you will have good luck in the future, with the implication that your luck right now won't be very good
- A philosophical argument that goes like this:
1) If A, then B.
- A sacred Shinto tree
- The actual phrase is: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth
- Satoshi probably found it amusing because Yoshimoto's men were said to have fled upon seeing the Oda army marching on them in the rain, so the mountains of corpses and rivers of blood were extremely inaccurate
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