Tabi ni Deyou:Journey
"...Sucks," she grumbled, sitting on the passenger seat and looking up through the front glass at the clouds that covered the entire sky like a blanket made of old dirty wool.
"Yeah... maybe the sun has left you in the lurch at last?" he said in jest as he wrung his soaked socks in a gap he had opened the door to.
The persistent rain outside did not seem to end anytime soon, whereas the clothes they had taken off did not seem to get dry anytime soon.
A few days had passed since they had left Boss' warehouse. The two had followed the now-deserted road, aiming for the neighboring town as originally planned. Although they had made a short detour because of mistaking the way, they had managed—with more or less effort—to keep their delay at one day.
But at dusk today they had fallen victim to an assault of rain.
Only after a short while it had literally started to rain in torrents, inevitably bringing them to resemble drowned rats.
Of course they were not thoughtless. They always carried their rain gears with them, and they had a blue tarp to use as a makeshift tent — they hadn't been traveling for three months without happening upon one or two rain showers.
That said, those items had come to no use this time.
It was not reasonable to expect to ride Cubby while holding a plastic umbrella, and their cheap rain coats, bought in some convenience store, had stood no chance against that rain. Even worse, the strong wind kept them from setting up a tent.
The two had not had any choice but to start searching for a shelter in their useless rain coats while praying to any god that came to mind.
If their prayers had reached the gods or if some devil had taken mercy on them remains a mystery, but after a few hours' ride, when rain water had seeped through every corner of their cold bodies from their hair-ends down to the seams of their pants, the boy had found a deserted station wagon on the street.
Thanks to the fact that the backseats could be folded down, they made two sections by hanging up a vinyl sheet in the center and decided to put on a change of clothes each. It wasn't their first night in a car, so the procedure wasn't new to them anymore. Fortunately, the car seemed to be sealed air-tight: there were no signs of any leaks or mold.
They took off one piece of clothing after another, opened the door slightly and wrung the wetness out of them as much as possible before going on to the next one. Their clothes weren't going to get dry from just that, but if they had let them be, they would have gotten moldy. By the time they had taken off all their clothes, changed into fresh underwear and wrapped themselves in some blankets, they felt completely exhausted.
"Mm, what's the time?"
"Err... about ten. Ages after the time we should have had dinner!"
"Aah... so that's why I'm starving...," she said while rubbing her belly.
The boy was completely of the same mind.
"I was going to make us some tea, but do you want to eat something light with it?"
"Sure. As a substitute for dinner."
The boy opened their luggage and took out a portable stove and a tiny kettle. Since he wasn't too keen on being short of oxygen, he left the door ajar. The incoming rain was bearable if it was just for a short while.
He put a wooden board, which he had found in the trunk, on the seat in the middle and started to boil water there. With the rushing of rain adding to the already silent mood, there eventually ceased to be any conversation between them. Until the water started to boil, only the sound of raindrops could be heard inside the car.
As soon as the water boiled, the boy immediately put out the stove and retained the warm air by closing the door. He then poured water into their mugs and dropped a tea bag into each one.
The silence that returned was broken shortly afterward by the girl sneezing.
"Are you cold?"
"Nah, I'm fine. But aren't you? The rain should have hit you harder than me, after all," she inquired with a lopsided smile.
The boy responded with a laugh, "Fear not, milady! I do not shiver and snivel easily for I am naught but a rough and uncouth swain. But, as thou art a fine and delicate maiden, must needs always be comforted and cosseted as befits thee."
Queer as it was, the brown blanket the girl had wrapped around herself suddenly looked like an elegant courtly gown when he used such a style of speaking.
"Milady, thy tea."
He held out her blue mug toward her seat.
"Mm, thou didst not labor in vain. We are well pleased."
She accepted her mug and looked down at the brown liquid filling it to the brim. A strong fragrance rose together with hot steam like a living being from from the black tea, despite it being of a cheap grade, and tickled the girl's nose. Way too strong! Well, but he made it caring about me, so I'll be grateful.
The boy handed her some rock-hard sugar cubes, which she dropped into her mug and stirred. A slightly bitter yet fragrant aroma warmed her up from the inside when she took a gulp.
"Well, it's fresh from the kettle!"
They shared a laugh together.
After ending their simple dinner consisting of ship's biscuits and black tea, they finished some tasks such as putting their luggage in order and checking their provisions, and then went to sleep early.
In the end, they woke up when the clock showed 7am—still raining outside. While he had the impression that the rain had weakened a little, the cloud were still as thick as before and did not let a sunbeam through.
He twisted his body and tried to stretch himself on the narrow passenger seat. He had slept longer than expected, making him realize that he had apparently been quite exhausted. He was tied up in knots, so to speak, and every time he bent himself like a resisting fish on a bait, a pop resounded from some part of his body.
Flabbergasted by his strange movements—or perhaps just waking up—the blanket dumpling on the back seat, aka the girl, started rustling.
Her head came poking out of the dumpling, took a look at the situation outside and sunk into the blanket again. With a depressed sigh, the dumpling eventually sat up.
"Mm, good morning."
Considering her usual difficulties in waking up, she had gotten up rather nicely, which was probably to be attributed to the sound sleep she had had. They had recovered from most of the exhaustion of the half day's ride.
Now that the desire for sleep had been fulfilled, however, the entrance of the next desire was a matter of course. The boy's stomach gave voice to its displeasure by rumbling aloud.
"I guess I'll have breakfast now—do you want to have something, too?"
The boy was thunderstruck.
It was the very first time during their three months' long journey that it wasn't her who complained of an empty stomach.
"Are you feeling unwell?"
"Hey now... do you think I'm a glutton or something?"
Preparing for a punch in the next moment, he kept his head down.
However, there was no payback. Something was wrong, undoubtedly.
"Let me take your temperature."
"No, really, I'm fine..."
"No. Objection overruled."
Upon closer examination, her color was clearly not normal. Her hale, tanned skin had turned a little pale.
The boy slipped through between the passenger and driver seat, still rolled up in his blanket, and crouched down by the girl. In his right hand he was holding a thermometer from their luggage.
"Come on, you're not well, are you? No need shamming in front of me, so please take your temperature at least."
Finally giving in, she meekly accepted the thermometer and stuck it in her armpit after some struggling. Since she was wearing nothing but her underwear under the blanket, the boy turned from her just to be sure.
In the meantime, he opened their portable first aid kit and checked their stock of medicines.
"I wonder what it is. Did you catch a cold, or something?"
The girl just turned away from him without answering.
"...the rain, I suspect. But that's odd, I had no problems..."
In an instant she grabbed him by the collar and scowled at him with a creepy grimace.
"There's that bothersome event once a month for us girls!!" she roared, making him shrink and go on his fours.
"P-Please forgive my rudeness, milady..."
"...Looks like you got it. I think it will last a while, but don't mind it since we can't escape until the rain stops anyway."
"...Honestly, I have no idea of anything in that respect, being a boy and all, you know, so... are you alright?"
"Hm... mine are quite light usually... but it doesn't look too good this time..." she explained as she hunched up, embracing her stomach.
"Do you want a painkiller?"
"Actually, I've already taken one before sleeping. Did it already wear off...?"
Men aren't of much use at such times. While they managed the medicine together, her sanitary items weren't in the boy's control, so he just took a tablet out of a package that claimed to be good against headaches and menstrual pain.
"Here, and some water."
The girl sat up sluggishly and accepted the water and tablet from him.
"...I actually wanted to restock some of our stuff when we were at the warehouse. Well, I should have borrowed some from the secretary, but I completely forgot..."
"So that's what you were searching for?"
She gulped the tablet down with some water and handed him her cup. Normally, she would have emptied it, but this time there was still some water left. Probably, her stomach was affected as well.
He drunk up the remaining content himself and wiped his mouth.
"Do you still want to eat something?"
Most likely, it would be best to have her take in something, but he didn't want to force her. Instead, he handed her a vitamin jelly he had found.
Her temperature was 37.9°C. Rather high.
The time was 02:00pm.
The rain was still falling and the girl's condition had worsened dramatically.
In the beginning, she'd frequently sat up to do things such as changing the cloth, but after noon, she'd stopped moving and started cycling between light sleep and awakening.
Having used their last remaining antifebrile, her fever had exceeded the 38°C mark. Even the boy realized that this could never come just from the monthly thing. He suspected that she had caught a cold on top of it. Considering that she had been exposed so long to so much rain, there was even a possibility of lung inflammation.
Even if it was not pneumonia, how should he deal with any other illness? The only medicaments at hand were a couple of headache and cold tablets and some ointment. He had no means of treating any illness more serious than a cold. All he could do was putting a cloth wet with rain water on her forehead.
She was in danger.
He could not help but admit that he had been thoughtless not to consider such a situation during the entire three months they had been on the go. It was actually rather surprising that this had not happened before on their journey, which was so equally heavily based on strong luck and good fortune.
However, he wasn't given the time to regret the mistake he had made. The boy found himself confronted with a choice that was many times harder than any of the numerous exams he had come to pass during nine years of compulsory education.
Stay here and gamble on the girl's innate immune system?
Alternatively, go to the neighboring town by himself and catch a doctor?
Both choices had flaws that piled up to Mount Everest's height.
—On top of it being unknown whether it was an illness that could actually be cured by her immune system, this situation had come about because that immune system had been weakened. What if it was an illness that couldn't be cured without treatment of a doctor?
—If he went alone to a doctor, how high was the probability of that doctor accepting to come along for an inspection? What if he didn't find one? Who was going to look for the girl while he was away? Did he have enough fuel?
Either way was one all-or-nothing gamble—in which it was even unsure whether his efforts were of any use. The girl bore all the risk.
The boy clenched his teeth, vexed by his own weakness, and glared at the sky and the never-ending rain.
Time went on and he was left changing the wet towel on her forehead and holding her hand.
While still glaring at the clouds outside of the window, a certain outrageous idea came to his mind.
Struggling through to the next town with the girl on his back.
As the town appeared to be well-populated, there was supposed to be one or two doctors, and if he refused to examine her, the boy could threaten him.
This way he only needed fuel for one way and the doctor could look at her twice as fast as compared to going alone and bringing him along. Though he was going to be unable to care for her while driving, he could still stop from time to time to take a look at her.
However, this gamble was much riskier than the other two. Carrying a seriously ill patient on a Super Cub through the pouring rain sounded like a foolish idea however one looked at it. Even the boy, originator and executor of the idea, was about to doubt his state of mind.
However. However, she was suffering as he kept thinking—worn out by illness, even though she weighted six kilos less than him anyway despite being the same height.
Not even able to cry for help, his dear girl was suffering.
He was not able nor did he want to blink the facts.
The time was winding down.
The boy started packing more swiftly and skillfully than ever before.
He gathered that he couldn't go with their usual sitting position. Carrying someone whose strength has completely drained is a troublesome task — worse than a water-filled mannequin. Even when tying her to him, putting her on the tandem would leave the risk that her legs might get caught up in the back wheel.
There was only one way to go about it: binding her on him while hugging each other and riding while sustaining her. Lucky in the circumstances perhaps, the Super Cub motorcycle was designed mainly for fulfilling work with it, therefore could be driven one-handedly. If he could really endure such a long stretch, riding at full speed with one hand, was left to be seen, but he had no intention of considering any problems that he could solve with some effort on his part.
As for her clothes, making her wear a skirt was no good as her body temperature would drop. He dressed her in two jerseys they had in reserve and put a raincoat around her after covering her in a thin blanket.
Changing the clothes of the unconscious girl in the narrow car required to twist her body like an entanglement puzzle, but that was easier than walking through a one-way labyrinth compared to seeing her half-naked in all those positions.
While struggling to contain himself for all he was worth, he changed her into trousers. They were baggy around her waist, but he fixed that by tightening the belt.
He had considered leaving the luggage behind, but decided against it.
If he didn't find a doctor, he would have to search on with lacking provisions, and if he did find one, he may demand some kind of payment. They were going to slow down, but that couldn't be helped. He had to believe in her willpower.
He tied her up to him using their hammock net and laundry rope and made sure he could even walk around with her like that. The girl would have beaten the living daylight out of him if she saw how they were bound on each other.
But he was determined to do anything to have her regain that liveliness.
He put on a rain coat as well and slipped into his still half-wet blazer. The soaked synthetic fiber was heavy, but this was his combat uniform.
Bidding farewell to the wagon car that had served them well as a temporary shelter, he entered the never-ending rain outside.
For the ones that may be to come, he closed the door.
The remaining question was whether the Super Cub still worked after being exposed to the rain for so long.
The tank was full. However, while he had protected it with a vinyl sheet, it had still been exposed to the rain. It was left to be seen if he could properly move it.
But right now, the boy was not ready have any consideration for Cubby.
He jumped onto the saddle and checked whether the girl sat firmly. He had tied up all their luggage on the tandem seat to achieve a balance.
While listening to the sound of the rain hitting their rain coats, he put on his goggle-type helmet.
Super Cub! Show me what you can!
He stepped on the starter with a vengeance.
He didn't know whether his Super Cub answered, "Leave it to me!".
But the powerful roar the 4-stroke air cooled single cylinder raised appeared more reassuring to him than any other reply could have.
The Super Cub was running down a straight road in the pouring rain.
Its speedometer was wavering past the maximum mark and the rain drops that would have been harmless water normally were hitting the boy's head like pellets. His grip on the throttle, however, did not show the slightest sign of loosening.
While embraced in his arms, the girl was lost in thought.
As much as she appreciated the boy's nursing, she could in fact not clearly remember anything that had happened after noon.
Her field of vision was shaking despite there was no earthquake—because of her fever, she suspected.
Cubby's loud echoing humming right beside her ear was nerve-splitting. She could feel the boy and his pleasantly cold raincoat, therefore she wondered if by any chance she was in his arms.
She could not really tell what position she was in anymore because the light dizziness she had been suffering from since the morning had become worse and worse. She felt as though her head was being shaken about.
To make matters even worse, her stomach was on the very brink of sparking off a revolution. A nasty combination of nausea and stomach-ache turned her abdominal region into a living hell. It hurt as though something spiky like a crocodile or a chestnut was inside.
Strangely enough, one gets a cool head when unwell like that; even while being shaken in his arms, she found herself watching the scene from somewhere in a corner of her head.
Not only her vision and her ears had gone to pieces, but also her nose and sense of taste, so she failed to grasp was going on. Perhaps she had just gotten off her head because of her fever, anyway, but she didn't particularly care.
"Still...," she thought, "are all boys cold like this?" It might have been pouring, but it was still summer. Yet his boy was cold.
"Aah," she found a lucid explanation. She was hot. Relativity was bound to be the cause.
"Still...," she thought again, "since when have my periods become so bad? How embarrassing!" Sure, she'd had a hunch that it was about to start since a few days ago, but she hadn't expected that she would be knocked out so easily. Jeez, it sure sucks to be a girl at times.
When she fell asleep at such times, she would never have good dreams.
"But well, if I get him to look after me like this," she thought, "it might not be bad to get a fever once in a while even so." After all, this way she could get him to hug her completely legally and without seeming awkward!
Mysteriously though, she wasn't haunted by any nightmares during the time she was in his arms.
"This is bad... her fever has gotten very high...," he grumbled while feeling her forehead.
Holding the girl in his arms, he stopped the bike and supported himself with his leg.
Since she was constantly trembling, he gave only her a disposable hand warmer, but there was no way something like that could do the trick. She wasn't pale anymore. Instead, she had become as red as a tomato and was breathing wildly.
Perhaps he could consider himself lucky in the circumstance that the rain had weakened after two hours, but there was still no trace of a patch of blue sky. He also used their last cooling gel sheet on her, but it remained to see whether this was of any use...
He had done everything he could. All that was left now was to head straight for the neighboring town, believing in her constitution.
Putting power into his numb left hand in order to sustain her, he tightened his grip around her.
Cubby's engine that had completely warmed up was humming without stop.
It was past six when the "neighboring town" boss had told them about came in sight. As he said, it seemed to be a port town: beyond the misty townscape he could see the vast blue sea. He was approaching a port.
There were still about four or five kilometers between them, so he could not really make out much yet.
He tried lifting his goggle and peeping through his binoculars, but with the current weather and the poor magnification, it was of no avail.
There was nothing to worry about if it was a peaceful town. However, in these times of chaos, "peaceful towns" weren't so common. There were even ones that were left deserted because of plunder and raging riots.
The most dreadful ones, however, were the towns that had decided on a closed-door policy and would do anything to protect their walls, eliminating any intruder without exception.
He didn't know whether this town was one of those.
He shook off the manifestation of anxiety that had suddenly formed within his heart.
He could not turn back anymore. He had to buy boss' words and fully believe that it was a lively town.
He felt the girl's cheek, which turned out to be extremely hot. The gel sheet wasn't of much use. He absolutely had to find a doctor, or, in the worst case, at least get hold of medicaments.
He would reach the entrance in a few minutes' time after starting the engine once again.
However, what waited for him right at the entrance was an obstacle that surpassed his expectations... no, to be exact, it was "obstacles".
"...What the heck...," he muttered, flabbergasted.
With good reason! The number of buildings had finally started to increase when he had entered the town. However, in the middle of the street he found a light bus that had been overturned sideways. Two of them.
Whatever way one looked at this scene, this wasn't natural. The two buses were tightly obstructing two traffic lanes each, and from the gap between them and the sidewalks poked some minivans, completely blocking the way.
All gaps had been piled with sandbags and the buses were even filled with those. This was no doubt a barricade to ward off intruders.
The fact that there was a barricade—a means of fending off forceful invasions—meant that they didn't welcome wicked people.
Most likely, this had been built in fear of looting. The height of the barricade could easily be overcome if one had something to stand on, but its purpose was to hinder cars and motorcycles from entering. Plunderers only take the offensive when they clearly have the advantage. Probably, the townspeople had presumed that such outlaws wouldn't have the courage to intrude a town that seemed to have a vigilante group.
However, that meant that he couldn't go any farther with Cubby. However excellent a motorbike Cubby was, it could never leap over a overthrown minibus. There was no way around proceeding by foot. He had to overcome this accursed barricade with his own two legs and search for a doctor.
Having made a decision, there was no reason anymore to flinch. He untied the rope that had bound the girl to him and gave her a piggyback.
It was rather tough to climb onto one of the buses with one free hand, but it was the right decision. Thanks to the fact that he was on a higher ground, he could well recognize the traps that had been laid out everywhere. One met with a mine field of pitfalls and steel traps if one tried to go around the buildings. Furthermore, for the improbable case that someone managed to break through the barricade, there was a huge hole behind it that could swallow several cars.
The intruders were meant to fall in there if they broke through forcefully. It was also effective against humans who carelessly climbed over the barricade—and they could consider themselves lucky if they only broke a few bones. It were nasty traps indeed.
The more he proceeded in the direction he assumed the center to be, the more the number of cars decreased. "Assumed", because he was groping his way based only on the broadness of the street and the atmosphere of the townscape, since the names of the places had entirely disappeared from the signposts and boards.
The number of cars that had been illegally parked, no, "abandoned", on the street became almost zero after he had gone past one traffic light.
He didn't know whether they had been moved somewhere else because they were in the way or because they could be used for something, but it was clear that this town was governed by humans. And apparently quite organized: when he sneaked a peek at the shelves of the shops, he noticed that they had all been taken somewhere. However, there were no signs of plunder. Someone had probably transported them systematically.
There was still no soul, but carrying someone on one's back consumes more energy than one might think. The difference of their weight summed up to about six kilograms, which still meant that his legs had to sustain almost twice as much as usually.
Having steered his bike for a long time in the pouring rain, his steps had gradually become painful.
On top of that, his arms and legs had grown almost numb from the elbows and knees because of his low body temperature. Due to this, the scratches on the back of his feet had abated to a dull pain. The fact that his sense of balance was starting to suffer, however, was very bad. If he fell down now, he would not be able to stand up anymore.
When sped up, bracing his wavering will and body, his field of view suddenly broadened and a large school came in sight.
It was probably a high school. It had been months since he last saw this peculiar kind of institution.
As was characteristic for schools with too much land, the school grounds were very broad. He couldn't spot anyone outside, but the light was switched on in several rooms of the school.
Perhaps, evacuates lived there. Schools were a common refuge. Besides, those lights were no doubt of electric nature.
There was someone. At the entrance of the gym neighboring the school building, there was a man.
He squinted his eyes and carefully made sure whether he was friend or fiend.
He was probably somewhere between his late twenties or his early thirties. He was standing upright under the eaves of the gym in a suit.
He didn't seem to be carrying a weapon and at least looked all right.
Deciding on asking him about the whereabouts of a doctor, the boy approached the school gate.
But the moment he was about to pass through the gate, he started to waver.
Was it really safe to leisurely walk in there? Wouldn't it be better to hide her somewhere and negotiate on his own?
He shook his head and chased these sudden negative thoughts away.
It was of no avail to harvest such doubts now. If he was attacked, he would be lost anyway, even if he managed to knock out one or two of a lot. Fighting his way back through to the barricade while carrying a sick girl was impossible. In the first place, he wouldn't even reach the warehouse with the remaining fuel.
This time he had no choice but to confide in his tough luck and her strong luck.
After making sure she was sitting firm on his back, he passed through the open gate and walked straight through the school grounds towards the gym.
"Hey there! Excuse me!"
When he started to yell, the man instantly gave him a look. From close up, the boy noticed that he was facing a quite large man that was about 20 centimeters taller than him. The man wore a well-tailored suit with a neatly tied tie. It was a pretty handsome guy, so to speak, wearing a short haircut that suited him well. His inner alarm bell reacted to that rather showy appearance, but it was too late to turn back.
The man, however, while rounding his eyes, didn't make a move.
After clicking his tongue in his mind, he started walking towards him once more.
After a ten seconds' mystification, the man finally realized what situation the two were in and trotted to them. He didn't seem to care about the rain.
"What's the matter?"
"Um... this girl is feeling unwell... is there a doctor around?"
While firming his hold on the girl who was about to slide down, he prayed that there was one.
"...So you want a doctor to take a look at her? I sure hope you brought your insurance card with you?"
"Don't get me wrong. I am not talking about the card that verifies that you are member of a medical-care insurance. It's something that proves that you own enough to make up for medical treatment."
The muscles of the boy's cheeks almost twitched.
"...in other words, I must offer something of equal value?"
"You can't be thinking to get a doctor for free these days, right?"
The indifferent voice the man spoke in got the boy's hackles up. The only reason why he didn't beat him up right now was that he couldn't use his hands because he was sustaining the girl.
"...a Super Cub in good order and condition, enough water for a grown-up man to survive for four days, provisions to get through one week, and two sets of general goods. Take whatever you want!"
"Heh, now that sounds extravagant. But these are your legs and meal, right? How do you plan on getting by without all that?"
"I'll think about that when she's well again," he said as he glared at the man.
The nonchalant man put on a grin and looked down at him, "What if that wasn't enough?"
"I'd bite the bullet and, after having her treated, I'd take revenge."
"Whoa whoa! Do you want to make the whole town your enemy or what?" he laughed baffledly.
However, the boy kicked off that laugh with his scowl.
The man flashed a smile. Not a ridiculing one like before, but a small, interested smile.
"I may not be Superman, but if it's for her sake, I'm ready to become a fiendish criminal anytime."
"...I see. Fine!"
The man was smiling all over the face. Even though the shape of his smile hadn't changed, the boy somehow couldn't sense any ill-will nor sarcasm.
"For starters, let's carry her into the school."
"Huh? ...No, I need a doctor right now..."
"I'm in charge of health education here, you know. So I'm sort of a doctor. Follow me, I'll lead you to the infirmary."
The boy was left completely dumbfounded as he listened to him.
"But what about your compensation and that stuff..."
"Idle talk. Just wanted to see how you'd answer me. Now come on, get her over here."
After standing there thunderstruck for a moment, he followed the trotting man with great difficulty through the rain, towards the school building.
A few minutes later and after the skillful treatment of the man, the girl was lying on a bed in the school infirmary. Her face looked much healthier now, which was probably due to the antipyretic injection he had given her.
"...You really saved us... Thank you so much," the boy said as he lowered his head.
The man, however, laughed in response, "No problem, boy. You're only grossing me out if you act so polite after barking at me a few moments ago."
He had slid into a white coat and put on silver-rimmed glasses. There had been no trace earlier, but in these clothes, he indeed looked like was in charge of the infirmary. Save for his sports teacher-like sturdy build, that is.
"How is the girl?"
The man raised his eyebrow slightly, apparently wondering about how the boy addressed his companion, and sat down on his chair.
"Hm... most likely she caught a cold while her body was weakened because she had her periods. Judging by the symptoms, it's just a normal cold. Well, you did quite well with your treatment, so she'll be up and about again with some rest."
"...I don't know if you can call that 'treatment'. I just cooled her forehead and wrapped her up warm, after all. Even worse, I carried her through the pouring rain."
"That's just about right, you know. Some people, when they're confronted with a cold, just stuff their patients with antipyretics, then with anti-diarrheal medicine, then with headache pills and so forth... Besides, her fever was certainly rather high. If you stayed there, she might have gotten ill with pneumonia. It was the right choice to carry her here."
With these words, the man stood up.
"Okay, I'll go get some new ice. Can you take care of the wet towel while I'm away?"
"Yes. Much obliged."
"...Seriously, stop acting so polite," he smirked and left the infirmary after sliding the door open.
After making a few steps into the empty corridor, he turned to the light that leaked from the infirmary.
"...Heh. To test a patient. Looks like these days have made me worse a person than expected."
Without being heard by anyone, his quiet whisper vanished in the dim, lonely corridor.
He squeezed the hand towel hard and put it on her forehead.
There was some ice in the washtub, which, while only small in quantity, was clearly superior to rain water. Some color had returned into her face, and her breath had gotten calm as well.
Finally taking a breath, he looked around in the room, and sat down besides the girl on the bed.
This was no doubt an infirmary. From how it looked inside, he could tell that it still functioned and was used as one.
There was a desk and a shelf filled with medicaments and three cots equipped with curtains. Of the two remaining beds, one was piled with cardboard boxes, and the other had its curtains shut. Perhaps, there was another patient.
When coming to this room, they had taken the main entrance. To his surprise, however, the corridors hadn't been dusty at all.
The shelf there wasn't any different: while it was apparent that the stock of medicaments had decreased, there were no signs of neglect.
He had no idea how many students were still in this school, but it was highly doubtful if that number was high enough to keep on holding classes. Thus the closest possible explanation was that the building was being used as a shelter for evacuees.
Truth to be told, the boy didn't trust the man very much.
He didn't really doubt whether the man was in charge of the infirmary or not, as his treatment had been to-the-point and his use of the equipment deft, but he didn't know if the man split on them.
Perhaps, he had only shammed getting them some ice and was in fact going to come back with a group of hard-boiled thugs armed with spike rods.
What raised the most doubt was the questioning when they met. A doctor in his normal state of mind would have never done anything of that sort—all the less when it was apparent that the boy was carrying a sick person.
At any rate, the boy was determined to stay on guard.
During the first ten minutes, at least.
"Oh...?" the man rounded his eyes as he came back holding a cooler.
During the time he had been away, the boy had apparently neglected his assigned task of looking after the girl and had fallen asleep on his chair with his head laid on the girl's bed.
He put the box on the ground and tried softly shaking the boy's shoulders. However, even when he shook a little stronger, the boy showed no signs of waking up.
The man couldn't leave him like that or he was in for a cold as well. That said, it was also a fact, however, that the boy had gone to great lengths to carry the girl here. It was only natural that he was tired. The man couldn't bring himself to wake him.
He tried dragging him off the chair. "Err, what to do now?" he wondered. He could hardly let him lie there like the victim of a killer.
"Hmm," he muttered and moved his gaze towards the neighboring bed, where he, however, only saw what he expected see: a pile of cardboard boxes that was akin to the Tower of Babel, stuffed with medicines he had gotten from the nearby general hospital.
In the first place, this infirmary was basically his clinic and where he was when on night duty, so the bed the girl was sleeping on had been left empty only because he used it for his naps.
Reflecting on his rather sloppy lifestyle, he let out a sigh.
Anyway, it was impossible to put away all those cardboard boxes now. Hence, there was only one way to go about it.
The man grabbed the boy by the collar and lifted him onto the girl's bed. He then made him lie happily beside her and put the blanket over both of them—when he suddenly remembered that she was in her underwear, as he had taken off her clothes because they were drenched.
However, he didn't bother to care, thinking that they were a couple anyway.
At once, she woke up.
Apparently having gotten a lot of sleep, she was not drowsy at all.
As she hadn't had a dream, either, it didn't really seem to her as though any time had passed. The fact that her consciousness had been hazy before falling asleep, left her in utter confusion about the situation.
In her field of vision she found the white light of a fluorescent lamp—the first in a while—and an unfamiliar white ceiling. Unless her brain had rotten due to excessive sleep, she hadn't seen this ceiling before.
"...Um... where...are we?" she was about to ask the boy, but he was not there.
She had assumed that he was by her side like always, but unfortunately, the bed next to hers held only a mountain of cardboard boxes and no boy.
With a weak sigh, she turned over.
And spotted him.
His sleeping face occupied her entire vision, and before she knew it, she had gazed at it for several seconds.
Uwaa... he has pretty long eyelashes even though he's a man! He always looks a little dull, but now that he's sleeping and from close up, he really has a baby-face; jeez, why does he have such full lips! I'd love to ask for the secret of his beauty, but somehow that feels just wrong to do for a girl, and anyway, I strongly hope he hasn't done anything to me———
For a split second, she forgot herself and was on the verge of becoming delighted with his face. Regaining her rationality, which had darted off into the world of dreams, she started calmly analyzing the situation she was in.
Evidently, she was in some building. The boy had probably taken her to a hospital because he had worried about her. Chances were that this was the "neighboring town" they had been headed to.
Meaning that she had been laid on this bed to sleep. She got that.
But why was he sleeping together with her?
She couldn't keep herself from blushing upon saying those words in her mind. They were sleeping together. In the same bed! In a little more neutral words, they were sharing a bed. But the problem was not how to call it.
Considering that he was still tidily wearing his clothes, she knew only too well that he hadn't made a "slip", but still, they were sleeping together!
On top of that, she was left there in her underwear for some unknown reason, exposing her skin, and still wearing her socks in spite of that, making her clothing look extremely fetishistic.
At this very moment, the girl found herself confronted with two choices. Either approve of this situation and keep on sleeping together, or disapprove of it and raise a scream.
What will you do, me? What will you do, girl? Such a chance isn't going to come again. But it's still too early! What should I do? Am I supposed to plant a kiss at least, as a preparation for the future? Or should I go straight to the max———
She was about to get a fever again because of wavering and wavering, when the boy suddenly moved sluggishly.
"Mh... oh...? Girl...?"
To her chagrin, her fist was faster than her head. I'm sorry, boy.
Surprised at the boy who came flying off the bed like an aircraft from its carrier, the man almost dropped the tub he was holding. He had been within a hair's breadth of dashing the freshly-recovered girl with ice-cold water.
"You're a patient for crying out loud! Stay in bed!"
She had no idea who he was, but still the girl reflexively obeyed his rebuke as he wore a white coat.
Only after putting her head on the pillow again and hiding half her face under her blanket, she carefully sneaked a peek at the man in a white coat.
"Um... may I ask where I am?"
The man put the tug on the washstand and gave her a smile.
"Your in the infirmary a nameless doctor of a nameless high school in a nameless town is in charge of."
"...So he really transported me here..."
"Quite so. You've gotten yourself a pretty reliable boyfriend: it seems like he went over hedge and ditch carrying you."
"He's not my boyfriend!!"
The objection of the tomato-red girl made the man round his eyes.
Seeing her answer like a shot again, he compared the girl on the bed and the boy who had sunk to the ground.
"...Oh, I'm sorry then. You looked just like a couple, so I was sure you were. So I suppose it was not so good to have you sleep in the same bed?"
"...I think it's questionable letting a healthy person sleep next to a sick one in the first place," she reproached with red cheeks.
The man, however, did not consider himself at fault at all.
"...Well, seems like you're well and sound, so don't mind it. That aside, that kid down there's not moving anymore."
"...Eh? Did I go too far by any chance?"
She got off the bed and turned over the boy who had plunged to the ground moments ago.
Having gotten a punch straight into the face, he had been KOed at a single blow and lay there without consciousness but with a bleeding red nose.
The one and only thing he could probably consider himself lucky of was the fact that this was an infirmary.
The result of the examination was a contusion and a cerebral concussion. According to what the boy was told, the man had mistaken them for lovers and stuffed him into one bed with the girl, giving him the pleasure of making the acquaintance of her iron fist. It was a real bother. As terrible as it gets. Why o why didn't he wake up before her?
"...Oh well, great to see you well up again. Really."
"Um, well, sorry...?"
The boy, who looked quite moody, tossed the tissue in his nose into the bin.
At first, the tissues were bright red, but the blood seemed to have stopped as he exchanged them.
"Don't mind it. Think of it as a worth-while experience," he chuckled.
The boy gave him a stare.
"I absolutely don't want to hear that from the one who's the cause... I'm fine, really. I've gotten used to her punches."
"I-I'm not always turning violent like that!"
He neither denied nor asserted her claim. Matters of this type are often remembered by the victims and cleanly forgotten by the culprits.
"Anyway, little princess?"
She straightened herself when he turned on her. "Little princess" didn't suit her at all, she thought, but she deliberately kept quiet about it.
"Your fever has mostly recovered and so have your menstrual pains, I should think, so you can be relieved for now. However, since there's danger of a relapse, stay here until tomorrow."
"Yes, understood. Is it okay if he stays here as well?"
"Should be no problem. But the bed's piled right now, so help me get those boxes off!" the man grinned.
The boy gazed at the mountain of cardboard boxes the bed was buried under and slouched his shoulders.
"A compensation of equal value, I guess...?" the boy muttered. To his surprise, however, the answer was not affirming.
"Quit joking! I'll have you pay me your treatment on another occasion. This little bit of work barely makes your room rate."
The two travelers exchanged glances.
"Let me warn you: I'm not cheap, you know? There are comparatively many doctors in this town, but unfortunately, my prices are especially high."
The two shrieked inside.
"Ah, and call me 'doc', okay? First, let's get you into some fresh clothes. I brought you some which should be more or less about your sizes."
A pajama for women, and a t-shirt and a pair of jeans for men were laid on the bed.
"You're done changing?"
Behind the curtain that then opened was the girl, wearing a white pajama with blue stripes.
Having relaxed, she looked a little more like she was sickly than before.
As almost all of their clothes had gotten unwearable, the boy had had no other choice but to follow doc either, and had reluctantly borrowed some clothes from him. The jeans appeared to be brand-new, so they were fine and dandy, but the black T-shirt with a forceful white print on it got him rather bothered. On the front it said "Straight from Hell" and on the back "Children of Anarchy". He didn't count himself among some dense biker gang, after all. He could clearly sense the ill will of that obnoxious doctor, but he was not in the position of being picky.
"Just stay in bed until you feel better. It seems we'll get some of their provisions and water, so you can be at ease."
The girl let herself fall on the bed and covered herself with a blanket up to her mouth. Finding her doing this sort of lovely, he couldn't help smiling. As she seemed to perceive his delight, her cheeks ended up turning red.
The girl turned over, away from him.
"...Thanks for everything."
He reached out his hand and stroked her head.
After having a late breakfast with the girl and calming down a bit, the boy began stowing away the cardboard boxes together with doc.
Apparently, those boxes were filled with medical goods from some hospital. That Mount Everest seemed like a really stiff piece of work.
To begin with, one needed a stepladder to even get those boxes down! He didn't have enough capacities to care about their contents.
Suddenly, a shiny tiny tip poked through the cardboard box the boy was carrying.
"Whoa, doc! What the heck is this?! It's a needle! There's a needle!"
"Ah yeah, that's syringe needles you're holding there. Hospital waste, you know. I should definitely dispose of them later."
"Please don't leave such stuff behind like that! What would you do if I accidentally stuck myself with one?!"
"Don't worry. I've got disinfectants by the ton."
"You're missing the point!" he objected desperately and put the box that contained used syringe needles on the ground.
By now, there was next to no free space left on the ground of the infirmary. They were forced to put the boxes in order. They had already tried piling them up on the corridor outside, which looked however as though they were being investigated by some police troup.
Unable to bear it longer, the girl poked out her face from the bed and asked, "Hey, do you need my help?"
However, her goodwill was immediately kicked off.
"Be a good patient and shut up! You would only be in the way. You look clumsy, after all."
"Wha...?! What was that?! Don't determine the skills of someone you just met by his looks! I'm very well able to do some simple clean—" she began and bumped her hand full-speed into the tub on the washstand. The water in the tub, which was splendidly cold thanks to the ice in it, rained down on the boy with a stunning precision.
"Err... you did well, yeah. You can take a break now. The remaining tasks can only be done by a doctor anyway."
Still drenched, the boy was sent out of the building like a stray dog.
It was such beautiful weather that the pouring rain the previous night seemed like a lie. The clear sky, now freed from all pollution, was filled with a vivid blue and there was not a cloud to be seen. He felt great gazing at it—except for the fact that he looked like a drowned rat.
"I guess it wouldn't have made a great difference if I had waited until the next morning before taking her here...," he unconsciously whispered to himself with a smile.
Well, in that case he would have had the pleasure of carrying her all the way under the blazing sun. That would have been just as much of a pain, or so he had to convince himself.
The sun burned his skin with its hot beams and started to dry his soaked clothes. In the end and with the help of his own body temperature, his clothes were pretty much dry even before enough time had passed to call it a break.
Suddenly, a familiar object behind him struck his eye.
It was their silver Super Cub, which he had left behind at the barricade the previous evening.
"What's that doing here...? Did he go collect it for us?"
Cubby couldn't possibly have come here on its own. While that was certainly a funny thing to picture, it was more than improbable that their excellent yet normal Super Cub had such an autopilot function.
He turned to doc as he had heard his voice. Not that I care, but is that my new name? The doctor didn't seem to have any ill will, but he couldn't help but feel a little offended.
"I'm pretty much done preparing your bed. You can go and fetch your futon now. It's in the dressmaking room in the third floor. To reach it... well, see for yourself. You should find it."
"Understood. Where's the..."
"Key," he wanted to continue, but the keys came flying before he could even finish. A cheap plastic name card was attached to them.
"As soon as you've done that, it's lunch time. ...well, I won't serve anything extravagant, though."
"Eh, not you can't?"
"No, I won't. After all, your debt is growing and growing at the moment, isn't it?" he said and chuckled aloud. The boy got the chills. "For one thing, it was me who arranged the collection of your bike, and for another thing I've still not gotten my payment for her treatment... Oh let's see—what kind of payment should I demand from you..."
To the boy it looked as though doc's broad grin reached up to his ears. A devil's tail growing from his bottom was of course also included in this image.
At the very moment, the girl's mouth was opened more than a 45° due to a full-power yawn. While opening the mouth so largely without care brings with it the danger of dislocating one's jaw, yawning is a physiological phenomenon that can be observed in most mammals. Being not exactly dignified in general, she couldn't be expected to suppress it.
In other words, the girl was bored.
Everyone who has ever had to stay home because of a cold should understand this. The more you recover from illnesses like a cold, the more boring they get. Though you are in the course of regaining your condition, the doctor doesn't permit you to go out of bed — and due to the nature of mankind, it's inevitable that a rebellious spirit emerges that makes you want to cut and run if that doctor's not around.
She slipped into the sneakers by her bed and ran off.
Of course, she didn't intend to leave the town. All she wanted to do was getting a breath of fresh air―――
Therefore, she could pretty much see her heart shoot out of her mouth when she suddenly heard an unfamiliar voice from the room in which there was supposed to be no one else.
Was she so stricken that she heard things? Searching for a place in the infirmary where one could hide... she found one: the third bed, directly before her eyes by the window.
The girl hesitatingly raised her face.
"Um, excuse me," the voice said, upon which the curtain was slid open.
The girl took a leap backward. She bumped her calves against the edge of the bed behind her and tumbled over it, but fell down on the other side without finishing a turn.
A whang resounded as though a wrestler had just gone down, and in the next moment the door opened.
The doctor and boy entered and rounded there eyes, just to narrow them a second later.
"...what're you doing?"
"Um... well...," she tried to explain, but it was of no avail. Words could not describe why she would get in the situation of doing a headstand in pajama and sneakers with her back leaned against the bed.
"Excuse me... I have been sound asleep until just now," said a girl about the same age as the girl while bowing.
"No, excuse me for being so noisy."
The unfamiliar girl had been sleeping in the bed with closed curtains. Apparently, the boy's arrival was news to her, too, because she had been asleep all the time since the previous night.
"No no, the livelier the better," she laughed.
She was near the terminal stage.
Her skin and hair were snow white—whiter than an albino's. Since suffering from "the vanishing" did not mean getting bad blood or something, but rather that one's entire color itself faded, she did not really seem unhealthy. Her white skin made her look almost like a fairy.
As a Japanese, her eyes should have been either black or a dark brown, but hers were a lightish ashen gray. Without a doubt these were the symptoms of the terminal stages of "the vanishing".
She hadn't completely turned monochrome yet, but there was probably not much time left until she would. While the speed of the illness' progress was said to not necessarily be constant and depend on the individual, it was safe to say that her remaining time didn't sum up to very much.
"Well, I guess I'll introduce her to you," the doctor said as he stood next to her, "This little beauty is a student of this school. She pretty much lives here because she's in delicate health."
The girl in question made a bow in a slightly embarrassed manner, which, however, was truly graceful and fitted the image of an unfortunate beauty.
"Her age should be about yours; sixteen. We call her..."
She tugged at his white coat and protested to him in whispers with blushed cheeks. Seeing how desperate she seemed, the boy and girl exchanged glances.
"...Come on, that's not something you can hide. Nor is it something to think about. Okay, um... listen, her nickname is 'princess'."
"Princess?" the girl asked back in surprise.
The girl that had been called "princess" ducked her head and lowered her gaze with a bright red face. Indeed, it seemed to be the perfect nickname for her. She really looked like a princess.
"...I-I do not like that name because it is so embarrassing, but doctor just won't listen and keeps calling me "princess, princess". Because of him, everyone in town is calling me like that now..."
"But it's a perfect match," the boy said. With a natural smile that put the girl out.
You'd better not be hitting on her willingly, you player!
"Excuse me...," princess murmured toward the girl.
"Hm?" the girl asked as she glanced to her.
"Excuse me... but may I know your names? It is not fair if it is only me..."
"I see. You're right. I'm the 'girl'!"
"Quite similarly, I'm the 'boy'. Pleased to meet you, your highness!"
He once more gave a sweet smile. This time the girl unleashed her iron elbow attack — straight into his side.
By the time their group, which had now grown to four members, had a light lunch of some rolls and a seaweed salad, the girl was almost alive and kicking again. What remained was to regain some strength in her legs, which had become weak due to her cold.
One must not forget that she was quite the athlete and fighter though she looked like a corpse the day before. Getting completely healthy until tomorrow was going to be a pushover for her.
"Alright, brat. It's time for you to work," the doctor said as he stood up from a cheap-looking stool.
While putting down the aluminum plate that had been in the school's stock on the plate, the boy sighed in his mind. He was slowly getting used to that self-righteous attitude.
"Princess takes to taking a stroll in the afternoon town, you know. Sadly, I do have the incredibly boring but very important task of attending a gathering in the hospital."
"D-Doctor...," princess objected apologetically, but he ignored her.
"Therefore, boy, you're her escort today. Feel free to sight-see the town while you're at it."
"Hey doc! What about me?!" the girl objected.
The doctor thrust out his index finger before her, "You're forbidden to go outside. Therefore, I'll take those into custody." He then held up a paper bag that contained the clothes she had worn when she arrived, as well as her sneakers.
"Wha—When did you...?!"
She immediately attempted to snatch them back, but he dodged her.
"Okay, you know what to do. Don't worry, I'll be back in the early evening." He gave them a quick wave and left like the wind.
Left behind in the room was a bewildered boy and girl, and a flushed princess with her gaze pinned to the floor.
In the end, the boy accepted to escort princess and left with her for a stroll in town. The delicate princess used a wheelchair to move, hence and luckily he didn't end up having to walk hand in hand.
This did not calm the girl's wrath in the least, though, and she had glared at him like a horned beast from hell.
"Um... I am really, really sorry. We can return anytime if you are bothered..."
"Hm? Don't worry. I owe that doctor one, and most of all, it's too late to stop the girl from erupting," he answered with conviction as he pushed the wheelchair.
A bright sun that shone just as fiercely as ever welcomed them when they left the building.
He pushed her down a concrete ramp that had only been built recently as it seemed and proceeded without haste through the muddy school grounds.
"Do you need a sunshade?"
"Not yet, thanks."
"Okay," he said and dropped the subject.
To the boy's understanding, sufferers from albinism—a congenital disorder that results from inheritance of recessive gene alleles—were very sensitive to ultraviolet rays due to an insufficient amount of melanin in the skin.
Much different, the loss of color when suffering from "the vanishing" was not because of a lack of melanin. The melanin itself would simply become colorless, thus her defense against ultraviolet rays was about the same as the boy's, even though she had turned almost entirely white.
Since, however, direct sunlight could not be good for her, suffering from a weak heart, he had taken a sunshade with him just in case.
"Where is our first stop, Princess?"
"I-I really do not want to be a bother, so we can go back if you..."
"Don't say that. It's a great opportunity for me to take a look around in town, so please be my guide."
Princess looked up at the smile on his face.
"...Yes! Leave that to me!"
She beamed with joy.
"Haha! To think that my tour guide is a prince—," he started, but stopped mid-sentence because he sensed someone's dreadful anger in his back.
For some reason, he was under the impression that an aura of wrath was leaking through the gaps between the curtains of a certain room in the school behind them.
"U-Um... well, let's just get moving for now!"
The boy started to push the wheelchair at a rather quick pace, whereas Princess, a little bewildered, started talking about the town.
Meanwhile at the infirmary.
With a weird yell, the girl jumped from the bed.
Outrageous! It's downright outrageous! Why did things take this turn?
Being the unconscious lady killer the boy was, he was bound to have hit on Princess countless times already without even realizing. This was not just a wild guess, it was an attribute particular to his very existence.
...At least that's the effect he had on her, anyway.
"A delicate princess, huh", she thought, "I didn't see this coming...!"
She had been completely taken by surprise by the appearance of a new challenger who came with such an utterly girlish personality, which she could imagine herself to be like not in her wildest dreams nor anywhere else.
Well, of course this wouldn't even have happened if she hadn't passed out after catching a cold.
As she realized that she was at fault for this situation, she was left with only one way out: preventing any further love-comedy from happening. However, since she had been bereft of her everyday clothes and shoes, her equipment consisted solely of the pajama she was wearing. Even in role playing games, the player usually starts with something along the lines of simple clothes, a wooden club and a pair of sandals. Besides, bold though she was, her shame didn't allow her to go outside with just a pajama.
"Eww... I have to stop the romance & comedy course this is taking...!"
Searching for something helpful, she looked around in the room.
She found the white coat of that nasty school doctor on the back of the chair before his desk.
"...well, should do, I guess?"
She put it on only reluctantly, but she quite liked it actually as soon as she wore it. Being long and having buttons, it looked miles better than a pajama at a glance.
"Leaves only the shoes..."
Unfortunately, it was not as easy to find something like that. It wasn't common to take off one's shoes at school, after all. According to doc, there were people staying in the classrooms, but as an escapee, she would have rather not approached inhabited zones. On the other hand, while the linoleum flooring of the infirmary was no real problem, she didn't want to walk her feet wound on asphalt either.
After wandering about in school back and forth, she found a pair of sandals in the restroom of the gym. Since there were no other options, she chose to use them.
Leaving aside the wooden club, which was not needed, she had succeeded in equipping a nasty white coat, a pajama and a pair of restroom sandals.
She trotted off in high spirits and out of the school building — where she found someone she knew only too well.
"Oh, it's Cubby!"
It was without doubt their silver guardian angel, their Super Cub.
The boy could hardly have collected it, considering the timing, so she suspected the nasty school doctor might have done it.
The drenched luggage had been extended on the ground before the entrance and was being dried in the sun along with Cubby itself.
Now that she came to think of it, about a fourth of her recovery was thanks to Cubby because she would not even have reached this town without its swift feet.
Having run full throttle for half a day and been exposed to a driving rain a whole day, its silver paint was stained with dirt and muddy water.
She was suddenly overcome by a kind of sentimentality that was hard to put into words.
"...All right! You deserve a nice wash!"
Cubby's repair and maintenance was the boy's job, but she was confident to be able to wash a motorbike even by herself.
While breathing wildly through her nose, she looked through the flower beds and skillfully discovered a rubber hose and a water tap. Schools are strange institutions that make their users and customers, the students, do the cleaning, therefore she unearthed a basket and a rag in no time as well. For whatever reason, there was even car wax.
Her original objective for escaping had completely slipped her mind.
"Howdy! Not with the doctor today, princess?"
"Y-Yes. Have a nice day."
"Sure! Hey youngster, look after her, okay?"
"Yes. Just leave it to me."
They were being greeting every now and then while walking. Boss' words that it was "lively" in this town had proven to be true, or maybe it had even gotten livelier compared to the time boss was there.
The residential areas, amusement facilities and so forth had been abandoned, and most of the inhabitants had moved to the school and other large public facilities. Apparently, it was easier this way to keep track of the number of vanished people and to keep the town intact.
Unable to continue business, most of the shopping street had been closed. According to Princess, the groceries and fish shops in town had either been closed too or were only used for their equipment because there was no need to distribute foodstuff through them. The doors to stationery shops and book stores were wide open, welcoming anyone who was in need of something.
"But still...," the boy thought and said, "You sure are popular, Princess, aren't you?"
"Y-You must be wrong...," she tried to deny it while blushing, but considering that absolutely everyone they had met so far had greeted and teased her, there was virtually no persuasiveness in her words.
"It is just that I like to take strolls..."
"I see. In other words, you're the idol of this town."
He thought he had heard a gloomy tone in her voice for a split-second, but when he looked at her, she was smiling just like before.
They had come down a long and straight slope and reached the place that was sort of this town's market, where the goods from the hill and the catches of fish from the sea were exchanged or distributed. Since the time of the fish market, which was a rebuilt harbor storehouse, was a little displaced, there weren't so much people there. But still, he hadn't seen such a concentration of people in months.
"Excuse me, boy, but would you like to see the sea?"
"Yes. Since this is a harbor town, you can even go to the shoreline!"
"Sounds cool. Maybe I should go for a swim while I'm at it?"
"You should not underestimate our shores, or the next time you reach this town it will be as a drowned body."
"Eh?" he contorted his face.
"The water does not get that warm even in summer and the tides are very fast. There are no bathing places, either."
"...I'll keep that in mind."
While pushing the wheelchair, the boy swore to himself to refuse whatever it takes if the girl begged him to bath in the sea.
After he had kept walking down the town, one large hill, for fifteen minutes while following her guidance, the dark blue sea that he had seen vaguely from afar was right before his eyes.
It was a not-so-large fishing port with a couple of fishing boats floating on the waters and a lighthouse towering up at the side. An ocean breeze tickled their nose and made their hair sway.
In front of their eyes the boundless sea.
"It's really broad..."
"No, this island. I was born and raised in the capital, you know. Just can't get used to this."
"Eh...? Correct me if I am wrong, but did you come all the way from the capital?"
"We did, yeah. It took us about three months, though."
"Together with the girl?"
"Together with her, yeah."
Very surprised apparently, Princess rounded her eyes.
"Such a long time... such a long distance..."
"Well, if we hadn't had our bike, we would have been roasted before even leaving the main island," he laughed.
"Packing all your luggage on your motorcycle?"
"Yeah. We brought with us some blankets to sleep, food and water. And of course clothes and everyday goods. We would for sure be as flat as a pancake without our Super Cub."
"Ah, I guess that name conveys nothing to you? It's the name of a type of motorized bicycle that's often used for tasks like newspaper delivery or pizza delivery."
"Cubby-chan, right? What a cute name!"
At last, "Cubby" was promoted to "Cubby-chan". This was only fair, though, considering that they had been kind of promoted, too, being treated very kindly. "The next stage would be 'Cubby-tan', I suppose?" he day-dreamed meaninglessly.
"Leaving undecided whether it's cute or not, I can vouch that it's a tough vehicle! Since it was built for doing tasks, it's solid and can hold a lot of heavy stuff."
"A true worker, isn't it?"
"Indeed. And it hardly ever gets damaged."
"...Would you mind giving me a ride once later?"
Princess' beg caused him to shut his mouth at once.
All of a sudden, a fierce gust of wind cut the boy short. They quickly closed their eyes and looked the way the wind was blowing.
The sudden gust went past them in moments and left behind a silence between them.
"...Looks like the wind has gotten stronger. Shall we head home?"
"...Yes, that is a good idea."
Without responding to her prior question, the boy started to push the wheelchair.
Looking up the slope they had come down, he spotted a dot that was the school the girl was at.
Meanwhile, the situation the girl was in.
"Oooh, grandpa! Don't hit on a girl that could be your grandchild!"
"No no, but you're quite a—UGHH?!"
"M-Missy! If you hit his back so hard, he'll get a heart attack again!"
"Oh? You can leave the resuscitation to me if that happens," the girl said.
"What?! You get to enjoy a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by her?! Quick, I have to stop my heart whatever it takes!"
"You'd rather not, old boy. At our age, you'd bite the dust before her lips can even touch you. It won't be long until we'll cross the river. After all, there are more old geezers here than helpers. "
"Ha! I've been getting and turning down invitations to hell since I was in the war, and I still live at this age. Clinging to life for a few more seconds is a piece of cake!"
Without her noticing, the bike-washing girl had turned into the idol of the old people that lived at the school.
But, suddenly, along with a dull noise a bottle hit the back of her head.
Because she hadn't expected such a blow at all, she crouched down and rubbed her head. The person she found when turning around while writhing with pain that echoed within her skull was, as she suspected, the tall school doctor.
"Man!! What're you doing, you nasty doc?!"
"Oh shut up! Why can't you even listen to simple orders and lie in bed as you're told to?! You're not in kindergarten anymore, you know? Just how hare-brained are you?!" the doctor yelled with a bottle in his right hand and a leather suitcase in his left hand.
Incidentally, the content of the bottle appeared to be real Japanese sake. Even if he had restrained himself, what if he had broken it?
"Who's hare-brained?! I just... I just thought I'd thank Cubby by... by giving it a wash..."
He glanced at the Super Cub, which was indeed shining with soap and water. Compared with the dirty bike he saw that morning, it looked like a brand-new machine. Its body had been waxed and the oil-stained parts of the engine had been cleaned as well. Even the tires had been polished, making it really look like it had been born again.
"What the... you don't usually wash a car when you haven't even recovered completely, do you? What if you have a relapse because of getting cold hands and feet?"
"I won't. I have recovered already, and I don't want to stay in bed forever. It would pain my heart wasting my youth like that!"
"...Jeez. You, too, old guys... Aren't you ashamed of yourselves? You could be my fathers for crying out loud...," he said while giving the group of old men a weak reproaching glance.
The men, however, did not seem to care.
"Mmm? What could you be talking about, youngster? Sadly sadly, we're all old geezers. Can't remember a thing. By the way old boy, do you remember why we went outside?"
"I suffer from Alzheimer's, I don't know. To the toilet or something, I guess?"
"Ah, I see. Hey, that geezer over there, where was the toilet again?"
Within moments they had ad-libbed and arranged a lie. Their acting was truly masterful.
The doctor did not in the least feel like giving them praise, but he felt even less like broaching the subject.
"Whatever, you darned geezers! Hurry up and get back into your beds! Don't blame me if you get cursed to death by the grandmas!"
"Yeah yeah. Never come across such an insolent rascal that spoils this rare chance to have a chat with a young missy. That's not the stance to take towards an old man. Besides, that shrew's already six feet under. Try cursing me if you can!"
"I hope you won't regret that statement when you're six feet under too, you perverted geezer..."
While escaping from the doctor's piercing glance, the old men continued making complaints.
"Jeez... just because they don't have anything to do..."
"Ahahaha! Well, thanks to that you had the opportunity to relieve some stress, right? And I got some help."
He had no power left to counter her remark.
"Ah, reminds me that I took this out to be sure. Looks like I didn't need to," he said and tossed the girl a small, light-reflecting object.
It was a key chain she knew. Because she just hadn't been able to find it during the washing, she had assumed the boy had taken it with him.
"Cubby's key? Why do you mean?"
"Huh? Well, I thought you might chase after him if I leave it plugged there."
"Who should I chase after?"
"...Who else but that brat and Princess?"
In a fraction of a second, the light brownish tone in her face shifted to a chalk-white that lay level with any of the chalks in the school behind her.
"STOP THE LOVE COMEDYYYY!!!"
Like a streak of lightning the girl jumped on the Super Cub and plugged in the keys, upon which she kicked the starter so hard that her vehicle almost ran off without needing an engine.
"JUST WAIT, BOY!"
While popping a wheelie like in an action movie, she started driving off.
"Huh? What do you want from me?"
The next moment, she heard a response at point-blank range and Cubby's majestic front wheel came down again.
Behind her she spotted a wheel-chair pushing boy eying her suspiciously and a surprised Princess rounding her eyes.
"Eh, what? Boy?! What are you doing here?!"
"What I'm doing here...? We returned from our stroll and that's it. But what are you doing, girl?"
She was obliged to give him an answer.
But for her current state—in other words, wearing a white coat over her pajama with her sleeves rolled up and with sandals on her feet, mounting a bike—it was next to impossible to come up with a reasonable explanation.
After hearing a couple of times that the boy had merely joined Princess' stroll and nothing more, the girl accepted his excuse at last and her rage subsided. To begin with, while the boy was indeed in the midst of adolescence, he wasn't so devious as to lay hands on a sick girl.
Jeez, does she really have no trust at all in me?
"Why are you sighing all the time, boy?"
"Ah, no, never mind."
They were in the infirmary again, after having had dinner. To be exact, they were in a separated zone within that room that consisted of two of the three beds; they had closed the curtains of their beds and connected them.
Incidentally, Princess was undergoing an examination on the other side.
"Wait, don't tell me that you're regretting not being able to peep at Princess' examination..."
"No," he denied like a shot and continued packing.
Arranging the luggage they had spread out for drying required a well-planned approach. Considering the vast amount of luggage they had, it would have been very hard to pack up everything without employing a precise disposition.
Luckily, they had been able to earn themselves some supplies as compensation for helping in the kitchen and dishing up.
They were especially grateful for the replenishment of their medical goods as well as fuel, water and food.
In terms of fuel the had had only half a tank left.
However, since even this functioning town did not have any means of producing gasoline, thus gas being a limited good, the girl had had to pour the old men of the fishing association wine in order to get their hands on some fuel. Well, the girl had been all geared up to do it, so it had been no bad deal.
The girl tightly packed up the luggage they wouldn't be using anytime soon, and packed together the stuff they needed all the time and their luggage for sleeping, and pulled the zipper shut.
"All right! We're set for tomorrow."
"Whoa whoa, wanna get away from here so quickly? You're not in a hurry, are you?" the doctor asked from the other side of the curtain.
After giving a snort, the girl replied, "It's too risky to stay here! I don't want him to enter the wrong route, you know?"
She clutched her blanket and rolled over.
"And that's it. Examination's over. Looks like you're fine."
"It is all thanks to you, doctor."
After Princess had said so in her bell-like voice, the curtains that had formed their separated space got opened.
"Come on, you should get ready to sleep. Our current supply gets cut at nine o'clock, okay?"
"For real?" asked the girl as she bobbed up.
"Of course for real! We only have the hydroelectric plant at the dam up the river, so we can't waste any energy, you know? Apart from the important lifelines like our hospital, this town gets current only during daytime."
"But what about Princess then? Can she do without current?" asked the boy and looked at Princess, who for some reason blushed and cast down her gaze.
"In her case, it's just that her heart's weak, so there's no need for any life-support system. What I have in this infirmary is more than enough for now."
"Dispatched townsmen from here are operating the plant. Well, in fact they're all just amateurs, but we also got one actual employee there. With the aid of his instructions, we somehow manage to keep things running. This town looks like it had reserves, but it does not have any."
"...so these are hard times for anyone after all, huh."
"Kinda. Anyway! Get ready to sleep already. You go early to sleep and you'll also have to wake up early — should you sleep like a log, you'll get an alcohol sterilization from me right in the eyes."
"Yeah yeah, got it! I'll go to sleep."
The girl pulled the curtain shut and started to change clothes.
"You, too, Princess. You're worn out from all that happened today, aren't you?"
She returned to her bed as well, and slipped under the blanket.
"Okay then, brat, take care. I'm in the west building if you need anything."
"Aye-aye, sir," he said as he saluted.
"And little one," the doctor started.
"Should he lay a finger on Princess, kill him."
"Okay! Roger that."
Please don't answer that with lightning speed...
"What is it now?"
"I don't mind if you plan a nightly attack on this little one, but just make sure you don't disturb Princess' sleep."
"Get the fuck out you quack!!"
The girl, as red as a tomato right up to her ears, tossed a two-liter bottle of water at him.
A few minutes later, just as the doctor had announced, the lights went black, marking the coming of the night for the three in the infirmary.
The first to fall asleep was the girl. Probably she had gotten quite exhausted without noticing it herself. Upon telling the boy only two or three things she had experienced that day, she dropped off.
About thirty minutes after the lights had gone out, the boy covertly lit one of the candles the room was equipped with. While paying attention that the thin altar candle didn't extinguish, he took their diary out of the luggage.
"Are you still awake...?"
A sudden whisper made the boy raise his gaze. He brushed aside the curtain and discovered Princess, who had opened her curtain as well.
"Aah, sorry. Did I wake you up?"
"No, please do not mind it. It is just that I can't sleep because I have slept half the day already," she giggled and put on her slippers as she got off the bed. "Do you mind if I come over...?"
"Uh... ah, go ahead!" he said, hesitating a little while recalling what the doctor had told him beforehand.
Being in her pajama round the clock, perhaps she didn't give her current appearance much thought, but to the boy, a hale and hearty male, her glittering eyes in the candlelight or her delicate collarbone that looked out from her clothes were easily a bewitching spectacle for him.
While knowing his state of mind or not, she quickly got onto his bed and sat down next to him. On top of that her cheeks were blushed — or so it seemed to the boy.
While breaking into mental perspiration, he closed the diary.
"What were you doing so late at night?"
"Um, yeah, writing our diary...," he said and held the book out to her, "Take a look."
The book that passed into her hands was by no means just a thin notebook, but a splendid hardcover diary that was about five centimeters thick and had its corners brassed. There was even a brass lock to it.
"Wow, it is quite robust..."
"Found it in a bookstore in the capital. I would have preferred a lighter and thinner one, but the girl was in love at first sight."
A smile passed over his face as he recalled that page of their story. They had still been moving by bicycle during that time; he could tell a thing or two about dragging along such an unexpected and dreadful dead weight.
"Are you writing about today?"
"Yeah. There's been a lot lately. I surely don't lack writing material."
He opened the diary and started writing. He only noted down the date at the corner of the page, but no name.
"Excuse me, but why is this page blank...?" Princess asked as she pointed at the previous page.
The page that was supposed to contain the events of the prior day was completely empty.
"That was the girl's part to write! We take turns, you know."
"...But wasn't she sick that day? Why didn't you fill in for her?"
"We don't fill in for each other. Absolutely not. Or that's what the girl insists on. Once, she wrenched her right wrist and couldn't hold the pen, but she still got her way and got it down somehow."
The boy flipped through the diary and stopped at a page from mid-May. And indeed, a impressive handwriting that looked like a sloshed slug dancing Samba struck their eyes.
"Not even I can read what's written there... and she said she forgot..."
Suddenly, he noticed that Princess was staring at him. When he looked up with his heart skipping a beat, she timidly opened her mouth.
"Excuse me... but would you mind telling me about what you experience on your journey?"
"What we experienced?"
"Yes. I would love to hear your stories. May I?"
There was no reason to turn her request down.
The boy decided to tell those stories she was likely to find interesting.
Princess scurried back to her bed and returned with a set of things: some spare candles and a thermos bottle with jasmine tea—everyone's best friends for a bedtime chatter—plus hand-made cookies by Princess as their tea biscuits. With that, the preparations were set, and it looked as though they were about to start a midnight tea party. After shutting the curtain so as to not be found by a certain mean doctor, the story of the boy and girl's tour across the land began.
How they set off. How they tumbled together into a rice field when their light suddenly got broken while driving along a country path. How they almost got washed away when they tried to traverse some river because the engine of their motorbike conked out.
Furthermore, what they experienced after they had come over to this island. At ease and without haste, he told their memories, while taking a bite of her cookies or sipping at the jasmine tea from time to time.
While listening to the story about the director and Boss, Princess got teary-eyed and when he told her about the girl getting a fever, she covered her mouth.
All of those bizarre memories appeared extremely nostalgic to him, and now that he thought about it, they had had a really hard time overcoming them. In that rice field story, he had sprained his leg and had thus become unable to operate the clutch pedal, giving them no other choice but having the girl do the driving, and in that river story, the girl had almost been drowned. What had been in the story at Boss' place goes without saying.
Mysteriously, however, they all seemed like enjoyable moments when he recalled them. He could classify them as truly happy memories, not just as funny stories at his own expense.
That was most likely because the girl had been with him, being noisy at times, overhasty and a glutton bursting with energy.
The boy chose not to say that, though. Much in the world does not get conveyed without putting it into words, but he believed that there were things that could only unfold their true value when conveyed without words.
Before he knew it, it was about to get late at night.
"...Wow, I talked quite a bit, didn't I? Aren't you sleepy?"
"I am fine. I completely forgot the time because it was so thrilling," she giggled in an elegant manner and put the jasmine tea cups and the cookie plate into the water-filled sink.
The boy glanced at the candle, which had lost quite a lot of its size, and stood up.
"It's quite late already, so I suggest we get some rest. We have to get up early tomorrow, right?"
He nodded and closed his curtain after confirming that Princess had sat down on her bed.
The shadow that passed over her face when she gave him that answer resembled what he saw earlier this day in a way.
While feeling some slight doubts arise, he went to sleep.
A human's sleep switches back and forth between a shallow phase and a deep phase, with a cycle lasting about two hours. Whether this had any influence remains unknown, but the boy woke up after four hours just.
He opened his eyes and saw a pitch-black ceiling. There was no candle burning, so it was really and truly pitch-black.
It was a riddle to him why he had woken up. He had not even slept that much since the previous day, and in fact, he was still tired.
And yet, his consciousness had awoken.
He slowly erected himself and could confirm that the girl was still sound asleep besides him. Her ability to sleep so soundly after having slept so much was already worth being called a gift.
Sadly, however, with her scratching her exposed belly, her arms and legs spread out all over the bed, her head way off the pillow and her blanket kicked off the bed, she did not exactly look like a lady. Not even like a young and wholesome student.
After letting out a sigh, he adjusted her posture and put the blanket on her. He took a little gulp of the PET bottle next to his bed and was about to return to his bed to sleep when he suddenly noticed that Princess' curtain was opened. What was more, the only thing there was the moonlight shining through the window, but she was not to be seen.
"...to the toilet, perhaps...?" he murmured and, while tilting his head, laid his hand on the masterless bed. It was too cold for assuming that she had gone to the toilet.
"Escape," he thought for a moment, but that was kind of silly. After all, this wasn't the girl, and it was a most unlikely thought that such an obedient girl would escape in the dead of the night. Well, with her weak body, it was impossible anyway.
Then, his gaze stopped at the table next to his bed. The candle and saucer Princess had brought over for the tea party was not there anymore. Neither was the freshly-updated diary.
The boy grumbled, feeling an unrest of sorts.
He couldn't seem to sleep anymore even if he huddled into his blanket. For a restful sleep and a smooth awakening, he had no other choice but to do a good deed.
The boy slipped into his school shirt, still in his Pajama, put on his shoes and left the infirmary.
Together with a lit candle on a saucer, the boy left the school building. Since the night, as one might expect, was rather chilly, he sneezed once.
"Okay, where to start," he worried. But his worry was cleared just moments later.
He discovered a mysterious light source in the center of the school grounds. It was the same kind of candle he had with him. He could make out a silhouette sitting there with bent knees besides the orange light.
It was Princess. He didn't know why, but he could tell with with certainty.
When he approached her, Princess noticed his candle and turned to him.
"You'll catch a cold if you're here at night!"
"...It is already early morning, though," she giggled. But her smile was not the bright smile from yesterday, but contained a self-deprecating tone. Something bothered the boy about it.
"What are you doing here at this time?"
He sat down next to her on the cold ground.
"...it is not like I was doing something special. Sometimes, I just cannot stay in that infirmary anymore."
"Well, it surely doesn't exactly look like it's entertaining sitting in there all day..."
"I'm only sleeping the entire day with nothing to do. To begin with, I do not have any hobbies," she said and looked up at the night sky. The moon surrounded by a sheer infinite number of stars hung in the cloudless sky. "...I have not really done anything in my life..."
"Isn't that inevitable when you have been sick all along...?"
Princess turned to him again. The boy shrunk back a little because the candlelight lit her face in a mysterious manner.
"But I am not, you know?"
"Eh...?" His thinking failed to catch up with her strange correction.
"The word 'sick' describes the condition when a healthy body system ceases to work properly, right? And my body is working properly."
"But why do you..."
...live in that infirmary then. If there was no abnormality to her body, why did she not live like anyone else?
"'My heart is weak'. It is as simple as that."
"I do not know what it is called like since the official name has vanished already, but I suffered from a sickness that involved a damaged blood flow at the heart. Innate." Again she looked up at the night sky. "That was an additional burden to my heart. After finding out about it and doing a couple of examinations, I underwent surgery when I was in the fourth year of elementary school. The surgery succeeded at closing the hole, but by that time, my heart was already worn out."
The boy kept quiet. Probably, she was not expecting his answer anyway.
"I was told that due to a hole in my cardiac wall, my heart had had to bear up against five times as much burden as a normal heart. Isn't that queer? Even though I am still sixteen, I have the heart of a granny!"
"That's why you say your heart is weak...?"
"Yes. My pulse soars up if I do just a little sports, or I get fits if I become too excited. This is also why Doctor always looks after me. I have been in his care ever since I came to this school nearly four months ago."
The boy's gaze suddenly fell on the diary in her hands.
"...Excuse me. I knew I should not, but I read it."
He wanted to tell her that she didn't have to be worried about that, but his tongue just wouldn't produce his voice for him.
While the boy was at a loss for words, Princess pressed the solid and thick diary against her chest.
"It was a great read. Your and the girl's adventures appeared vividly to me as though I was there myself. I even thought about writing a diary myself."
Suddenly, the smile on her face was lost. She tightly embraced the diary while casting her gaze to the ground.
"But it is no use. If I kept a diary, it would be solely about my heart. 'Today I got a fit', 'today I went to the hospital', 'today I got a fever and had to stay in the infirmary', and so forth and so forth." She put on a smile again. The self-deprecating smile. "That is why I am jealous of you two. Touring across the land with someone who's really dear to you, overcoming all hurdles on the way... But to me, doing that is..."
The boy kept silent.
"I have never gone on a journey, nor have I ever gone out with friends. Back when one student after another vanished from this school, I was not sad, either, because I had not one friend," she said and stood up. With her back to the boy, she slowly walked toward the school building. "I have lived without doing anything since elementary school. And I am going to vanish without having achieved anything."
Princess twirled her white hair in her slender finger. Her pure white hair gleamed like silver in the light of the moon.
But it was a vicious light.
It was a gleam of despair that vividly portrayed that she did not have much time anymore.
Princess turned around to the boy while desperately trying to smile.
"But please do not misunderstand me. It's not like I am being pessimistic! Just look at the world. The 'vanishing' is spreading. We vanish one by one, regardless of our nationality, whether we're young or old, and about as randomly as death itself."
These words sounded as contorted to the boy as they did not suit her.
"...Once, I came to wonder if I really 'was lucky that I have not vanished'."
Unable to follow her, the boy flashed a suspicious mien for a moment.
"What do you mean?"
"I wondered if it's not that I 'did not vanish', but that I was 'left behind'."
The boy held his breath.
"Just think about it: as soon as a human deceases, his brain stops as well and his body starts to rot. But even though it was scientifically proven that humans are just lumps of meat and the existence of souls still remains unconfirmed, trillions of people believe in a world after death. So why should I not believe in a world after vanishing, when not a thing has been learned about the 'vanishing'?" There she stopped her talk and, probably because she had gotten worked up, pressed her hand against her chest. "...Therefore, the 'vanishing' means salvation to me. If I vanish, I can join the others... without ever having to suffer... from this heart, anymore..."
There was a heavy silence between them. The originally chilly night wind felt as thought it was terribly moist, and both speaking and remaining silent required a strong will.
He didn't know after how much time, but it was the boy who opened the mouth.
"......Oh, I completely forgot!"
A strange utter escaped her lips when the boy suddenly broke the silence with a stupefied voice.
"Ah, you know, I just remembered that you told me you wanted to ride Cubby yesterday."
"Well... um, yes. I did say so..."
Princess was taken aback by the sudden topic change. No wonder - her incredibly serious talk was at once replaced by the continuation of their leisure conversation from yesterday afternoon.
"Wanna try it? Now."
The boy gave Princess, who had literally rounded her eyes, a through and through mischievous grin.
"Yeah. Right now."
If "looks can kill" has yet to be confirmed, but apparently they cannot over distance. Because if they could, then the boy would have dropped dead for sure.
"THAaT F*CkInG PLaYERrrRRrR!!!"
The girl was glaring at the school grounds while grinding her teeth. The window frame of the entrance was screaming in pain in her hands, but the offender, the girl, was focused on the two silhouettes in the center of the grounds and did not even lend it an ear.
The desire to go to the toilet had woken her up, but then she had noticed that there was no trace of the boy and Princess, and after searching around while considering the wildest possibilities, her fears had come true, after all.
"Taking delight in the candlelight together in the dead of the night, my dear companion? I wonder what their lovely conversation is about..."
Out of sheer fury, her choice of words had become polite.
From that distance she could of course make out no word of their talk, but it was obvious to the eye that they were having fun. Even worse, they were both in their pajamas. A "slip" could happen any moment. After all, the boy was a healthy animalyoung boy, so he might have very well turned from a "boy" into an uncontrollable "male".
"Oh, what are you doing here, Missy?"
She spun around and found the old men from yesterday afternoon. The over-energetic grandpas were assembled all together.
"UHYA! G-Good lord! What a dreadful face!"
"Wha! What's that mean?! How can you call a matchless beauty like me dreadful?!" she roared, but the old men heaved a sigh of relief.
"Oh, I was sure you'd murder us. You looked more dreadful than the one-eyed bear I once came across in the mountains when I was young."
"Even you are against me, grandpa? Jeez!"
But there she recalled her mission and turned around. The boy and Princess, who had been in the center of the school ground until moments before, weren't there anymore.
"AAHH! THEY GOT OFF!!!"
"Mm? Are you looking for a ghost or something, missy?"
"No way, old man, no way. With that grimace of hers, any ghost would mistake her for a hellhound and flee."
"You never know! There are plenty grandpas in this school that serve as ghost candidates. At the very least, we don't lack headcount."
"Bollocks! The bunch here are all sinners that won't let go of life even when they lived out their allotted span. They go to hell before they can even think about becoming ghosts!"
"Nah! There's no real difference between a mummy and that dried-out bunch. The grim reaper will hardly be able to notice when someone bites the dust. Hey guys, do you still have your legs?"
The girl massaged her temple in bafflement. "Grandpas...... Aren't you forgetting that you are the representatives of that bunch you're talking about?"
"Indeed, I cannot deny that possibility. After all, we're senile grandpas," the old man answered without problem, causing the girl to let out the biggest sigh she could.
Then, she suddenly noticed something.
"Come to think of it, what are you doing here at this time, grandpas? It's three in the night, you know?"
"You shouldn't make light of us, Missy! If it's three o'clock, it's morning. Time to go to work!"
Only now the girl noticed that they weren't in their everyday clothes and pajamas anymore, but in waterproof trousers and jackets, wearing caps.
"Sure! We're putting out to sea to go fishing."
The group of old men guffawed all together.
"But grandpas, haven't you reached the retirement a—no, didn't you retire already? You belong to the retirement home, don't you?"
"Well, we do. But you see, unfortunately the young fisher folks have almost entirely gone away. In the beginning, we tried to leave the fishing to all the office worker who had nothing to do, but they don't know how to steer a boat. They don't know how to fish, either. Well, and the next in line to play instructor was us old crocks!"
"Are you okay? Won't you suddenly kick the bucket when a big one bites?"
"No worries. Should that happen, I'll throw him into the sea and catch a whale or something with him."
"Fiddlesticks! You won't catch a whale with dried fodder like us. You won't even get a shark to drop by!"
Again the group guffawed at the remark of one of them.
"Seems like hard work, huh...," the girl said, half-impressed, half-dumbfounded.
"Oh well, you can say that. But you know, I have watched enough Mito Koumon in the assembly room of the retirement home. It's a good way to kill time."
"Word! That show gets boring over time, it's not even funny. Why should grandpas watch stories about grandpas? We want to get to watch some emotive love dramas, too!"
"...As long as you are here, grandpas, this town is safe," the girl laughed lopsidedly and caused a laughter around her.
Suddenly, she heard the familiar buzzing of an engine from somewhere. That dull but somehow strong sound was bound to be their Super Cub's.
"Oh? Doesn't that sound come from your motorbike?"
"Yes, it does! The boy and Princess have met secretly. Don't know what they're up to, though."
The old men laughed upon hearing her sour explanation.
"Now if that's no emergency! That lad might elope with Princess! Should you really be lazing about here?"
"That's impossible. Absolutely."
Her point-blank confident answer baffled the old men for a moment. They had expected that she would rush to the boy, full of anxiety.
Targeted by countless wondering gazes, she scratched her head.
"Since it looks like you haven't realized yet, let me tell you something," she started, spread her legs and crossed her arms. "You know what? The boy is mine. And I'm his. Therefore, he's not going to elope with anyone," she said with absolute conviction.
With a snort she strutted back into the school.
While gazing after her, the old men laughed again.
"...Now that's something. Looks like that lad won't get away."
"Indeed... but oh..."
"What's wrong, old boy? Hemorrhoids?"
"Bollocks! ...I just, you know... imagined what this missy will be like when she's old..."
There was a silence.
The buzzing of the engine echoed through the nightly streets. Now that there weren't any artificial sounds, the noise from the exhaust pipe sounded louder than ever.
The Super Cub, which had been stopped by the school gates, had dried by now and was gleaming like a brand-new vehicle when lit by the moon.
"Wow... It has been a long time since I last heard the engine of a motorcycle..."
"So there are really none? Actually, I've been thinking all along that the inhabitants of this town must have assembled all cars and such at one place to drain out their fuel because I saw none."
"Yes. We transport things in bicycle trailers, whereas we ourselves go by bicycle. Electric cars run with a battery, so we only use fuel for our boats. But we're in the course of attempting different ways to operate them with electricity as well... "
"I see. Well, get on for now," the boy said as he patted the saddle.
When the girl had washed the silver Super Cub and had spread out the luggage to dry, all luggage had been taken off, so there was nothing on it but a tandem seat built with a blanket.
He had removed the stand, but Princess seemed like she couldn't calm down.
"E-Excuse... me, but...," she stuttered while looking at the boy, expecting something from him.
Seeing that his presumption had proven true, the boy put on a mischievous smile. "I'm sorry to let you down, but I don't let anyone use my tandem except for the girl. So, you're sitting up front."
Princess's jaw dropped for a moment.
"Y-You cannot be meaning to let me drive?"
"Well, the one who sits up front drives."
"Does that mean I have to operate the handle and the brakes?!"
"Sorta. Because that's what we call 'driving'."
It was finally conveyed to her that the boy was "serious".
"No way...! I have only ridden a bicycle until now..."
"Well? Isn't that what's normal for a sixteen years old?"
"I don't even have a license..."
"Neither do I and the girl! We practiced on the way and worked it out ourselves."
Implicitly shattering her last resort, the boy got on the tandem.
"You're next. Come!"
Princess took his hand, and while hers was trembling, he managed to pull her onto the bike without resistance.
"It gets kinda cold when you're riding, so better put this on."
The boy put his jacket on her and she, in a fluster, slipped into its sleeves. The diary they stowed away in the front cage.
However, the moment she was confronted with the handle and the clutch pedal, she froze.
"No... I just can't..."
"Mm... yeah, operating the clutch pedal without knowing how is a little hard. Okay! I'll take over the footwork! You only have to operate the handle and throttle."
The boy stretched out his legs and placed them on the pedals. He grabbed her trembling hands and put them on the handle.
"Okay, let's GOO!!"
He suddenly and vigorously stepped on the accelerator.
Giving Princess not even time to gulp, the Super Cub sped up at once.
"Come on, come on! I'm letting go! We're not wearing a helmet, so we'll go to heaven if we fall!"
Princess quickly grabbed the handle in place of the boy, who had irresponsibly stopped steering. Because she had probably not been on a two-wheeler in years, the vehicle started to sway left and right.
"I can't!! I just can't!!"
"Cool down, cool down. Look, we're getting on."
The rampaging Super Cub with the two on it was beyond the school gates in no time and made a left turn while almost crashing into the wall before a house.
"I am dying! I am going to die!"
"You won't, unless we fall."
"I'm saying this because we are about to fall!"
In truth, they would have stopped immediately if she just took her hands from the the throttle. However, the boy was in a mischievous mood, so he didn't tell her.
"By the way, Princess. Do you know what's over there on the right?"
Because of his question, she turned the handle to the right, half unconsciously.
They cut a smooth curve—and arrived on the long, long slope they had walked down yesterday. The road led straight down to the port without any obstacle.
At the same time as the motorbike accelerated fiercely, Princess' scream advanced from "a scream of fear" to "a scream for her life". The wind that was whipping against her face also contributed to her growing confusion.
"Look at this! The needle of the speedometer went past the max! If we tumble at this speed, we're dead for good."
"Aah, please don't use the handle brake. It's for the front brake, you know. The rear brake is operated via the pedals. If you operate the front brake at this speed... you can figure, right?"
"What?! That's cruel!"
"Now, now. I'm keeping you company."
"Expecting that you will be taken with me to the next world?!"
The Super Cub bombed down the slope at a monstrous speed.
In truth, however, they probably weren't that fast, but she didn't notice because the maximum of the speedometer was set at 60kmph. But considering it was her first ride on a motorbike and she didn't know how to slow down, her dread must have been beyond the normal. Her head was blanked out with pure panic, in the end depriving her of any clear thoughts until they reached the bottom.
"Come on, turn the handle or we're going straight into the sea!"
Upon hearing his words, Princess' got as pale as one can get. Before her eyes was a crossroad, and further ahead was the sea. What was going to happen to her weakened heart if she suddenly leaped into the sea, at night and on this island?
It was obvious. Her heart creaked when the word "death" immediately came up in her head.
At once, her hands turned the handle of themselves.
The boy, trying to assist her, leaned toward one side, making the plastic cowling scrape against the ground.
Thanks to the charity of the gods or the protection of a devil, the silver Super Cub successfully cut a curve and smoothly recovered its posture.
With their field of vision returned from lopsided to even, they drove down a straight road along the sea while finally slowing down.
Princess' horror suddenly broke off and she let go of the handle.
"Whoops," the boy said as he took over for her and continued to slowly apply the brakes. Princess pressed both her hands against her heart while breathing wildly.
Concerned about her, the boy looked at her from behind her shoulders.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes... I was just, a little startled..."
He smoothly returned the handle to her and opened his mouth.
The teasing tone had disappeared from his voice, which had turned calm now.
The boy paused, sorting his thoughts, and continued a few moments later, "...Listen, I think this way it's a waste."
"Your life. Your life from now until you vanish someday."
Princess held her breath.
"You know, it's not like I came all way here on my own! I am only here now because the girl and I supported each other. Besides, we didn't come by foot. We had were supported by these 60kmph fast feet of Cubby's," he said as he kicked the cowling. "And still we would not have been able to come this far just by three of us. We received help from people we met underway. Lots of help." He tapped her head. "Look, you did it. You're riding Cubby. Maybe you can only barely do sports, maybe your body is weak. But look, you're riding right here, right now. Come, try speeding up."
She opened the throttle, upon which the Super Cub obediently accelerated. The scenery that passed by their sides got faster as well, and the wind against their face grew stronger.
"Look, you're riding. And you'll get the knack of operating the clutch pedal with some practice! I even think it's easier than learning how to ride a bicycle."
"But for me... doing that is..."
Princess could not see the mischievous grin that flashed on his face.
"Was there anything lately you gave your all for?"
"...!" she held her breath.
"See? That's why I think it's a waste. It's still too early to give up everything! At least when you still have energy and time left," he said and continued, "Besides, even if you can't do it alone, there are lots of kind and good-willed people around you, aren't there? Those people aren't kind to you because they are scheming something or have some ulterior motive. So why don't you just take advantage of their goodwill? You can still show your gratitude afterwards."
A smile escaped her lips upon hearing his rather outrageous advise.
"...it is a little rude to put it that way, isn't it?"
"The best way to appreciate goodwill is to accept it! Just take me for an example: if you told me that you wanted to go on a journey and needed my help, I would gladly lend you a hand! A smooch on the cheek will do as compensation."
"Really...? Maybe I should say so, then?"
Princess took a breath and, without turning around, spoke in a slightly louder voice than normally so that the boy behind her could hear her.
"'I want to go on a journey and I need your help.'"
"...All right! Just leave it to me. Sadly, I can't take you with us because Cubby can only carry two persons, but instead, I shall teach you the secrets of traveling."
"The secrets of traveling?"
"Yeah. The innermost secrets from an experienced traveler. They're indispensable, I tell you!"
"Please teach let me in on them!"
"All right, wash out your ears! ...No, you don't have to actually do that, just listen. The first secret: 'Absolutely go to the toilet before setting off'."
"Haha, you sound as if you were talking about a school excursion."
"You mustn't make light of that! It's not the first secret by chance! You know, two weeks after we set off on our journey———"
Neither of them had really gotten any sleep, but the boy and Princess and Super Cub continued their joyful chat nevertheless. The two humans and machine drove along a long, straight road along the sea while lit by the rising sun.
In the end it was four o'clock when they returned to the infirmary.
By that time the sun had already risen, and the early-rising town was slowly starting to brim with life.
He didn't know what time Doc had planned for them to wake up, but he guessed that he could consider himself lucky if he had more than one more hour of sleep. After stopping Cubby where it has been before and having the tired Princess go to sleep, he quickly turned to his own bed.
However, there was something inside. In his bed.
A human-shaped bulge in his blanket easefully was rising and sinking along with a calm breath.
He moved his gaze to the girl's bed, but it was empty. In order to confirm a half-confirmed assumption, he pulled away the blanket.
As expected, he found the girl underneath, sleeping there while hugging his pillow.
He didn't know whether she willfully broke into his bed or just mistook it because she was half-awake, or if there was even another reason, but there she was, sleeping in his bed.
This situation left him with two options.
Either he went into her empty bed while grumbling, or he could seize the opportunity and sleep in the same bed as her.
The boy immediately selected the latter, for he was a healthy young boy. As a man, there was no way round choosing this, as it allowed him to sleep together with his beloved girl as well as see her blushing because it was her sneaking into his bed. He could not let this opportunity slip, since the last time he had that chance, the night before, he was sound asleep and shortly afterwards knocked out.
He braced himself and sneaked under the blanket. The missing pillow he substituted by borrowing the one in the girl's bed. He made himself comfortable besides the girl and relaxed.
The next moment, he found himself in a headlock.
"...?" Princess tilted her head.
She was hearing strange noises from beyond the curtain. The boy's bed was creaking up and down along with a sound that resembled the death cry of a tuna.
Was he doing some special exercise for his health before going to bed?
After a while and something that sounded like the scream of a duck that was being necked, it grew silent again.
Apparently, he finished his exercise. Princess let out a small sigh and snuggled herself into her blanket.
Although she couldn't remember it afterwards, she had a wonderful dream.
By the time the clock hand showed nine o'clock, the girl was to be found in front of their Super Cub.
She seemed somewhat moody, but she did not slack off while doing her work, which was much like her.
She had also returned the pajama and was in her usual school uniform again. Of course, she was not as foolish as to set against the sun, which was shining up in the blue sky like there were no tomorrow, with her full winter uniform. As she was used to, she had taken off the jacket and only wore the shirt.
However, for some reason there was no boy.
"Damn, are you really setting off already? Somehow I have the feeling that you haven't payed off your debts yet," he sighed deeply and scowled at the girl.
The doctor had taken off his white coat and was in the suit he usually wore, but she thought that toilet sandals and sunglasses suited him horribly in that outfit.
"Please put it on the bill. We'll pay up the next time we come here."
"And when would that be?"
The girl scratched her head and started to count with her fingers.
In the meantime, the boy returned from the shopping district with a small packet in his hands.
While gazing at the boy, who helped loading their stuff, the doctor let out another sigh.
"...Where do you guys want to go, anyway?"
"What a silly question!" the girl giggled and exchanged glances with the boy.
""To the end of the world!""
Having his question answered by both of them simultaneously, the doctor rounded his eyes. He laughed up, flabbergasted, and removed his sunglass.
"...in that case I would be stupid if I didn't demand a ridiculously high interest rate."
"Hey, hey, Doctor. Please do not play mean!" someone joked from behind, causing him to turn around.
There he found a Princess who had not only waived her wheelchair, but was not even wearing her pajama.
Of course she wasn't naked, but in a casual outfit consisting of beige slacks and a white T-shirt with a print. They had only known her since half a day, but still this outfit looked very fresh to them.
Seeing the doctor's jaw drop, a smile escaped the boy's lips.
"Okay, all set."
The girl patted the tandem seat and confirmed that the rope around their luggage was properly tensed.
He gave her the thumbs up and put on his half-helmet as always.
Watching him, Princess giggled.
"Cubby-chan looks quite different compared to yesterday."
Fair enough. All luggage had been taken off the time Princess had ridden on it.
"Is it really not going to break under such a heavy load?"
"Yeah, don't worry:"
He was about to add, "This motorbike is tough, you know!" but then he suddenly flashed a grin, and instead he said, "...In that case, Princess, would you mind helping us make it a bit lighter?"
A question mark popped up above her head because of his sudden proposal.
"Here, I give this to you."
He fished out a A5-sized thick book from the luggage and held it out to her. It was a diary with a light bluish cover. As was right and proper, it was equipped with a belt and a small lock.
It was quite heavy when she took it into her hands. Though not as much as theirs, the cover was thick. It was a well-made diary.
"Where did you...?"
"I fetched it in a bookstore in the shopping district just now. Be it riding, be it keeping a diary, I think it's important to get started," he said, smiling.
Princess gulped and opened the lock with a tiny key and a nice-sounding click.
While trying to calm down her throbbing heart, she gently opened the binding. With the fresh glue creaking slightly, a page appeared that had never been opened before.
This diary was still empty. All of its easily over 300 pages were completely blank. Not even a date was written there.
I am going to fill it.
The tears won't stop.
As she couldn't seem to keep calm if she looked at it any longer, she closed the book as gently as she opened it. After closing the lock, she looked up at the boy.
"...Thank you so much. I will keep it dear."
"M. If you manage to fill all the pages, a nice present from me is waiting for...," and there the girl hit his head.
"Don't make promises you can't keep! Jeez... always giving the presents to other girls..."
Upon hearing the girl's monologue, which also contained some of her real thoughts, Princess tightly embraced the diary in her hands, stroking the pretty blue cover and pressing her cheeks against it as if it were a baby.
"Forget it, I have already received this! It is mine now. I will absolutely not give it back."
A smile escaped Doctor's lips, who had been watching Princess talk more than ever.
"...Kidding aside, where do you plan on going now? And I'm not talking about 'the end of the world', but your next concrete destination."
"Aah, haven't thought about that... We originally headed up north because we guessed it would get hot."
"Then go southwards."
His suggestion caused all three to cock their heads.
"According to what I heard from a recent evacuee, there's a ferryboat somewhere on the Noto Peninsula that leaves for the mainland about once every month. You can pass over to the mainland if you have them give you a lift."
The boy and girl exchanged glances.
"The mainland, huh... Sounds fun, but I can't speak any Chinese..."
"Why should you care? They don't understand your language, either, so it's fair game!"
His logic was quite absurd, but since they indeed were on an island, it was true that there was no way around either making a U-turn or traversing the ocean. Perhaps it was just right to have a concrete target when they were going southwards anyway. It was also true, that they weren't exactly looking forward to spending the winter on this island.
"But we should have known that a little earlier..."
"Well, that can't be helped," the boy smiled and jumped on the saddle.
"All right, give the grandpas my regards."
"Got it. But it remains to be seen if they remember it because I bet they're drowning the loss of their Missy in an alcohol feast."
"Ahaha! You're in charge of keeping them here when they're about to kick the bucket, Doc!"
"Must be a bad joke. How many crocks that are about to do exactly that do you think we have here? I'll need at least one company of emergency doctors!"
While these two were laughing together, Princess approached the boy.
"Please hang in there and protect the girl."
"Roger. But hang in there as well, okay? There are many obstacles to overcome."
"Yes. Ah... and you forgot something."
The boy spun around to the carrier.
In that momentary gap, Princess stretched herself.
*Smooch* A sound as delicate as the tweet of a bird resounded, followed by the soft touch on his cheek.
As if the whole world had turned mute, everyone became silent and gazed at Princess, whose cheeks had reddened slightly. Especially the girl and doctor were bereft of speech and had their very eyes torn open to the limit.
"...As you wished, the smooch reward for the 'secrets' you taught me," Princess laughed mischievously.
It was a joyful smile that neither the boy, nor the girl, nor the doctor and not even Princess herself had ever seen before.
However, hell itself was waiting for the boy.
"You bastard!! TRAITOOOORRR!!"
Once again he was captured in her headlock and was being choked.
"I'm... I'm dying! I'm dying!"
The boy hurriedly opened the throttle and sped up. But the girl showed no fear at all and continued squeezing his neck.
While completely ignoring the wondering glances of Doctor and Princess, the Super Cub wriggled out of the school grounds with its driver slowly losing his life energy.
As soon as the Super Cub engine had entirely become inaudible, the doctor whispered, "...That was a noisy duo."
"Yes. And I am jealous of that."
Surprised by her words, he looked at her. He knew Princess as a girl who would never ever say it aloud even if she was jealous of anyone. He didn't know whether this was to pay respect to the others or to keep herself from feeling small, but not once he had heard that word from her mouth in the couple of months he had spent with her.
He also didn't know whether she was aware of her own change, but her countenance was clearly different from before. He could not even imagine what had happened between her and the boy the previous night.
Suddenly, he spotted a small something by the feet of Princess', whom he had gazed at.
It was a longish piece of paper with letters on it. Apparently, it was a bookmark made of thick paper. One side had been perforated and adorned with a pink ribbon.
The bookmark seemed to be hand-made, but its shape was a little uneven. Probably it had been made in a hurry.
"Hey Princess, what's this?"
She accepted the piece of paper Doctor had picked up and read the letters on it. She recognized it as the boy's writing because it resembled the handwriting she had seen in his diary. Written with clean letters, it read, "...'From the owner of Diary #1 to the owner of the Diary #2, the innermost secret. There is one rule you must keep whatever it takes when you write into this diary.'..."
The text stopped there and continued on the backside. The doctor, peeking interestedly at the text from beside her, wondered what was meant by 'innermost secret'.
Princess, still brimming with curiosity, flipped the bookmark around.
"...'Do not write any names in this diary. Be it your own names or the names of people and places you come across: you must not write any proper nouns. If you observe this rule, your writings shall remain'..."
Like a damaged light, it required a few moments until she understood what it said. And it struck her like a thunderbolt.
This bookmark showed the way to the loophole in the 'vanishing'.
When a person disappears due to the 'vanishing', it's the notifications of his name, the photographs and painting taken of him, the paintings by him and texts written by him that disappear along with him.
In the case of texts, unless it can be recognized at a glance that it was written by him, only those disappear that have the signature of the vanishing person.
That's why the "stop" signs on the streets didn't disappear and why parts of signboards that hadn't contained the shop's name were still there.
In that case, it was possible to leave behind texts by making it unclear "who has written it" and "who it was about".
It was possible to engrave one's trails in the world.
For a while Princess was absorbed in thought, while embracing the diary into which she had put the bookmark.
Though as dear the two travelers were to her, she had forgot about them for a moment and was thinking about her own path.
Before her eyes were the wide open school gates. Until now, these gates had been the start point as well as the goal for her strolls into town.
The gates themselves had not changed, but it was not too much to say that the world in Princess' eyes had undergone a radical change.
The possibility of going to other cities—even to other countries—beyond these gates had suddenly appeared to her.
The hope in the unknown, the thirst for the unknown and the fear from the unknown. Her rationality was telling her to stop such a reckless endeavor, but the boy's voice was still echoing in her heart. The love for her hometown was holding her back, but there was an empty diary in her chest.
All sorts of thoughts were running and dancing through her head.
However, she wiped away that chaos with just one deep breath.
The school doctor looked at Princess who had just turned to him.
"I... want to go on a journey and I need your help."
For a split second, he rounded his eyes and looked away then.
He put on his sunglasses to conceal his eyes and started a tap dance of indecision and distress by doing strange things like scratching his head in some kind of agony, crossing his arms, meaninglessly checking the time or looking up at the sky to see how the weather was. It was the moment that his cool and collected style was shattered to pieces.
No one know whether the doctor understood the concept of a man's weakness or not.
If he did or not, this word, spoken by a weak beauty with tough luck who looked up at him with puppy eyes in a pleading voice right before his eyes, pierced his heart for sure.
"...Come to think of it, a pal of mine from the medical school who works at the hospital now told me that he wanted to get rid of one of his motorbikes. One with a sidecar."
"Yahoo! You come with me, don't you, doctor?!"
"Y-Yeah. I guess I'll have the hospital dispatch someone for the old crocks here."
"But I am driving, okay?"
"HAA?! It's a large-size motorbike, you know?! The dead weight is easily three times your weight!"
"I do not care! Nothing is impossible with some practice! So I am looking forward to your instructing!"
"O-Okay...," he nodded, and while doing so, fired up his imagination.
What he saw was a slender Princess on a large motorbike in a black leather suit, wearing classic goggles and a crimson scarf, and himself in the sidecar, frantically trying to fit his legs into the sparse space.
"...Just one request, Princess."
"What is it, Doctor?"
"......Can we take turns at least?"
This was the start of Princess' journey. And the first page of her diary was sure to tell the events of that day.
- ↑ If you are interested, the original text refers to a so-called "Juunihitoe". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juunihitoe
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