Hyouka:Volume 5 Prologue-1
Prologue - Too Long When Simply Running
1. Present: 0km
In the end, it didn't rain. To think I had prayed as much as I had, too.
My prayer didn’t go through last year either. This could only mean that praying for rain was completely useless. Now that I understood this, I suppose I’d be able to peacefully come to terms with the inevitable next year when this happens again. If I don’t need to do something, I won’t do it. If I absolutely have to, I’ll make it quick. Today, I, Hōtarō Oreki, learned that praying for rain was something I didn't need to do.
Of the thousand or so Kamiyama High School students that were initially spread about the school grounds, a third had already disappeared. They had set off on a journey to the far reaches of the distant horizon. I knew that what they were doing was nothing more than profitless toil, but I felt no sympathy. After all, I would soon be following after them in their suffering.
With an ear-grating howl, the megaphone was switched on again, and from it came a command.
“That concludes the third-years. Class 2-A, come forward.”
Fellow students filled into their set positions as if they were being dragged along by something. Among them were faces brimming with spirited passion, however, most of the students had such a look of resignation on their faces that the tranquility it radiated was almost saintly. I probably had the same exact expression on mine.
There was a line drawn in chalk on the ground. Alongside it stood a General Committee member, pistol in hand. He didn’t radiate any bit of the usual no-nonsense severity normally found in a cold enforcer of cruel judgement like himself. Considering his markedly middle school face, he must be a first-year. He stared intently at his stopwatch, itself looking as if it wouldn’t tolerate disorder for even a second. At the end of the day, he was just following his orders. Most likely, he wasn't even thinking about what kind of special significance his actions towards us held. Even if he were to consider it, at most it would be something along the lines of:
“I didn’t make this decision. My superiors told me to do it, and I have to do what's assigned to me. It’s not like I want to do this, so I hold no responsibility in the matter.”
It was precisely this thought process that allowed him to be capable of such incalculable cruelty without even so much as a change in his expression. Slowly, he raised the pistol in his hand.
Perhaps even now, at this very moment, we will see a torrential rain so violent and so sudden that it will forever change the field of meteorology as we know it. And yet, the July sky remained so refreshingly clear that it pissed me off. Not even foxes would get married on a day like this.
Ah, that’s right. Didn’t I realize it just a second ago? Heaven didn't respond to our prayers. I had other choice than to find the solution in a way only I could.
Even until the very end, the committee member didn’t look up from his stopwatch. With a thin finger, he pulled the trigger.
An explosive noise rang out, and white smoke rose from the barrel.
This was Kamiyama High School’s Hoshigaya Cup. At last, Class 2-A was ordered to start running.
Kamiyama High School was well known for the sheer amount of enthusiasm with which it treated club activities on campus, to the extent that even counting just how many clubs there were was a pain in and of itself. If I recall correctly, there were over fifty of them this year. The autumn culture festival took place over the span of three days, and the passion surrounding it was normally so intense that anyone with a cool head would agree that everyone was overdoing it a little.
On the other hand, this meant that there was an overabundance of sports events as well. Although there were no athletes from our school that looked like they could compete in last year’s sports inter-high, I heard that the martial arts clubs had a fairly impressive history with it. While things started to quiet down after the culture festival ended, the sports festival started up right away, and in addition to that, a lot of major sports tournaments also took place right after the start of a new academic year. That said, I didn't find it all that grueling. It’s not like I was bursting at the seams with the desire to participate either, but I could at least agree to something like playing as a volleyball receiver or running in a 200 meter relay. If I absolutely had to, I could find it in me to work up a little sweat and show everyone a smile.
I couldn't summon even that smile, however, when I was told to run further.
…Specifically, when I was told to run 20,000 meters.
The Kamiyama High School long-distance running tournament takes place every year at the end of May. Apparently, its actual name is the “Hoshigaya Cup.” Even though the event was supposedly named after a graduate who previously established himself in Japan as a skilled long-distance runner, no one calls it that. In contrast to how the culture festival was called something enigmatic like the “Kanya Festival” even though it had no proper name, the “Hoshigaya Cup” was usually known simply as the “Marathon Event.” In my case, however, because my friend Satoshi Fukube only ever called it the Hoshigaya Cup, the name ended up sticking for me as well.
Now, it was possible that I should've been happy considering the Marathon Event was shorter than an actual marathon, but in the end, I really wished it would have rained today. According to Satoshi, the notice concerning the use of public roads indicated that, in the event of rain, the marathon was to be stopped immediately and without resumption for the rest of the day.
However, then he also added, “But it’s strange, isn’t it? As far as I can tell from the records, the Hoshigaya Cup hasn’t been stopped once to date.”
There must be a god out there looking out for the athletes in the Hoshigaya Cup.
That god is undeniably rotten to the core.
I wore a white short-sleeved shirt and shorts that were somewhere in-between red and purple, something like a crimson. The girls wore short tights in the same color. The school’s emblem was embroidered on the shirt’s chest-area, and below that was sewn a paper bib displaying the student’s class and name. The string holding my “Class 2-A / Oreki” bib in place was already beginning to turn ragged. Sewing it on was a pain, and I ended up doing a half-baked job anyways. Not good.
It was currently the end of May, so it didn't rain as much as it might have in subsequent rainy season. Considering they wouldn't be able to hold it the next day because of the weekend if it had to be cancelled on Friday, it seemed like minimal consideration was given to the whole thing. Due to the 9:00 AM start, it was still unpleasantly cold. As the sun rose, I would almost certainly start to sweat.
On the school grounds, there was another entrance aside from the front gates, and all of Class 2-A exited from it as they started to run. Goodbye, Kamiyama High School. May we meet again in 20 kilometers.
The Hoshigaya Cup course was not very clearly defined in that the only specific instructions were really “Do a lap around the back of the school.” The thing was, however, the mountainous area behind the school continued all the way to the distant, snowy Kamikakiuchi range, so in reality, the “long-distance run” was something more along the lines of long-distance mountain trek.
I knew the exact course.
You run a bit alongside the river that flows in front of the school and then go up hilly road to the right at the first intersection. The slope starts off gently at first but quickly ramps up in steepness. As you approach the very top, it becomes a slope that mercilessly breaks one's body.
Once you’ve climbed it, the road immediately drops. Just like the upward slope, the decline is much longer and more violent than one might expect, and your overworked knees will surely cry out in pain.
The end of the decline opens up a bit into a large expanse of countryside. You should be able to see the occasional house here and there. While there’s little inclination in the road at this point, it continues in a straight line for what seems like eternity, so this stretch tends to do the most mental damage.
Once you reach the end of the flat section, you have to overcome another hill, but unlike the previous slope, the climb on this one isn’t as violent. The thing is, however, the road becomes extremely windy at this point, and the constant hairpin turns coming one after another tend to ruin one's rhythm.
Ahead of that is an area in the north-eastern section of Kamiyama City called Jinde, the place where Chitanda’s house is located. At this point, you follow a thin river downhill.
Continue making your way through the valley like this, and you will eventually return to the town area. Though, in saying this, it’s not exactly like we can run alongside the dead center of a street used by cars, so, as a result, you use a back road. Once you pass by in front of Arekusa Shrine and look past the stereotypically white Rengō Hospital, you will begin to see Kamiyama High School.
How did I know this? Well, you see, I ran it last year as well. I knew every length of the track from start to finish. But that knowledge wouldn't shorten the distance one bit. While I understood where it was we had to go, I felt it was necessary to omit the process in getting there. Even though it was probably impossible, it was likely the most optimal strategy at the same time. In other words, when needing to cover a 20km distance, one should at least be allowed to choose between using a bus or a bike. Unfortunately however, this extremely rational thought process of mine didn’t seem like it would be given much consideration.
Up first was the river in front of the campus, and already issues began to crop up. The majority of the course took place in areas that had little traffic, however this section alone connected to a city bypass, so there were a considerable number of passing cars. Additionally, there wasn’t anything like a curb separating the pedestrian and motor roads—only a single white line. The only reason we had to start running this early was so we didn’t cause any congestion in the streets.
The students of Class 2-A ran in a single-file line inside the area marked off by the white line. This was the only point in the entire 20km during which both the fast students and the slow students had to run at the exact same pace. If they didn’t, they would end up poking out into the roadway. Last year we were more-or-less allowed to expand out from the single-file line, however this year, it was strictly prohibited. It was a measure that the school took to prevent any accidents as a third-year was hit by a car in this area yesterday. Thanks to that, we were allowed the immense pleasure of being packed into a line that was difficult to run in.
So I guess I wouldn't be walking this kilometer stretch. The line was jogging at a light, easy pace. The road ahead of me was long. If I imagined the jogging to be next-level walking instead, I suppose I could tolerate it.
We finished the kilometer section before too long, and the course swung a wide right. We veered away from the main road leading into town and approached the school’s rear. Thus began the upward slope.
The single-file line crumbled away. As if they were propelled by the building frustration of not being allowed to run at their own pace, those in the class that were more physically oriented immediately broke away from the group. Several groups of girls, most likely motivated by some promise to happily run alongside each other, also began to move up.
And as for me, I slowed down.
…And slowed down even more.
I was essentially walking at that point, but I continued to make it look like I was running regardless.
Sorry to all the Hoshigaya athletes out there, but I can’t afford to be happy-go-lucky like you. In the span of this 20km, there was something I absolutely had to find out, and I only had 19km left to do it. Roughly 100m into the upward slope, I heard a voice call out from behind me.
“Ah, there he is.”
I didn’t turn around. The owner of the voice popped out in front of me anyways.
He, Satoshi Fukube, then got off the bicycle he had been riding.
From a distance, I thought he looked like some sort of androgynous gentleman, but up close his face looked so different from what you might have expected had you looked at his old middle school yearbook that it surprised even me. Of course, the trouble was not that his face had actually changed that much, but rather, that over the course of the previous year, he had come to lock up all of his emotions behind that façade. I didn’t realize it, however, because I hadn't been face-to-face with him for almost three days.
This year around, Satoshi became the General Committee vice-president. As the General Committee was running the Hoshigaya Cup, its members didn't need to run. After all, they set up before the race started and were expected to be distributed around the course. He wore a yellow helmet and pushed his usual mountain bike. I looked at him with a sideward glance and said, “You sure it’s fine to be slacking off like this?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I already made sure the race started without a hitch, and I’m not going to come back until the last runner passes the finish line.”
“Must be tough.”
I understood that the General Committee didn’t have to run as thanks for their efforts in supervising every aspect of the Hoshigaya Cup, but now this guy was going to be flying all over the 20km course on his mountain bike to report if any unforeseen situations should ever occur. Satoshi dropped his shoulders.
“Well, it’s not like I hate cycling, so it’s not all that bad, but I wouldn’t need to do this if I could only use my cellphone.”
“How about you tell them that?”
“None of the students on campus are technically allowed to carry cellphones, but in reality, if someone were to get hurt you would use a cellphone to call for help, right? They seriously need to re-evaluate their rules, I swear.”
With this he lamented over the General Committee’s inflexible organizational structure, but then a serious expression suddenly came over him.
“In any case, do you think you have an idea yet?”
As I sluggishly walked on, I responded carefully.
He started to speak, but faltered. I had an idea of what he wanted to say, so I started talking instead.
“It’s clear that she suspects me.”
“No, I don’t think that’s the case. It actually seems like she thinks it can’t be you. This is something someone told me, but apparently she said, ‘I don’t think Hōtarō did anything. After all, he literally does nothing.’”
A bitter smile crept across my face. Not only did that definitely sound like something Ibara would say, but it had been like that in reality as well. I did absolutely nothing yesterday.
If that’s what she really thought however, things became quite problematic.
“If it’s not me…”
“Exactly,” replied Satoshi with a deep sigh.
If it wasn’t me, there was only one other person it could be. I remembered what had happened yesterday.
Translator's Notes and References
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