I moved my pencil intently. Particles of lead adhered to the paper, curves overlapped with each other, and gradually the previously white sketchbook became filled with gray. But still, I couldn’t fully capture the scenery in my mind.
Every morning, I ride the train to school amidst rush hour. Sit through boring classes. Eat with Tsukasa and Takagi. Walk through the city, gaze up at the sky. Somewhere along the way, the blue of the sky had started to grow darker. The trees by the roadside had started to gain color.
At night, in my room, I draw. My desk is buried in heaps of encyclopedias borrowed from the library. I search for pictures of the mountains of Hida on my phone, looking for a ridgeline that matches the one in my memory. Trying to somehow capture it on paper, I move my pencil.
On days when asphalt scented rain falls. On clear days when the clouds sparkle in the sky. On days when yellow dust comes in with the strong winds. Each morning, I ride the crowded train to school. Go to work. Some days I have the same shift as Okudera-senpai. I try my best to look her in the eye, smile, and talk normally. I want to be fair and equal to everyone.
Some nights are as humid as if it were still the peak of summer, and other nights are cold enough to wear a jacket. No matter what kind of night it is, when I draw my head becomes hot, as if a blanket were wrapped around it. Beads of sweat drop loudly onto my sketchbook, blurring the lines. But even so, the landscape of that village I laid eyes upon as Mitsuha slowly but surely took shape.
On the way home from school or work, I walk the long distance instead of riding the train. The scenery of Tokyo changes day by day. Shinjuku, Gaien, Yotsuya, near Benkeibashi, on the way up Anchinzaka. Huge cranes had suddenly appeared one day, building towers of steel and glass that reached higher and higher into the sky. And beyond those towers lay the half gone moon.
Eventually, I finished a few sketches of the village by the lake.
This weekend, I’ll go out.
As I made up my mind, I felt my tensed up body begin to relax for the first time in a while. Too tired to stand up, I put my head down on my desk.
Before I fell asleep, I made the same wish again.
But still, like always, I didn’t become Mitsuha the next day.
For starters, I stuffed three days worth of underwear and my sketchbook into the backpack. I figured it might be cold over there, so I put on a thick jacket with a large hood attached. Tying my usual good luck bracelet around my wrist, I stepped out of the house.
Because I left a little earlier than I usually do for school, the train was empty. But still, as always, Tokyo station overflowed with people. After waiting in line behind a foreigner dragging his luggage along, I bought a Shinkansen ticket to Nagoya and headed towards the Toukaidou Shinkansen ticket gate.
Then, I saw something that made me doubt my own eyes.
“W-Why are you here!?”
Beside the pillar in front of me stood Okudera-senpai and Tsukasa.
“Hehehe, we came!” senpai said with a laugh.
… What are you, a character from some kind of moe anime?
I glared at Tsukasa. He returned the look with a nonchalant face that seemed to say ‘problem?’.
“Tsukasa you bastard, I asked you to tell my parents an alibi and to cover my shift at work, didn’t I!?” I yelled complaints to Tsukasa, who sat in the seat beside me, in as hushed a voice as possible. The free seating area of the Shinkansen was buried mostly with salarymen in their suits.
“I asked Takagi to cover for you at work,” Tsukasa responded casually. He held up his phone for me to see. ‘Leave it to me!’ with a big thumbs up, from Takagi. ‘But you owe me food.’
“God damn it…” I muttered bitterly.
Relying on Tsukasa was a mistake. I had planned to skip school today, which gave me three days, today and the weekend, in Hida. As an excuse, I asked Tsukasa to tell everyone that I had some urgent need to visit an acquaintance.
“I came because I was worried about you, you know?” Tsukasa said. “I can’t leave you alone now, can I. What if you get caught up in some sketchy scam?”
What is he talking about? As I raised my eyebrow at Tsukasa, Okudera-senpai leaned over from the seat next to him and peered at me.
“Taki-kun, you’re going to meet an internet friend?”
“Huh? Ah, not really… that was just an easy way to explain it…”
Last night, Tsukasa wouldn’t stop bugging me until I told him who I was going to meet, so I vaguely said it was someone I met on social media.
Tsukasa turned to senpai and said in a serious tone, “I thought it might be a dating site.”
I almost blew all the tea out of my mouth. “No!!”
“Well you’ve been really strange lately.” Tsukasa made a worried face as he held out a box of Pocky to me. “I’ll keep watch on you from afar.”
“What am I, an elementary schooler?”
Watching my irritated reaction, Okudera-senpai gave a curious ‘hmm?’. She definitely had some kind of misunderstanding too. This can’t lead to anything good, I thought dreadfully. We will soon be arriving at Nagoya. A voice from the speaker resounded throughout the train car.
My switching with Mitsuha had begun suddenly one day, and ended suddenly another. No matter how much I thought, I couldn’t come up with a reason. As the weeks went by, my suspicion that it had all just been a realistic dream grew and grew.
However, I did have some proof. I would never believe that the words Mitsuha left in my diary app had been written by my own hands. Also, I would never have planned a date with Okudera-senpai just by myself. There was no doubt: the girl named Mitsuha existed. I had felt her warmth and her heartbeat; I had heard her breathing and her vibrant voice echoing on my eardrums; I had seen the vivid red lining her eyelids. She was so bursting full of life, I was convinced that if she was not living, then nothing could be. Mitsuha was real.
And because she was so real, when our switching abruptly stopped an extreme feeling of uneasiness had come over me. Maybe something happened to her. Like a fever. Or maybe an accident. Even if I was overthinking things, Mitsuha must be anxious at the situation too. That’s why I decided to go meet her directly. But, well…
“Huh?? You don’t know the place?” a shocked Okudera-senpai asked as we sat on the special express train ‘Hida’, stuffing our faces with station bento.
“Your only clue is the village’s scenery? You can’t contact her? What is this!?”
Why was I the one being blamed when they just decided to follow me on their own? I looked at Tsukasa for some back up.
“Well someone’s bad at planning,” he said as he gulped down a miso katsu.
“I wasn’t planning on you guys coming!” My voice involuntarily raised to a shout. This was all just a fun little field trip to them. Senpai and Tsukasa both looked at me with faces that seemed to say ‘he’s helpless’ with a sigh.
“Well whatever,” senpai said. Suddenly her lips broadened into a smile, and she stuck her chest out proudly. “Don’t worry Taki-kun! We’ll help you look.”
“Ahh~ so cute~! Hey Taki-kun, look look~!”
Sometime past noon we had finally gotten off at a station on a local line, and senpai was busy admiring a stuffed animal of the local mascot character: a Hida cow wearing a station worker’s hat. The shutter sound from Tsukasa’s phone camera echoed like mad throughout the small station building.
Examining a map posted to the wall, I confirmed by suspicion that these two would be of absolutely no help. Looks like I had to figure out things by myself. Since I didn’t know the exact location of Mitsuha’s village, the plan was to go by train until the scenery started to look familiar to what I had in my memory. After that, my only clues would be the backgrounds I drew in my sketchbook. I would gradually travel north along local lines, showing my sketches to locals and asking if they seemed familiar. The scenes in my memory included a railroad crossing, so searching along the train lines seemed to be the most effective choice. It was a rather uncertain method and hardly worthy enough to be called a plan, but I could see no other way. Also, villages by a lake probably weren’t too abundant. I had confidence that I would find some kind of hint by nightfall, although that confidence was unfortunately not backed by any good evidence. Deciding to start out by asking the taxi driver stopped outside the station, I took a big step forward.
“No good, huh…”
Dead exhausted, I sat down on a bus stop bench and buried my head in my hands. The overflowing confidence I had when I started asking around was all already withered away. After getting an uninterested ‘no clue’ from the first taxi driver, I went to police stations, convenience stores, souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, asking everyone from farmers to elementary school kids, and in the end came up empty. Getting around by local trains, which only ran once every two hours, proved somewhat unreliable, so I figured we could ride a bus and get some information from the people on it at the same time. Of course, we turned out to be the only people on the bus, and, having lost the will to ask the driver, we simply rode until the last stop, which, as far as I could tell, was an uninhabited area of extreme countryside.
As for Tsukasa and Okudera-senpai, the whole time they had occupied themselves with shiritori, cards, Facebook games, rock paper scissors, or snacks, fully enjoying their field trip experience. Eventually, they both ended up sleeping peacefully on the bus ride with their heads leaning on my shoulders.
“Eeh! Are you giving up already, Taki!?” Hearing me sigh heavily, Tsukasa and Okudera-senpai asked in unison as they gulped down sodas in front of the bus station. “But we worked so hard!”
I let out another sigh, this one so heavy my lungs almost came out. Senpai’s strangely hardcore looking hiking outfit and Tsukasa’s leisurely walk around the neighborhood clothes were really starting to piss me off.
“You guys have done absolutely nothing…”
The two made an innocent ‘oh?’ expression.
“I’ll have a Takayama ramen.”
“I’ll have one Takayama ramen.”
“Well then I’ll have a Takayama ramen too.”
“Got it, three ramen!” The old lady’s voice rang throughout the restaurant.
On the barren path to the unusually far neighboring station, we miraculously discovered an operating ramen shop and had sprinted in. The smile of the bandana wearing old lady that greeted us upon entering was like a rescue squad finally arriving on the scene of a disaster.
The ramen was also delicious. Contrary to what the name suggested, it was just normal ramen (I thought it might have Hida beef in it or something instead of the usual chashu), but I could feel my body being recharged as I chowed down on the noodles and vegetables. After drinking all of the soup plus two full cups of water, I finally stopped to catch my breath.
“Do you think we’ll be able to make it back to Tokyo today?” I asked Tsukasa.
“Hmm… maybe. It might be close. I’ll look into it.” He looked a bit surprised, but still he got out his phone and started figuring out the way home.
“Thanks,” I said.
“… Taki-kun, is that really okay with you?” senpai, not yet finished eating, asked from across the table.
Not knowing how to respond right away, I gazed out the window. The sun still barely lingered above the edges of the mountains, faintly illuminating the fields beside the road.
“How to say this… I’m starting to feel like I’m not even close,” I mumbled, half to myself. Perhaps it would be best to return to Tokyo and think of another plan. It would be hard enough with pictures, but searching for a village with just these sketches alone? Maybe it was an unrealistic idea in the first place, I thought as I grabbed my sketchbook and looked at it. Houses surrounding a round lake: nothing more than a generic rural town. I really thought I felt something in it when I finished the drawing, but now it just seemed like any old countryside scene.
“That’s old Itomori, isn’t it?”
Eh? Turning around, I noticed the old lady in her apron, refilling my empty cup with water.
“Did you draw that young man? Could I see it for a little?” the old lady asked, then took the sketchbook from me. “It’s well drawn. Hey, dear!” The three of us watched with gaping mouths as the old lady called out to the kitchen.
“Ahh, it really looks just like old Itomori. Brings back memories.”
“My husband is from Itomori.”
The old man that came out of the kitchen examined the sketch intently.
All of a sudden, I remembered. I shot up out of my chair. “Itomori… Itomori Village! That’s it! Why couldn’t I remember before? Itomori Village! That’s close to here, right!?”
The couple looked shocked. They looked at each other with suspicious faces.
“You… you know, right? Itomori vllage…” the old man finally spoke.
Out of the blue, Tsukasa butted in. “Itomori… Taki…”
“Eh, the one with the comet!?” Even Okudera-senpai joined in.
“Eh…?” Confused, I looked around at everyone. They were all giving me strange looks. The shadow of something in my head, something ominous that had been struggling to get out this whole time, grew in presence.
The lonely cry of a single black kite lingered heavily in the air.
The barricade that forbade any further entrance stretched out for miles, casting a shadow on the cracked asphalt below it. By the Disaster Countermeasure Fundamental Law, we could not take another step. KEEP OUT. Reconstruction Agency. Any ivy covered sign bore those words.
And below my eyes was the village of Itomori, or rather, what was left of it. An enormous force had grabbed it and split it apart, leaving most of it to be swallowed up by the lake.
“… Is this really the place?” senpai asked me, her voice trembling.
Without waiting for me to reply, Tsukasa said in an overly cheerful voice, “There’s no way! I’ve been saying this whole time, Taki just made a mistaken guess.”
“… There was no mistake.” Peeling my eyes away from the ruins below, I looked at the others around me. “Not just the village. This high school, the surrounding campus, the nearby mountains… I remember them all clearly!” In order to get the words through to myself, I had no choice but to shout. Behind us stood a soot stained school building, with a few glass windows broken here and there. We were on the grounds of Itomori High School, from which you could look out over the entire lake.
“So this is the village you were looking for, then? The place where your internet friend lives?” Tsukasa asked loudly, half laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. “How could that be!? That disaster three years ago where hundreds died… you remember too, don’t you Taki!?”
Upon hearing those words, I finally looked Tsukasa in the eyes.
“… Died?” I was looking at him, but my gaze went straight through him, straight through the high school behind him, eventually being sucked up into nothingness. My eyes were functioning, yet I was seeing nothing.
“… Died… three years ago?”
Suddenly, I remembered. That comet I saw in the sky of Tokyo three years ago. The countless shooting stars in the west. That beautiful scene, like something straight out of a dream. The excitement of that moment.
That couldn’t be true.
I searched for words. Searched for evidence.
“That can’t be… look, I have the diary entries she wrote.” I took out my phone and frantically navigated to the diary app, as if the battery would forever die if I took even a second too long. The entries were there, as expected.
“…!” I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. For a moment, I thought I saw the letters move. “… What!”
One word, then another.
The words Mitsuha wrote began to deform into meaningless symbols, and then eventually, just as a candle does, they flickered for a brief second before disappearing. Just like that, the entries written by Mitsuha perished one by one. It was as if an invisible someone was standing right next to me, pressing the ‘delete’ button over and over. At last, not a single one of Mitsuha’s words remained on the screen.
“Why…” I could do nothing else but mutter softly in despair. Far away, high in the sky, the single cry of a black kite rang throughout the air.
Tiamat’s Comet, which revolves around the sun with a period of 1200 years, last came to its closest approach to Earth three years ago in October, right about the same time of year as the present. Its ultra long period blows Halley’s Comet out of the water, which visits every 76 years, and its orbital semi-major axis stretches over an astonishing 16.8 billion kilometers. A visit from Tiamat’s Comet truly is a grand event. Its perigee is estimated to be around 120 thousand kilometers away from the Earth; in other words, every 1200 years, it passes by at a distance closer than the moon, leaving behind a blue tail sparkling in the night sky above half the globe. The coming of Tiamat’s Comet had put the entire world into a festive mood.
But no one could have predicted that the comet’s core would split as it flew near Earth. And in addition, hidden inside that ice covered interior was a massive boulder roughly forty meters in diameter. The split off fragment of the comet became a meteorite as it passed through the atmosphere, hurdling towards the surface of the Earth at the destructive speed of thirty kilometers per second. Its point of contact was Japan — and unfortunately, a place inhabited by humans: Itomori Village.
That day happened to be the day of the village’s autumn festival. Time of contact: 8:42 p.m. Exact point of collision: the Miyamizu Shrine, then bustling from the festivities.
When the meteorite landed, a wide range of area centered at the shrine was instantly annihilated. The destruction didn’t stop at the houses and forests; the impact dug into the earth itself, forming a crater of nearly one kilometer in diameter. One second after impact, five kilometers away, a magnitude 4.8 quake shook the ground. Fifteen seconds after, a blast wave swept the area, bringing even further destruction to the land. The final death count totaled in at over five hundred, which was a whole third of Itomori’s population. The village had become the stage of the worst meteorite disaster in recorded human history.
Since the crater had appeared next to the already present Itomori Lake, water flowed into its interior, eventually creating a single, double lobed New Itomori Lake.
The south part of the village suffered relatively little damage, but the roughly a thousand remaining citizens soon began to leave. Before a whole year had passed, the local government could no longer function properly, and within fourteen months since the impact, the town had virtually ceased to exist.
— All that was already textbook fact, so of course I had known the general story somewhere in the back of my mind. Three years ago, I was a middle school student. I remember standing on a nearby hill and watching the comet with my own eyes.
But still, something was off.
The pieces didn’t fit together.
Up until just last month, I had lived in Itomori Village as Mitsuha many times.
That meant the place I had seen, the place where Mitsuha lived, couldn’t have been Itomori.
The comet and my switching with Mitsuha were unrelated.
That was the only natural explanation. It was what I wanted to believe.
But as I sat here in the neighboring city’s library flipping through books, I couldn’t help but doubt that conclusion. In the core of my mind, someone kept whispering to me: this is the place.
The Disappeared Itomori Village – Full Record
The Town that Sunk in One Night – Itomori Village
The Tragedy of Tiamat’s Comet
I sifted through thick books with names like that from cover to cover. No matter how I looked at them, I was sure that the place depicted in those old photos of Itomori was the place where I had spent my time as Mitsuha. This elementary school building was where Yotsuha went off to every morning. This Miyamizu Shrine was where Grandma worked as priestess. The needlessly large parking lot, the two snack bars next to each other, the barn-like convenience store, the small railroad crossing on the mountain path, and of course Itomori High School were all ingrained clearly in my memory. Ever since seeing the ruined village with my own eyes, my memories were only becoming more and more vivid.
It hurt to breathe. My heart ran berserk, refusing to calm down.
It felt as if the numerous vibrant photographs laying in the pages were silently sucking up the surrounding air and even reality itself.
‘Itomori High School – the Last Field Day.’ A photo with that title depicted a group of high schoolers participating in a three legged race. A pair on the edge looked strangely familiar to me. One had straight bangs in front with twin braids hanging down in the back, and the other had her hair tied up with a bright orange cord.
The air around me grew even thinner.
I wiped with my hand what felt like drops of hot blood on the back of my neck, only to discover transparent sweat.
“– Taki.” Looking up, I found Tsukasa and Okudera-senpai standing there. They handed me a book. On its hefty cover, gold letters in a solemn looking font read Itomori Village Comet Disaster – Record of Deceased Persons.
I flipped through the pages. The victims were listed by name and address, categorized by section of town. My finger followed along until, upon seeing a familiar name, it paused.
Teshigawara Katsuhiko (17)
Natori Sayaka (17)
“Teshigawara and Saya-chin…”
As I muttered those names, I heard Tsukasa and Okudera-senpai gulp. And then, I found them. The names.
Miyamizu Hitoha (82)
Miyamizu Mitsuha (17)
Miyamizu Yotsuha (9)
The two peered at the list from over my shoulders.
“Is this the girl? There must be some kind of mistake! This person…” Okudera-senpai said in a voice which hinted at tears about to flow. “This person died three years ago!”
In order to force back her ridiculous claims, I shouted. “– Just two, three weeks ago!” I couldn’t breathe. Desperately, I continued, my voice shrinking to no louder than a whisper. “She told me… I’ll be able to see the comet…” I somehow peeled my eyes away from the ‘Mitsuha’ imprinted on the page. “So she can’t… she can’t!”
Looking up, my gaze was met by my own reflection in the dark window before me. Who are you? I thought suddenly. From somewhere inside my head, I heard a hoarse, faraway voice.
— You’re dreaming, aren’t you?
Dream? I fell into deep confusion.
What in the world was I doing?
The noise of a banquet flowed over from the room next door.
Someone said something, causing a roar of laughter followed by thunderous applause. That happened again and again. Trying to figure out what kind of gathering it was, I focused my ears. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pick up a single word. All I could understand was that they were speaking Japanese.
Suddenly a loud thud sounded, and I realized I had my face down on a desk. I must have hit my head; a dull pain came over me after a brief delay. I was dead tired.
As I pored over old newspapers and weekly magazines, eventually the words had stopped being absorbed by my brain. I also rechecked my phone time and time again, but not a single trace of her diary entries remained.
With my head still on the desk, I opened my eyes. And then, staring at the desk in front of me, I uttered the conclusion I had drawn over the past few hours.
“It was all a dream…”
Did I want to believe that, or not?
“I recognized the scenery because I had seen it on the news three years ago. And as for her…”
How could I explain her?
“… A ghost? No… it was all…”
“… My delusions?”
Startled, I raised my head.
“… Her name, what was it again?”
Suddenly, the thin wooden door opened.
“Tsukasa-kun said he’s taking a bath,” senpai said as she entered the room, wearing a yukata provided by the ryokan. The room had been a little cold, but her presence immediately filled it with a warm atmosphere. I felt somewhat relieved.
“Um, senpai.” I stood up and called out to her as she crouched down in front of her backpack. “Sorry for saying a bunch of weird things today.”
Gently closing the zipper on her backpack, senpai stood up. It looked almost like it occurred in slow motion to me.
“… It’s okay,” she said, shaking her head with a faint smile.
“Sorry we could only get one room.”
“Tsukasa-kun told me the same thing.” Senpai laughed. We were sitting across from each other at a small table by the window. “It’s totally fine with me. A big group just so happened to be here tonight, so there weren’t any rooms. The owner said it was a get together of a teacher’s union.”
She continued on about how the owner treated her to pears in the lounge after her bath. Everyone can’t help but offer something to senpai. The scent of the ryokan’s shampoo smelled like a special perfume of some far off country.
“Ah, Itomori Village made kumihimo. They’re pretty,” senpai remarked as she flipped through one of the books I borrowed from the library. “My mom sometimes wears kimono, so we have a few of these too… ah, hey.” She looked at my right wrist. “Is that a kumihimo?”
“Oh, this is…” I placed the teacup I was holding on the table and also turned my gaze to my wrist. My usual charm. A vivid orange string, a little thicker than a thread, was wrapped around my wrist.
“I think I got it from someone a long time ago… sometimes I put it on as a good luck charm.”
I felt a sharp ache in my head.
“From who…?” I murmured. I couldn’t remember. But I felt like if I used this bracelet as a hint, I might get somewhere.
“… Hey, Taki-kun.” Looking up at the sound of senpai’s gentle voice, I saw her worried face. “Why don’t you take a bath?”
I quickly looked away again, turning my eyes back to the kumihimo. I desperately racked my memory, feeling like if I let go now it would be lost for an eternity. Some time ago, the banquet next door had ended. The cries of the autumn insects filled the room.
“… I heard from someone that makes kumihimo once.” Whose voice was that? Kind, hoarse, and gentle, like the narrator of a folktale… “They said, the cord is the flow of time itself. Twisting and entwining, returning and connecting again. That is time. That is…” Autumn. Mountain. The sound of a stream. The smell of water. The sweet taste of barley tea. “That is, musubi…”
All of a sudden, a landscape spread out in my head. The shintai on top of the mountain. The sake that I offered there.
“If I go there!”
I pulled a map out from under the pile of books and laid it out on the table. A three year old map of Itomori Village, covered in dust from sitting abandoned on the shelves of a small shop. It still showed only the original lake. The place where I offered the sake must have been far away from the meteorite impact zone. If I could get there. If I had that sake.
I grabbed a pencil and searched the map. It was far north of the shrine and looked like a giant crater. I scanned up and down desperately. I felt like I heard senpai’s voice sounding from faraway, but I couldn’t separate my eyes from the map.
… kun. … Taki-kun.
Someone was calling my name. A girl’s voice.
The voice was filled with a sharp sense of urgency, as if its owner were on the verge of crying. The voice quivered, like the lonely twinkling of a faraway star.
“You don’t… remember me?”
And then, I woke up.
… That’s right. This is a ryokan. I had fallen asleep with my head on the windowside table. I heard Tsukasa and senpai sleeping in their futons across the sliding door. The room was unusually silent. There was no noise from insects outside or cars passing by. The wind was not blowing either.
I sat up. The sound of my clothes rustling seemed so loud I almost startled myself. Outside, faint traces of light had begun to appear. I looked at the kumihimo on my wrist. The voice of that girl still echoed fuzzily in my eardrums.
— Who are you?
I tried asking the unknown girl. Of course, there was no response. But, well, whatever.
To Okudera-senpai and Tsukasa:
There’s somewhere I need to go. Please go back to Tokyo without me. Sorry for being so selfish. I’ll definitely come home soon after you guys. Thanks,
I scribbled on a notepad, then, after a little thought, took a five thousand yen bill out of my wallet and left it with the note underneath the teacup.
You who I’ve never met. I’m going to look for you now.
He was quiet and blunt, but still a very kind person, I thought as I watched the aged hands grip the wheel beside me. Yesterday, the one who brought us to Itomori High School and to the library afterwards was the old man from the ramen shop. This morning, despite the very early call, he listened to my request and picked me up in his car. If this didn’t work out, I was planning to hitchhike my way over, but it was questionable whether anyone would be willing to give me a ride to the deserted ruins of a village. I really was lucky to have met this person at Hida.
From the passenger side window, I could see the edge of New Itomori Lake. Half destroyed houses and broken up pieces of asphalt stood submerged in the water. Further offshore, I could see telephone poles and steel beams poking out of the surface. Even though it should have been an unusual sight, I felt like it had just always been that way, perhaps because I had grown used to seeing it on TV or in photographs. So faced with the scene before my eyes, I didn’t know what to feel — should I be angry, should I be sad, should I be scared, or should I lament my own lack of power? The disappearance of an entire town was surely a phenomenon that surpassed any normal person’s understanding. Giving up on finding any meaning in the landscape, I looked towards the sky. Gray clouds hung above us, like a colossal lid put over the world by a god.
As we continued north along the lake, we eventually reached a point where we could climb no higher by car. The old man put on the brakes.
“Looks like it might rain,” he said, looking through the windshield. “This mountain isn’t that steep, but don’t push yourself too hard. If something happens don’t hesitate to call.”
“And also, here.” He held out a large bento box. “Eat it up there.”
I accepted the heavy gift with both hands. “T-Thank you…” Why are you so nice to me? Oh, by the way, the ramen was super delicious. None of the words I thought of properly found their way out of my mouth, and, in the end, I could only mutter a quiet ‘sorry’.
The old man squinted his eyes, took out a cigarette, and lit it. “I don’t know anything about your situation,” he began as he exhaled smoke. “But that picture of Itomori you drew… that was good.”
My chest tightened. Far away, a small clap of thunder roared.
Walking on a narrow, unreliable path, I occasionally stopped to compare the marked up map and my smartphone’s GPS. Looks like everything’s going alright. The surrounding scenery seemed vaguely familiar, but it was just a mountain I had climbed once in a dream. I couldn’t be so sure. For now, it was best to stick to the map.
After getting out of the car, I had maintained a deep bow until the old man completely disappeared from my field of view. As I held that position, Tsukasa and Okudera-senpai’s faces popped into my head. The old man and those two had come with me all this way out of worry. My face had probably been ugly the entire time. I probably looked like I was about to cry. I probably looked so weak that, even if they wanted to, they couldn’t leave me on my own.
— I couldn’t afford to make that face any longer. I couldn’t rely on other people to offer their helping hands any more, I thought as New Itomori Lake began to be visible through the gaps in the trees. Suddenly, a droplet of rain fell onto my face. Pitter patter. The leaves around me started to make noise. I put on my hood and ran.
The downpour continued with such force that it seemed to be shaving the ground away. My skin could feel all the warmth in the air being sucked up by the rain.
I was taking shelter in a small cave, eating my bento while waiting for the storm to calm down. There were three onigiri as big as my fists, piles of side dishes, thick slices of chashu, and bean sprouts stir fried in sesame oil. Eating the very ramen restaurant-like bento, I could feel my shivering body begin to recover some heat. With every bite of rice, I felt it in my esophagus and my stomach.
Musubi, I thought.
Water, rice, sake… the act of putting something into your body is also called musubi. What enters your body connects with your soul.
That day, I had told myself to remember this even when I woke up. I tried reciting it out loud.
“Twisting and entwining, sometimes returning, and connecting again. That is musubi. That is time.”
I glanced at the cord on my wrist.
It still hadn’t been cut. We could still connect.
As I continued along the way, the trees began to disappear and I was left surrounded by moss covered boulders. Below my eyes, thin slivers of the lake were visible through the gaps in the thick clouds. I had arrived at the summit.
“… There it is!”
In front of me lay the vast caldera shaped depression and the giant shintai tree.
“… It’s really there! It wasn’t a dream…”
The rain, which had reduced to a drizzle, slid down my cheeks like tears. Wiping my face with my sleeves, I began descending the slope. In place of the stream I remembered, there was now a small pond. The rain might have flooded it, or perhaps enough time had passed since that dream that the land had changed. Either way, the pond now lay between me and the giant tree.
Beyond here is the other world.
Someone had told me that before.
So that would make this the Sanzu River. [Japanese Buddhist equivalent of the River Styx]
I stepped into the water. Splash! A loud noise rang out, as if I had stomped into a filled bathtub, making me realize just how eerily quiet the place was. Every step I made trudging through the knee deep heavy water made another big splashing sound. I felt like I was dirtying something pure white with my muddy feet. Before I came, this place was in a state of perfect tranquility. I was not welcome. My body temperature once again began to fall, being sucked up by the chilly water. Eventually, I was submerged up to my chest. Still, somehow, I managed to cross all the way.
The huge tree stood with its roots entangled around a large slab of rock. Whether the tree was the shintai or the rock was the shintai, or whether the two of them together made up the object of worship, I didn’t know. Between the roots and the boulder was a flight of stairs leading to a small space about four tatami mats wide.
It was in an even deeper state of silence than outside.
Undoing the zipper by my chest with my frozen hands, I took out my smartphone and made sure it hadn’t gotten wet. I turned it on. Each one of those subtle movements produced a violently large amount of volume in the quiet darkness. An out of place electronic sound rang, and my phone lit up.
In that room, neither color nor warmth existed.
The small shrine illuminated by the light was a perfect gray. And on the tiny stone altar sat two ten centimeter tall bottles.
“The sake that we carried…”
I gently touched my hands to their surface. Somehow, I was no longer cold.
“This is the younger sister’s,” I muttered as I grabbed the left bottle, confirming its shape. As I tried to hold it up, it resisted slightly and made a dry scraping sound. Moss had started to grow on it. “And this is the one I brought.”
I sat down and drew my eyes closer, using my phone for lighting. The originally sparkly surface of the porcelain was now covered in moss. It looked like a lot of time had passed. I put into words a thought that had been stuck inside for some time.
“… So I had been switching with her from three years in the past?”
I undid the kumihimo sealing the lid shut. Below the lid, there was also a cork.
“We were separated by three years? And the switching stopped because three years ago the meteorite fell and she died?”
I took out the cork. The faint smell of alcohol wafted out of the vase. I poured some sake into the lid.
“Half of her…”
I brought the light closer. The kuchikamisake was clear and transparent, with a few small particles floating about here and there. Reflecting the light from my phone, they sparkled inside the liquid.
“Musubi. Twisting and entwining, sometimes returning, and connecting again.”
I brought the alcohol filled lid closer to my mouth.
“If time can really return… then one more time…”
Let me into her body! Finishing my wish inside my head, I dried the lid in one gulp. My throat rumbled surprisingly loudly. A lump of warmth passed through my body. It began to spread everywhere, as if it had burst open in my stomach.
But nothing happened.
For a while, I sat still.
My body temperature had risen a little at the unfamiliar sake. A faint lightheadedness had come over me. But that was it.
… No good, huh?
I started to stand up, when suddenly my foot slipped. My vision spun round and round. I thought I was going to fall.
— That’s strange.
I was surely about to fall flat on my back, but no matter how long I waited for it the impact never came. My field of view slowed its rotation, and gradually the ceiling became visible. I still held my phone in my left hand. Its light illuminated the ceiling.
“… Comet!” I shouted instinctively.
There, pictured on the ceiling, was a giant comet. It was an old, old drawing carved into the rock. A colossal comet, dragging its long tail across the sky. Red and blue pigments shone as they received light. And then, slowly, the picture began to float off the ceiling.
I opened my eyes wide.
The picture, the drawn comet, was falling towards me.
Gradually, it approached until it was right in front of my eyes. It started to burn up due to its friction with the atmosphere, and the hunk of stone turned to glass, sparkling like a precious jewel. The picture appeared in such clear detail to me.
My fallen over head finally collided with the stone floor, and simultaneously, the comet collided with my body.