The moment I woke up, I knew.
I jolted up and looked at my body. Thin fingers. Familiar pajamas. A bulge at the chest.
This voice. The slender throat. The blood and flesh and bones and skin. All of Mitsuha was here, warm and alive.
I hugged myself. Tears flowed. Like a broken faucet, Mitsuha’s eyes let forth a stream of large droplets. The joy that the warmth of those tears brought me made me cry even more. The heart caged inside my ribs jumped excitedly. I rolled up my knees and pressed my cheeks against them. Wanting to embrace the entirety of Mitsuha’s body, I curled up as tight as I could.
It was a miracle, a miracle that had weaved its way through the vast realm of possibility and arrived here, now.
“… Onee-chan, what are you doing?” Yotsuha stood next to the opened sliding door.
“Ah… little sister,” I mumbled in my sobbing voice. Yotsuha was also alive, staring dumbfoundedly at her big sister fondling her own boobs even as tears and snot ran down her face. “Youtshaaaa!”
I dashed towards Yotsuha, going in for a hug. Unfortunately, however, I was met with a door slammed shut right in front of my nose.
“Grandma, grandma!” I could hear yelling as a pair of feet rapidly descended the staircase. “Mitsuha’s finally gone crazy! She’s completely broken!”
What a rude little girl, complaining even though I’ve crossed space and time to come save this town!
When I got dressed and came downstairs, an NHK anchor was talking cheerfully on the TV. I stared at it, standing with a wide intimidating stance in order to shake off the cramped feeling of wearing a skirt, something I had not felt in quite a while.
“Tiamat’s Comet, which has been visible with the naked eye for the past week, will reach its closest approach to Earth at about 7:40 tonight. It is expected that the comet will be its brightest at this time. At the long awaited climax of this celestial spectacle, which occurs only once every 1200 years, various celebrations…”
“… Tonight! There’s still time!” My body started trembling in excitement.
“Good morning Mitsuha. Yotsuha left first today.” Turning around, I saw Grandma standing there.
“Grandma! Looking great!” I instinctively ran up to her. Judging by the teapot she held on a plate, she was probably planning to have some tea in the living room.
“Hm? You…” Grandma took off her glasses and examined my face intently. “… You’re not Mitsuha, are you?”
“Wha…” How!? A feeling of guilt came over me, like the one you get when something bad you did that you were sure no one would ever find out about gets exposed. But wait, this might actually be convenient. “Grandma… you knew?”
Not seeming particularly perturbed, Grandma sat down and said, “Nope. But watching you recently made me remember. When I was young, I remember I had a strange dream.”
Seriously!? Well this’ll be easy to clear up then. I’d expect no less from the family of Japanese folktales. As I also took a seat by the table, Grandma poured me some tea.
Sipping her cup, she continued speaking. “It really was a strange dream. Or, rather than a dream, it was more like someone else’s life. It was like I had become an unknown boy in an unknown city.”
I gulped hard. Exactly the same as us.
“But those dreams stopped suddenly one day. All I remember now is the vague fact that I had a strange dream. Who I became during those dreams or any details like that have disappeared from my memory.”
I repeated that word, as if it were the fateful name of a grave illness. I, too, forgot Mitsuha’s name for a period of time. I had started to believe that it was all just a delusion. Grandma’s wrinkle riddled face bore a slight tone of loneliness.
“So treasure what you are experiencing now. No matter how special it is, a dream is still a dream in the end. Once you wake up, it will eventually disappear. My mother, your mother, and I all had a similar period in our lives.”
“Then… could that mean?”
A sudden thought popped into my mind. Maybe this was a duty passed down through the Miyamizu family. In order to prevent the disaster that rears its face every 1200 years, they were given the power to communicate through dreams with someone a few years in the future. The job of the shrine maiden. A warning system that leaped from generation to generation through the Miyamizu lineage.
“The dreams of all of those people from the Miyamizu family… they may have all been leading up to today!” I faced Grandma straight in the eye and spoke assertively. “Grandma, listen.” She raised her face. Her expression remained unreadable to me, yielding no hint as to how she was taking my words. “Tonight, a meteorite will fall on Itomori Village and everyone will die.” Now, her eyebrows furrowed in suspicion.
No one would ever believe that, Grandma had responded. It seemed like such a normal reaction, unbefitting of mystical Grandma, I thought as I ran down the path to school. Believing the bit about switching bodies during dreams, but not the part about a meteorite falling? What the heck, Grandma?
Since it had long passed the point of being tardy, there was barely anyone around. The voices of the mountain birds echoed back and forth. An ordinary, peaceful village morning. I had to take care of business on my own, it looked like.
“I won’t let a single person die!” I proclaimed to myself. I sped up my running. Only half a day until impact.
“Mitsuha, y-your hair!”
I had just taken a seat at my desk, and Teshigawara and Saya-chin were already gaping at me with astounded looks.
“Ah, my hair? Did it look better before?” I asked, brushing the edge of my shoulder length hair with my hand. Mitsuha had suddenly cut a good chunk of her long hair off recently. I like long black hair so it doesn’t sit too well with me, but anyways, now’s not the time for that! “Anyways!” I looked at Teshigawara, whose mouth was gaping so wide it was almost emitting sound, and Saya-chin, whose eyes seemed to be prying into my soul, then continued. “Everyone’s going to die tonight!”
Instantly, the ambient commotion in the classroom abruptly came to a halt. The stares of all my classmates poured onto me.
“M-Mitsuha, what the heck are you saying!?”
Saya-chin stood up, flustered, and Teshigawara grabbed my arm. As they dragged me out of the classroom, I finally came to the sensible conclusion that obviously they wouldn’t believe me. Just like Grandma said, suddenly telling people to believe such a ridiculous claim wouldn’t go too well. Carried away by the excitement of finally being able to switch again, I had thought it would all work out somehow, but maybe it might be a little more trouble than expected.
— Or apparently not, at least with regards to Teshigawara.
“… Mitsuha, are you serious?”
“Yes, I’ve been telling you! Tonight, Tiamat’s Comet will split and become a meteorite, which will most likely fall on this village. I can’t say where I’m getting this information from, but my sources are reliable, I promise!”
“… This is big trouble!”
“Wait a second, are you taking this seriously Tesshi? I didn’t know you were that much of an idiot.” Saya-chin, however, wasn’t as easy to convince. “What sources could you possibly have, anyway? The CIA? NASA? Reliable? What are you, playing pretend spy? Mitsuha, what’s gotten into you!?”
Thinking desperately of some way to convince the logical, common sense following Saya-chin, I took out all the cash in Mitsuha’s wallet. “Please, Saya-chin. You can buy anything you want with this, just listen to me!” I put on my most serious face and lowered my head in a begging gesture.
Saya-chin stared at me, looking somewhat surprised. “For super stingy you to say such a thing…”
Huh? Mitsuha? Stingy? That’s funny, I recall Mitsuha throwing away heaps of my money like an idiot!
Saya-chin gave a sigh of resignation. “… I have no idea what’s going on, but I guess I’ll at least listen to what you have to say. Tesshi, give me the key to your bike.”
While complaining about how all of Mitsuha’s money could buy nothing more than a few pieces of candy, Saya-chin started walking towards the entrance. Well that’s good. The cash wasn’t enough, but it looks like at least my sincerity was conveyed to her.
“I’m going to the convenience store. Tesshi, watch over Mitsuha. She’s not too normal today.”
While Saya-chin was off at the store, Teshigawara and I snuck into an unused room and started creating an evacuation plan for the village. The overall goal was to relocate the roughly 500 people living in 188 houses within the destruction range to a safe area before the time of meteorite impact. The first option to pop into our heads was a mass evacuation broadcast.
Hijack the Prime Minister’s residence, hijack the National Diet Building, hijack the NHK Shibuya broadcast center, no wait, wouldn’t it be enough to hijack the office in Takayama? After a couple minutes of totally ridiculous suggestions, we realized that there wasn’t even a guarantee that everyone in the town would have their TVs or radios on, especially since many people would be out for the autumn festival. Back to square one.
“… The wireless disaster warning system!” Teshigawara shouted out suddenly.
“Wireless disaster warning system?”
“Huh? Don’t tell me you don’t know. The speakers all around the whole town?”
“Ah… oh, the one that starts talking in the morning and evenings? Who was born and whose funeral happened and stuff.”
“Yeah, everyone will definitely be able to hear that, outside or indoors. If we could get control of that!”
“Hm, but how? That’s broadcasted from the town hall, right? Will they let us use it if we ask?”
“Of course not.”
“Then what’s the plan? Hijack the town hall? Well, that is a whole lot more realistic than hijacking NHK…”
“Hehehe.” With a somewhat creepy laugh, Teshigawara started typing something into his phone. He sure does seem to be excited about this. “We can use this!”
I peered at the smartphone screen held out to me. An explanation of ‘overlapping frequencies’.
“Huh… is this for real?” Teshigawara nodded proudly in response. “Why do you even know this stuff, Tesshi?”
“Well you know, I’m always thinking about this kinda stuff before I fall asleep. Destruction of the village, overthrowing of the school. Everyone else does stuff like that too, right?”
“Eh…” I was a little creeped out, but… “Anyways, this is great! It might work!” I said and, without thinking, wrapped my arm around Teshigawara’s shoulder.
“H-Hey, don’t get so close!”
“Huh?” He was red up to his ears. “Ooh~ what’s with the blushing Tesshi, hm?” I laughed teasingly, looking up at his face from below. Looks like Mitsuha was doing better than I thought. I pushed my body into his a little more. The two of us were sitting on an old sofa, with Teshigawara right up against the wall, so there was nowhere to run.
“Hey, Mitsuha, knock it off!” Teshigawara twisted his body in resistance. He is a guy, after all. Well, I am too. Suddenly, he climbed up onto the back of the sofa and yelled, “Stop! It’s not good to have a kid before marriage!”
“Huh…” Looking up, I saw that the red had crept all the way up to the top of his shaven head, sweat was dripping down from his face, and he looked like he was about to cry. “Hahaha! Tesshi…”
Unable to help myself, I broke out into laughter. This guy was definitely someone I could trust. I had always thought of him as a friend, but now I realized I wanted to meet him in person, as myself, and talk. Me, Mitsuha, Teshigawara, Saya-chin, Tsukasa, Takagi, Okudera-senpai… if we could all be together, without a doubt it would be fun.
“Sorry, Tesshi. I was just so excited that you believed me,” I told the sulking Teshigawara, trying to hold in my laughter. “Can you help me with the rest of the evacuation plan?”
Still red in the face, Teshigawara gave a serious nod in return.
When this is all over, I’ll come visit this guy too, I thought to myself.
“B-B-Bomb!?” shrieked Saya-chin as she ate a mini shortcake in a plastic wrapper.
“Well, to be precise, water gel explosive. Something like dynamite.” Teshigawara, stuffing potato chips into his mouth, explained proudly.
Meanwhile, I was eating my snack of choice, Marble Chocolate. Spread out on the desk was the large amount of convenience store food Saya-chin had bought. It felt kinda like a party. And as we enjoyed our junk food, Teshigawara and I explained our carefully devised evacuation plan to Saya-chin using the map in front of us. Some sort of suspense building BGM would be perfect for our strategy briefing.
After gulping down a 500mL carton of coffee milk, Teshigawara continued. “There are a ton of explosives in my dad’s company’s warehouse for construction use. We don’t have to worry about anyone noticing, so we can take as much as we want.”
“And next,” I said while opening a melon bread wrapper. I was really hungry for some reason, and on top of that, anything I ate while in Mitsuha’s body tasted unusually good.
“H-Hijack?” Saya-chin screamed again in disbelief.
Teshigawara explained, this time while eating curry bread. “With the way this village’s wireless disaster system is set up, it’s easy to take over if you know the right frequencies. The speakers activate just by detecting a certain frequency overlapped with your voice.”
I took over, with my melon bread in one hand. “So basically, we can send evacuation instructions to the entire town from the school’s broadcasting room.” Pointing to the map, I traced my finger around a circle we drew in, representing an area roughly 1.2km in diameter centered at Miyamizu Shrine. “This is the expected blast zone of the meteorite. The high school is out here.” I tapped the position of Itomori High School on the map. “So we can make the campus our evacuation site.”
“This…” Saya-chin began to speak. “This’ll make us criminals!” she complained while popping the strawberry which she had saved for last into her mouth.
“If we don’t commit any crimes we won’t be able to move the people in this zone,” I responded coolly, sweeping aside the Marble Chocolates scattered across the map. Criminals or not, we just had to get the people within this circle outside of it by tonight.
“Mitsuha, it’s like you’re a different person…”
I laughed and took a big bite out of my melon bread. Whenever I’m in this body my speech turns a little more feminine, but I had already given up trying to copy Mitsuha’s behavior long ago. As long as these guys were safe, nothing else mattered. As long as they lived, everything else would figure itself out.
“Oh, by the way, you’ll be doing the broadcasting, Saya-chin,” I informed her with a smile.
“You’re in the broadcasting club, aren’t you?”
“Also, your sister broadcasts for the town hall. Just casually ask her for the wireless system frequencies,” Teshigawara added.
Ignoring Saya-chin’s protests, Teshigawara pointed to himself happily. “And I’m in charge of the explosives!”
“And lastly, I need to go meet with the mayor,” I said, pointing to myself.
Teshigawara explained to the once again speechless Saya-chin. “We can probably start the evacuation, but in the end the only way to get all 188 households evacuated is to have the town officials and fire department step in.”
“That’s why we need to convince the mayor,” I said. “If I play this right, I’m sure he’ll listen to his own daughter.”
Teshigawara crossed his arms and nodded repeatedly, praising his own perfect plan. I felt the same way. Although it may seem a bit wild, I couldn’t see any other way.
“Ah…” Saya-chin looked our way. Whether she was impressed with our plan or amazed at our stupidity, or both, I couldn’t tell. “Well it does seem like you guys thought all this out… but this is just hypothetical, right?”
“Eh?” Her totally unexpected question put me at a loss for words. “Ah… not really hypothetical, more like…” If Saya-chin wasn’t on board, this whole plan would fall apart. I searched for the right words.
“Look at this!” Teshigawara shouted suddenly, holding out his phone. “Do you know how Itomori Lake was formed?”
Saya-chin and I peered at the screen. On what looked like the village’s official website, a large heading read ‘Origin of Itomori Lake’. Along with it were the phrases ‘The meteorite lake from 1200 years ago’ and ‘extremely rare in Japan’.
“Meteorite lake! At least once before, a meteorite fell on this town!”
Hearing Teshigawara say those words made something inside my head click. Before I fully realized what that something was, my mouth was already moving. “T-That’s it! That’s why…”
That’s why there was a picture of a comet back there. It all became clear to me. Tiamat’s Comet, which comes every 1200 years. Itomori Lake was formed by a meteorite impact 1200 years ago. A meteorite comes every 1200 years with the comet. The disaster is predictable, and therefore avoidable. That picture was a warning. I felt like I had just gained an unimaginable ally. My excitement rendered me unable to sit still. Everything, everything had been in the making for over a thousand years!
“Nice find, Tesshi!” I held out my fist, and Teshigawara bumped it with an enthusiastic cheer. This could work. It would work!
“Let’s do it guys!” Teshigawara and I turned towards Saya-chin and harmonized so loudly our spit flew everywhere.
“… What are you talking about?”
A rough voice, like the feeling of cutting thick cardboard with scissors. I was really starting to panic. In an attempt to avoid being overwhelmed, I raised my voice in return.
“I’m saying that we should evacuate the people just in case–”
“Be quiet for a second.”
He said those words at a normal volume, yet they had enough force to immediately cut me off. Mitsuha’s father, Mayor Miyamizu, closed his eyes and leaned back in his office’s leather chair, looking rather annoyed. As he moved around, the thick leather made a creaking sound. After a moment, he took a deep breath and shifted his gaze to outside the window. Leaves shook about in the afternoon sun’s bright rays.
“A comet will break into two and fall on this town? Over five hundred people may die?”
He spent a while tapping his fingers on his desk before finally turning to face me. Sweat poured out from the underside of my knees. Apparently, when Mitsuha is nervous she sweats there.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I have evid–”
“How dare you waste my time with such nonsense!” he yelled suddenly. “I guess delusions run in the Miyamizu family.” Frowning deeply, the mayor muttered softly, as if talking to himself. Then, he shot a piercing gaze straight into my eyes and said, “If you’re serious, then you must be crazy.”
I failed to string words together. Not a single drop of all that confidence I had been brimming with just thirty minutes ago at our strategy meeting remained. The anxiety of going into uncharted territory without a plan grew worse and worse. Wait, no. This is not a delusion, and I am not crazy. I—
“I’ll arrange for a ride.” The mayor’s voice suddenly became filled with worry, and, as he dialed someone on his phone, he said, “Get checked by a doctor at the city hospital. After that, if you still have something to say, we can talk.”
Those words shook me with great discomfort. He was really treating me, his own daughter, as a crazy person. When I realized that, my entire body grew cold as if frozen. My head alone grew hotter and hotter, like something had just ignited: anger.
“– Don’t give me that bullshit!”
I screamed. The mayor’s eyes opened wide. Before I knew it, I had grabbed him by his tie. The phone fell to the side of the desk, continuing to make a faint ringing sound.
I loosened my grip. Slowly, our faces separated. The mayor’s mouth remained open, shaking slightly from surprise or bewilderment. We didn’t break eye contact. Every pore in my body had started to give off sweat.
“… Mitsuha.” Finally, he spoke. “… no… who are you?”
Those words forever remained in my ears with an unpleasant feeling, like a small bug that had ridden its way in on the wind and gotten stuck.
I could hear the faint ringing of a hammer coming from somewhere. During this time, the interval between noon and dusk, the extreme quiet of the town causes even the most far off noises to be audible. Clang, clang. As I trudged up a sloping path overlooking the lake, I pictured nails being hammered into a piece of thick wood to match the noise. Iron nails, being pushed into dark and narrow holes in the wood, only to slowly rust away. They were probably getting ready for the autumn festival at Miyamizu Shrine, I thought as I gazed at the wooden lanterns lining the roads.
“Cya later then.”
From above, I heard a child’s voice. Looking up, I saw three kids wearing backpacks waving to each other at the top of the hill.
“Yeah, see you at the festival.”
“Meet up in front of the shrine.”
After parting with their friend, a boy and a girl started coming down towards me, both about the same age as Yotsuha.
— The shrine. The place of impact.
“Don’t go there!” As the boy passed by me, I grabbed him by the shoulder. “Run away from the town! Tell your friends too!”
Fear began to show in the boy’s face. “W-Who are you?”
As he batted my arms away as hard as he could, I came back to my senses.
Yotsuha came running down with a worried look. The other two kids made a run for it. This is no good. I’m just a suspicious character.
“Onee-chan, what did you do to them!?” Yotsuha asked as she grabbed hold of both my arms.
— But what should I do?
I looked at Yotsuha’s face. It awaited my response with uneasiness. If Mitsuha were here…
“If Mitsuha were here… could she have persuaded him? Did everything go wrong because of me?” Ignoring Yotsuha’s bewildered looks, I continued. “Yotsuha. Before dusk, take Grandma and leave the village.”
“If you stay here you’ll die!”
“Eeeh? Onee-chan, what are you talking about!?” Yotsuha raised her voice, as if desperately trying to push back my words. “Get a hold of yourself!” Her eyes began to moisten. She was scared. Peering into my eyes, standing up as tall as she could, she said, “Suddenly going off to Tokyo yesterday… onee-chan, you’ve been so weird lately!”
“Eh…” A wave of uneasiness swept over me. Tokyo…? “Yotsuha, did you just say Tokyo?”
Saya-chin’s voice. Looking over, I spotted Saya-chin riding on the back of Teshigawara’s bike, waving to me. With an asphalt scraping sound, they came to a stop.
“How did your talk with your dad go!?” Teshigawara asked eagerly.
I couldn’t respond. I was completely lost. I didn’t know what to think anymore. The mayor didn’t believe my story one bit. Moreover, he asked his own daughter ‘who are you?’. I made him ask that. Did it fail because I’m the one in Mitsuha’s body? Where is Mitsuha now? According to Yotsuha, she went to Tokyo yesterday. Why? When, exactly, was yesterday?
“Mitsuha?” Teshigawara questioned suspiciously.
“What happened to your sister?” Sayaka asked Yotsuha.
Where is Mitsuha? Where am I?
— What if.
I looked up. Beyond the sea of houses, contours of mountains piled densely on top of each other. And farther beyond that lay the ridgeline of a single mountain, obscured in a blue, hazy mist. The mountain I climbed. The shintai on the summit. The place where I drank the kuchikamisake. A cool breeze from the lake blew by, shaking Mitsuha’s shortened hair. The strands, as if someone else’s fingertips, gently caressed my cheeks.
“Is she… there?” I muttered.
“Huh? What what? What’s over there?”
Yotsuha, Saya-chin, and Teshigawara all followed my gaze. Mitsuha, if you’re there–
“Tesshi, give me your bike!”
Without giving him a chance to respond, I grabbed hold of the handlebars, straddled the seat, and kicked off the ground.
“Wha, hey Mitsuha!”
The seat was too high. Pedaling standing up, I dashed up the hill.
“Mitsuha, what about the plan!?” Teshigawara screamed.
“Do everything according to plan! I’m counting on you!”
My shouts echoed throughout the quiet town. Mitsuha’s voice, cut off from her body, reflected off of the mountains and the lake, filling the air for a moment. As if trying to chase that voice, I pedaled as hard as I could.
Someone is tapping my cheek. The tapping is gentle, using only the tip of the middle finger, so as to not hurt me. The fingertip is very cold, as if it had been gripping ice just seconds ago. Who in the world is doing this to me in my sleep?
I woke up.
Darkness. Is it still night?
Someone tapped my cheek again. No, it was water all along. Droplets of water had been falling onto my cheek. Sitting up, I finally realized.
“… I’m Taki-kun!” I said out loud.
After climbing up the narrow stone staircase, I was met by the piercing rays of the evening sun. Taki-kun’s eyes started to water, maybe because he had been in the darkness for a long time. Stepping outside confirmed my suspicion: I was on the summit of the shintai mountain.
Why was Taki-kun here?
Confused, I left the shadow of the colossal tree and started wandering around the basin. Taki-kun was wearing a thick parka and trekking shoes with thick rubber bottoms. It must have rained just recently. The ground was soft and wet, and water droplets dotted the short blades of grass. The sky, however, was a clear blue. Thin clouds sparkled with a golden light as the wind carried them off.
And, unlike the sky, my memory was hazy. I arrived at the bottom of the slope marking the basin’s edge, still unable to remember a thing. I looked up the hill. Right now, I am standing in a large caldera like depression. If I climb up there, I’ll be at the summit of the mountain. I started upwards. As I climbed, I scoured my memory. I tried to recall what I was doing before this. At last, I grasped the first few fragments.
Matsuribayashi [type of music played at festivals]. Yukata. My face and shortened hair reflected in the mirror.
— That’s right.
Yesterday was the autumn festival, and I went out with Tesshi and Saya-chin in a yukata. It was the day when the comet was supposed to be the brightest, so we wanted to watch it together. Yes, that’s right. For some reason it felt like a memory from long in the past, but that was yesterday.
Tesshi and Saya-chin had been pretty surprised at my new hairstyle. Tesshi’s mouth had gaped so wide it almost made noise. They were so shocked I almost felt bad for them. The whole way up to our viewing spot, they whispered things like ‘maybe it’s heartbreak after all’ and ‘what kind of guess is that… what are you, an old man from the Showa?’ sneakily behind my back.
As we reached the top and turned around the final bend, straight ahead of us in the night sky, a giant comet suddenly appeared. The tail trailing behind it sparkled with a dazzling emerald green, and the front was more radiant than the moon. If I strained my eyes, I could see fine particles of dust dancing around it. The three of us completely forgot about conversation and simply gazed at the spectacle, utterly spellbound.
At some point, I noticed that the head of the comet had spilt into two. Of the two giant, bright pieces, one of them seemed to keep moving closer and closer. After a while, thin shooting stars began to sparkle as they flew alongside the head. It was as if stars were raining from the sky. Or not as if. That night, stars truly did rain from the sky. The night sky held within it incredible beauty, like a scene straight out of a dream.
Finally, I arrived at the top of the slope. The chilly wind bit into my skin as it blew by. Below my eyes, clouds spread out every which way, forming a glittering carpet in the sky. And below that was the faint blue shadow of Itomori Lake.
I was shivering furiously, as if I were surrounded by a block of ice.
Somewhere along the way, I had grown frightened.
I was so scared, anxious, forlorn, hopeless that I felt something might happen to my head. Cold sweat poured out of my skin, as if a cork had popped loose.
I might be going crazy. I might have broken some time ago without realizing it.
Scared. Scared. I tried to scream, but the only thing that came out of my throat was sticky air. Against my will, my eyebrows began to open wide. My dried eyeballs could do nothing but continue to stare fixed on the lake. I knew. I noticed.
Itomori Village was gone.
Covering Itomori Lake was a new, larger, double lobed lake.
— It was obvious this would happen, some part inside of me thought. If something like that fell. A lump of rock that hot and that massive.
At that moment, I.
As if my joints had silently broken, I suddenly fell onto my knees.
I… at that moment.
The air that spilled from my throat barely became sound.
“… at that moment, I…”
All at once, Taki-kun’s memories flooded in. The comet disaster that destroyed a village. Taki-kun, who actually lived in Tokyo three years in the future. By the time we started switching, I was already gone. The night the stars rained from the sky. At that moment, I…
Where do memories reside?
In the synapse wiring of the brain? Do our eyeballs and fingertips also contain memories? Or is there a formless, invisible cluster of spirit somewhere which holds them? Something like what people call the heart, the mind, or the soul. Can you remove them, like a memory card?
A little while ago, the asphalt had ended, leaving me pedaling and pedaling the bike up an unpaved mountain path. The low lying sun blinked on and off in the narrow gaps between the dense trees. Mitsuha’s body emitted an endless flow of sweat, causing her bangs to stick to her forehead. As I pedaled, I wiped my hair away and the sweat with it.
Mitsuha’s soul. It must be inside my real body. And my soul is here, inside of Mitsuha’s.
But even now, we are together.
Mitsuha, or at least the fragments of her spirit, are here. For example, Mitsuha’s fingertips have memorized the shape and textures of her school uniform. When I put on that uniform, it just feels natural. When Mitsuha’s eyes spot a friend, they become relieved. Happy. I can tell who Mitsuha likes and who she doesn’t just from that feeling. When I look at Grandma, memories I should have no knowledge of float vaguely into my head, like a movie being played on a half broken projector. Body, memory, and emotion are all inseparably connected.
I heard Mitsuha’s voice coming from somewhere inside my body.
Her voice was filled with a sharp sense of urgency, as if she were on the verge of crying. It quivered, like the lonely twinkling of a faraway star.
The blurry picture began to take shape.
Taki-kun, Mitsuha called.
“You don’t… remember me?”
And then I remembered everything: Mitsuha’s memories from that day.
That day, Mitsuha skipped school and got on a train.
Her first destination: a large station which had connections to the Shinkansen line to Tokyo. The local trains on the way were empty, despite it being the morning commute rush.
“I’m gonna go to Tokyo for a bit.”
After leaving the house in the morning, on the way to school, she had suddenly told Yotsuha that.
“Ehh? Now? Why!?” Yotsuha, in shock, asked.
“Umm… a date?”
“Eh! You have a boyfriend in Tokyo!?”
“Umm… not my date…” Unable to come up with a good explanation, Mitsuha started running off. “I’ll be back by night, so don’t worry!”
Gazing at the scenery flying past the windows of the Shinkansen, Mitsuha thought. What do I want to do if I go to Taki-kun and Okudera-senpai’s date? Of course all three of us can’t just hang out together. In the first place, I’ve never been to Tokyo before, so will I even be able to meet Taki-kun? Even if I do find him, maybe it would be weird to suddenly go up and talk to him. Would he be surprised? Annoyed?
Oblivious to Mitsuha’s troubles, the Shinkansen undramatically slid smoothly into Tokyo station. Struggling to not be swept away by the waves of people, Mitsuha tried calling me. The phone number you have dialed cannot be reached at this time… She hung up. As expected, it didn’t work.
I’ll never find him, she thought.
Still, she tried her best, studying the map of the surrounding area as if it were a problem on a test before heading out into the city.
But, she thought, if I do meet him…
She rode on the Yamanote Line. Rode on the city buses. Walked. Rode the trains again. Walked again.
What should I do? Maybe I would be a nuisance after all. It would probably be awkward… or maybe–
A television on the streets displayed the words ‘Tiamat’s Comet: Closest Approach Tomorrow’.
Or maybe, if we do meet, maybe, just maybe…
Tired of walking, Mitsuha stood on a pedestrian bridge and gazed at all the shiny buildings as she thought, or rather, prayed.
If we do meet, maybe Taki-kun will be at least a little bit happy.
Mitsuha set out again, and thought some more.
If I keep walking around aimlessly like this, I have zero chance of ever finding him. There might be no chance of me finding him, but one thing I know for certain. If we meet, we’ll know instantly. You were the one inside me. And I was the one inside you.
That alone she was absolutely convinced of, like a simple addition problem that anyone would 100% get right.
The flashlight-like evening sun, visible through the gaps of the train station’s roof, sunk lower and lower. Mitsuha was sitting on a bench, resting her aching feet. The sunlight, much dimmer than it would be in Itomori Village, reflected hazily in her eyes. A musical chime sounded, followed by an automated voice: soon, a local Chiba bound train will arrive at the fourth line. A yellow train slid to a stop in front of the platform. The slight wind caused by its arrival shook Mitsuha’s hair gently. She stared blankly into the windows of the train.
Suddenly, she gulped.
She jolted up.
In one of the windows that just went by, he was there.
Mitsuha broke out in a sprint. The train stopped, and she soon caught up to that window. She had a hard time spotting him amidst the evening crowds. With a noise like the exhaling of a giant, the doors opened. She faltered for a moment at the waves of people spilling out from the train, but soon gathered the resolve to push herself through the masses, sweat dampening the underside of her knees as she went. With another giant’s breath, the doors closed. The train set out in motion. Mitsuha inched forward slowly, repeatedly muttering ‘excuse me’. Then, at long last, she stopped in front of a particular young boy. All the noise seemed to disappear from her surroundings.
Before her eyes was me from three years ago, still a middle school student.
I can’t climb any farther by bike.
As soon as that thought passed through my mind, the front wheel bumped into a tree root and slid out of control. Instinctively, I grabbed hold of a nearby tree trunk as the bike fell away from my body, landing on the ground about three meters below with a loud crash. The wheels were all bent out of shape. Sorry, Teshigawara, I mumbled as I started running up the path.
Why did I forget? Why couldn’t I remember all this time?
As I ran, I concentrated on the memories welling up from within me.
Mitsuha. Three years ago, on that day, you–
— Taki-kun. Taki-kun. Taki-kun.
Mitsuha repeated my name silently to herself. She didn’t know how to approach me, who was standing right in front of her yet failed to notice. What kind of expression should she approach me with? She thought and thought with a desperate seriousness. And then, putting on her best smile, she spoke.
Middle school me, surprised at having my name called out of the blue, looked up. We were about the same height. Straight in front of my eyes were another pair, open wide and starting to water.
Maintaining her smile of desperation, Mitsuha pointed to herself. I remained confused.
“… you don’t… remember me?”
“… who are you?”
A faint shriek escaped her lips. Her face grew red. She cast her gaze down and, in a barely audible voice, mumbled, “Ah… sorry…”
The train shook violently. All the other passengers managed to keep their balance, but Mitsuha alone stumbled and crashed into me. Her hair made contact with my nose, transmitting a faint smell of shampoo. Sorry, she mumbled again. What a weird girl, middle school me thought. Mitsuha desperately racked her brain, which had fallen into a state of chaos. You are Taki-kun, yet why? Why don’t you recognize me? An awkward silence fell between us.
The next station is Yotsuya, the announcer said, and Mitsuha felt somewhat relieved yet incredibly sad at the same time. But she couldn’t stay there any longer. The doors opened, and Mitsuha disembarked the train along with a few others. Watching her back move farther and farther away, a thought suddenly occurred to me. Was this strange girl someone I should know? Moved by an unexplainable yet very intense urge, I yelled out, “Wait! Your name?”
Mitsuha turned around, but the waves of people continued to carry her farther away. She undid the kumihimo tying her hair together, held it out to me, then screamed.
Instinctively, I stretched out my hand. The band was a vivid orange, like the slender rays of the evening sun shining into the dim train car. I thrust my body into the crowd and firmly grasped it.
“My name… is Mitsuha!”
That day three years ago. You came to meet me.
I finally realized that.
A stranger talked to me on the train. This whole time, I had pushed that off to the side as just a slightly abnormal occurrence. But Mitsuha had approached me that day with a whirl of emotions in her heart. And she returned home to her village deeply hurt inside, causing her to cut her hair.
My chest tightened. There was nothing I could do about it now. I simply ran and ran like a madman. Sweat and dirt caked my face and body. All of a sudden, the trees around me were replaced by moss covered rocks, and below my eyes the clouds spread out like a golden carpet in the sky.
At long last, I had arrived at the summit.
I took a deep breath of the chilly air. Then, as if spitting out all the thoughts and emotions welled up inside me, I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I heard a voice.
Standing up, I scanned the surrounding area.
I was standing in the field of rocks which encircled the basin inside which the shintai stood. The sinking evening sun stretched out the shadows of all that sat on top of the mountain. The world had temporarily been divided into light and shadow. But the figure of a person resided in neither of those realms.
“… Taki-kun?” I whispered. Then, taking a deep breath of the chilly air, I screamed. “Taki-kuun!”
I heard her.
She’s here. Mitsuha is here.
I broke out in a dash, climbing up the slope until I stood on top of the caldera’s edge. I looked all around, but found no one. She had to be somewhere though. I could feel it. I screamed.
“Mitsuhaa! You’re here aren’t you? In my body!”
I was certain of it. I screamed to the sky.
“Taki-kun! Where are you!? I hear your voice!”
I started running along the basin’s edge.
Her voice. I hear her voice, but nothing else.
Was that voice, my voice, and Mitsuha’s voice at the same time, physically vibrating the air, or did it only resound with my soul? I didn’t know. We were in the same place, yet three years apart.
“Mitsuha, where are you!?”
But still, I screamed. I couldn’t not scream. If I keep running around the caldera’s edge–
Then eventually I’ll catch up to Taki-kun. That delusion drove my steps.
I let out a little yelp, then stood still.
I stopped, then hurriedly turned around.
Just now, we passed each other.
I can sense a warm presence somewhere right in front of me. My heart started beating wildly.
I can’t see him, but Taki-kun is right there. I’m sure of it.
My heart started throbbing out of control.
He’s here. I held out my hand.
She’s here. I held out my hand.
My finger touches only the air.
I waited for her response, but it never came.
Maybe it’s impossible after all. We can’t meet. One last time, I looked around me, only to reconfirm that I stood on top of the mountain all alone. I let out a sigh of despair.
A sudden gust of wind lifted my hair up. My sweat had all dried some time ago. The temperature seemed to drop abruptly. I looked over at the evening sun and found that it had sunk behind a cloud. Released from the last remnants of daylight, the realms of light and shadow began to melt together. The silhouettes of the world began to blur. The sky still maintained some of its former brightness, but the ground was already completely enveloped in faint shadows. Only a dim, pink indirect light remained around me.
That’s right. This time period has a name. Tasogare. Tasokare. Kawatare. A time when silhouettes begin to blur, and you may meet things which are not of this world. An old word.
Our voices overlapped.
Could it be…
I turned my eyes away from the clouds and looked straight ahead.
And there stood Mitsuha, staring at me, mouth and eyes gaping wide.
Rather than show surprise, my mouth slowly twisted into a smile at the sight of her amusing yet endearing dumbfounded expression.
“Mitsuha.” I called to her, and tears began to well up in her eyes.
“… Taki-kun? Taki-kun? Taki-kun? Taki-kun?”
As she repeated my name over and over, her hands reached out to grab my arms. I felt strength enter her fingers.
“… It’s Taki-kun!”
She barely managed to get those words out; large tears spilled endlessly from her eyes.
We met at last. We really did it. Mitsuha as Mitsuha, and me as me, facing each other in our own bodies. I truly felt relieved. A sense of comfort warmed the bottom of my heart, as if I had stayed a long time in a country where I didn’t know the language and finally returned home. A gentle happiness filled my body.
“I came to meet you,” I said to the sobbing Mitsuha. Her tears almost looked like small transparent marbles rolling around. I laughed and continued. “Man, that was rough! Do you know how far away you were?”
She really was far away, farther than either of us could have ever imagined, in both space and time. Mitsuha blinked in confusion.
“Ah… but how? Back then, I…”
“I drank your kuchikamisake,” I said, looking back on all the trouble I had been through.
All of a sudden, Mitsuha’s tears stopped. “Eh…” She was at a loss for words. Well, I guess that makes sense. “Ah… ah…” She slowly backed away from me. “Ah… you drank that!?!”
Her face beet red, Mitsuha was apparently very angry. Why now of all times!?
“Yeah that’s right! Also, you touched my boobs, didn’t you!?”
“Wha — how do you know…” Oops.
“Yotsuha saw it all!” She said with both hands on her hips, as if scolding a child.
“Ahh, my bad…” Damn that little girl. My palms grew sweaty. Excuse… must come up with excuse… “It was just one time!” That’s not an excuse!
“… Just once? Hmm…”
Huh? Mitsuha seemed to be considering something. Does that mean just once is forgivable? For a moment, it looked like I managed to get out of my pickle, but Mitsuha soon reached her conclusion.
“… It’s the same no matter how many times you did it! Idiot!”
No good, huh. Giving up, I clapped my hands together and bowed in apology. Wasn’t about to tell her that I really did it every time we switched.
With a sudden change of mood, Mitsuha pointed at my right hand, a surprised look on her face. I glanced over at my wrist.
The kumihimo. The one I received from Mitsuha three years ago. I unfastened the fixture holding it together, and, while unwrapping it from my wrist, said to Mitsuha, “Next time don’t try and come to meet me before I even know you… how am I supposed to recognize you?” I handed the cord over to her, remembering all of her emotions that moment in the train. “I’ve had it for three years. Now it’s your turn.”
Mitsuha looked up from the braid she held in both hands and answered with a cheerful nod. When she smiled, I noticed for the first time. The whole world seemed like it was smiling with her.
She wrapped the kumihimo around her head like a hair band, fastening it with a little knot above her left ear. “How does it look?” she asked, slightly blushing.
Not very good, I thought. It looks a little childish. Well, in the first place she shouldn’t have cut her hair so short. Doesn’t she know I like long black hair? But anyways, even I knew that the right answer was to compliment her. According to the ‘Conversation Tips for Those Who Have Never Been Popular a Second of Their Lives!’ article Mitsuha sent me, as long as you keep complimenting a girl you’ll be alright.
“Hm… it’s not bad.”
“Hey!” Mitsuha’s expression suddenly darkened. Wha? “You’re thinking it doesn’t look very good, aren’t you!?”
“Ehh!” How’d she know!? “Ha… haha… sorry.”
She turned her head away in disgust. What is this… talking with girls is too hard…
Then, all of a sudden, Mitsuha broke out in laughter. What’s with this girl? Crying, getting angry, and now laughing? But as I watched, whatever afflicted her began to spread to me. I covered my face with my hand as I started chuckling uncontrollably. She was still laughing hysterically. For some reason, it was starting to get fun. We laughed and laughed together, like two small children standing at the edge of the faintly glimmering twilight world.
Slowly but surely, the temperature had begun to drop. And slowly but surely, the remaining light had begun to fade.
“Hey, Mitsuha.” As I called her name, I remembered those childhood feelings of playing long hours after school and having to go home, despite still wanting to play with my friends forever and ever. “There’s still something we need to do. Listen up.”
I explained the plan Teshigawara, Saya-chin, and I came up with. Seeing Mitsuha listening to me with such a grave expression, it occurred to me that she remembered. That night when the stars fell and the village disappeared. That moment when she died. She remembered it all. To Mitsuha, tonight was a reenactment.
“It’s here,” she said in a quivering voice, looking up at the sky.
Following her gaze, I spotted the faint silhouette of Tiamat’s Comet starting to become visible in the darkening western sky.
“It’s going to be okay. We can make it in time,” I asserted, half to myself.
“I’ll do my best. Ah… katawaredoki is already…”
As she spoke, I noticed that Mitsuha’s body itself had begun to fade.
“Already over,” I said. The last traces of the evening sky had almost all disappeared from the sky. Night was almost upon us. Trying to push back down the anxiety that suddenly began to well up within me, I put on a smile and spoke to Mitsuha in as cheerful a voice as I could manage. “So we don’t forget each other when we wake up.” I took a marker out of my pocket, grabbed Mitsuha’s right hand, and wrote on her palm. “Let’s write our names, like this.” I handed Mitsuha the marker.
“… Good idea!”
She broke out in a smile, like a flower blossoming. Then, following my lead, she grabbed my right hand and wrote.
Suddenly, I heard a small clattering sound by my feet.
Looking down, I saw that the pen had fallen on the ground.
“Eh?” I looked up.
In front of my eyes, was no one.
I looked around.
“Mitsuha? Hey, Mitsuha?”
I raised my voice to a shout. There was no response. Starting to panic, I walked around frantically. Everything around me had sunken into a bluish black darkness. Below me were flat, dark clouds, and even further in the darkness beyond lay the blurry outline of Itomori Lake.
Mitsuha was gone.
Night had come.
I was back in my own body, three years in the future.
I glanced at my right hand. The kumihimo was gone. On my palm there was only a single, thin line: the beginnings of a word that the writer never got the chance to finish. I gently touched my fingers to that line.
“… I was going to tell you,” I said quietly to it. “No matter where you are in the world, I’ll find you again.”
I looked up at the sky. There was no sign of the comet, only a few stars beginning their nightly twinkling.
“– Your name is Mitsuha.” Trying to reaffirm my memory, trying to engrave that name permanently in there, I closed my eyes. “… I remember!”
My confidence boosted, I reopened my eyes. The white half moon sat faraway in the sky. “Mitsuha, Mitsuha… Mitsuha, Mitsuha, Mitsuha. Your name is Mitsuha!”
I yelled her name out to the moon.
“Your name is…!”
All of a sudden, the word that I wanted to say slipped my mind. Alarmed, I grabbed a pen and wrote the first letter of that name on my palm. Or, I tried to.
But after drawing just one line, my hand stopped. The pen began to shake violently. Trying to stop it, I put all of my strength into my fingers. Sticking the pen into my palm like a needle, I tried desperately to engrave that name. But the pen now refused to move a millimeter more.
“… who are you?”
The pen fell from my hand.
They’re disappearing. Your name. Your memories.
“… why am I here?”
Trying to connect the pieces together, trying to gather the fading fragments of my memory, I spoke out loud.
“I’m here… I’m here because I came to meet her! I came to save her! Because I wanted her to live!”
Gone. Such an important thing, gone. All gone.
“Who? Who? Who? Who…”
Everything had fallen out. Feelings and emotions which should have been there were gone.
“Someone important, someone I must not forget, someone I didn’t want to forget!”
Despair and affection alike all disappeared together. I didn’t even know why I was crying anymore. All my emotions crumbled and disappeared, like a sand castle crashing to the ground.
“Who, who, who…”
After the sand had all collapsed, one lump still remained. And in that moment, I knew its name: loneliness. In that moment, I understood. All that I would have from here on was that single emotion. I would forever carry only loneliness, like a piece of heavy luggage someone forced me to hold.
— That’s fine, I thought suddenly. If the world is this cruel of a place, I’ll show my defiance by living on with only this loneliness in my hands. I’ll struggle with only this emotion by my side. Even if we’re separated, even if we can never meet again, I’ll struggle. I’ll never give in. Soon, I would forget the very fact that I forgot. So, with this sole emotion in hand, I yelled one last time to the night sky.
My voice echoed amongst the quiet mountains. As it asked the same question over and over again to the empty sky, it gradually grew softer and softer.
Before long, silence descended.