I’m a high school boy and a bestselling light novel author, strangled by my classmate who is my underclassman and a voice actress.
This is my current predicament.
June 19th, that Thursday night.
I was in that hotel in Tokyo, the place I visited for the umpteenth time.
This space wasn’t so big, but didn’t need to be so. I was on the single bed, leaning my back on the wall, pillow and bolster.
I had my computer placed on my thighs that were extended forward. As it would heat up, the gentle heat would reach me through the jeans, like a kitten. I never had one, so it’s just my imagination.
In this image, I was working on the manuscript of ‘Vice Versa’.
A small television was placed on the edge of the table, the corner of the room. It’s showing the NHK news at 9pm. They had been discussing the FIFA World Cup all this while.
Stored in a plastic bag next to me was a packet of consomme potato chips, 4 PET bottles of water and tea, and a sweet bun for supper.
Of course, the potato chips and two bottles of tea were from Nitadori. I intended to consume them on the return trip.
Everything else was bought by me when I visited a convenience store close to the hotel after I checked in. The bag containing the potato chips was bigger, so I stuffed the rest of the items inside.
This was the hotel I enjoyed staying in, and it was close to the Dengeki editorial branch near Iidabashi station.
Over the two years and so, whenever I visited Tokyo, I would be staying here, (except when at the end of year party). I took medical leave the previous week, but I had been staying here for ten consecutive Thursdays, so I did remember the appearances of the receptionists.
Surely they would have remembered whenever I checked in.
“Hey you! What happened to you last week yo!”
It wouldn’t be weird for them to say that to me. But they didn’t.
Also, I can imagine the ones on the other side of the counter discussing ‘the high school boy from the countryside living here every Thursday, sponsored by a publisher’.
Will I be dubbed ‘Thursday-kun’ or ‘Thursday Boy’? Anyway, I don’t want to be called that on the streets.
On this day, while on the trip to Tokyo, I forgot something really serious.
The senior authors dubbed the period right before deadline or way after that as the ‘carnage period’.
“In a little carnage period.”
“Next week’s gonna be a carnage. Don’t ask me out.”
“Got out of the carnage period! Let’s go Karaoke!”
They would use this term. That’s what I learned at the end-of-year.
And during the two and a half hours from dusk to night–
That was a period of carnage to me.
I was really anxious. This was the one thing I was most apprehensive of with regards to writing.
How did I forget to write that short story?
I had a note on the desk, a ‘tasklist’, and I pasted it there. My smartphone calendar had this task recorded to.
And I forgot them all. I really forgot everything from my mind.
In this moment of crisis, the editor called me on the train. I really got saved.
If he had not contacted me–
For example, if he had contacted me only now, I would have faced a worse moment of carnage.
The content I had to write was decided, and the structure was completed (in my head), so I was able to complete it on the train, as I was able to focus.
I might be boasting, but i did feel this was a really interesting short story.
It’s a comedy.
While Shin and Sin were in Reputation, they carelessly fell off a cliff. Shin died and revived, and in three days, was reunited with Sin. Before they met, Shin was treated as a god by the indigenous tribe living at the bottom of the valley.
I finished the final touches eight minutes before the train reached the terminal, and made it presentable to the editor. I sent the mail with the attached files through the smartphone internet as I sat on the train.
It’s not a price to begin with, but I never got the chance to take to Nitadori at all.
And I never had the time to eat the potato chips on the train.
Nitadori and Miss Kamishiro got off the train first.
So for two consecutive days, Wednesday and Thursday, I never heard Nitadori, or Stella talk about that ‘important thing’.
In other words, I did not have to hear her out.
This allowed me some relief, but there’s still the following week. While we wouldn’t talk in school, we would still meet. In fact, I couldn’t escape at all, and I’m just pushing the problems behind me.
But even so, at least–
I wouldn’t have to be so worried.
So I started to relax. After a while, I changed into the pajamas prepared in the room, and intended to sleep by twelve latest, to prepare for the After Record.
Right before bed, I started to relax, with the TV airing as the background music, and enjoy the moment of writing a novel
While I was feeling completely satisfied, I heard a knock on the door.
At first, I had assumed the knocking was from the neighboring door, or opposite.
There was no way anyone would visit my room at this time. It never happened before.
But after hearing the door knock again, I had to recognize that it was a knock on my door.
What’s going on?
With laptop in hand, I got up from the bed. I shut it, and placed it on the table by the window.
And then, I switched off the TV using the remote control.
My shoes were placed at the door of the room, so I inserted my feet into the room slippers.
And then, I teetered towards the door, where someone was calling for me.
After the third knock, I approached the door, and was about to take a step forward.
As there was a peephole in the door, a door scope, I decided to check.
It would be bad if it’s a killer awaiting me.
No, in the movies I watched, once the house owner peep through, there’ll be a gun pointed, and fired. I will die if my right eye’s shot through.
But that’s very unlikely. So I bent down, guessing that it was the hotel staff, and looked through.
And then, I spotted the one nocking.
Black hair, light green glasses.
Isn’t she living at a relative’s?
How did she know about this hotel and room number?
I had a lot of questions on my mind, and pulled the horizontal sliding lock.
I opened the door, and affirmed that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. It was Nitadori.
Was I right to imagine her as a ‘killer’?
“Good night sensei. Sorry for the sudden visit.”
Nitadori said with a frozen look, and nodded hastily. Her long hair flowed. It’s definitely her voice.
Her attire was different from when we were on the train. Home clothes, maybe? She was dressed in pants with large pockets at the thighs, along with a three-quarter sleeved shirt, looking really relaxed.
I then knew it was Nitadori, but I did not understand why she visited.
I was quietly taken aback, but I asked slowly.
“I could smell some very nice horse sashimi smell from this room, so I came running here from my relative’s place. Let me have some!”
Would she say such a thing? So I wondered.
“I have something to discuss. I couldn’t talk on the train.”
She did not mention that hose sashimi.
Till this point, I understood everything.
But how did she know where I was?
“And you know this hotel and the room…”
“You mentioned the hotel name before.”
Speaking of which, I did. That was probably when I first talked with Nitadori on the train.
“But…the room number?”
I was really surprised, and asked,
Surely no hotel staff would inform others of my room number.
Even if the person asking’s my acquaintance, the hotel staff will merely call my room if needed. She can’t possibly enter the suite level either.
“Erm…I’ll tell you that later. Mind letting me in?”
Nitadori asked as she answered,
And in response,
Answering me was Miss Kamshiro, standing to the right of the door, poking her head in from a place I could not see. She stood by the side like a shinobi.
She was holding a device a little bigger than the phone. Nitadori said,
“I shall answer your question then, sensei. This is a sensor. This room is giving off a strong consomme scent, so we know where you live.”
Th-that’s impossible…but, I guess it might be possible with Miss Kamshiro’s secret weapon…?
While I was feeling dumbfounded,
“That was a joke. In fact, I placed a microchip into the potato chips bag. If it’s within distance, I can determine the location. The battery’s running out, so rest assure.”
Miss Kamishiro answered. She’s as scary in various ways as usual.
“Milady decided to stay in a double room with me here. I told her aunt that she would be with her colleagues till late, and that we decided to stay at a hotel near the studio.”
So at this point, i finally got something clear about Nitadori. This ‘staying at the relative’s place’ part was real?
“Can I–come in?”
Nitadori asked again. I was thinking it was impossible for me to refuse her.
Thus, on this day, I had to face Nitadori (or Stella). I steeled myself.
Since Nitadori was so desperate to question me, I assume she must be feeling furious. I didn’t know
We couldn’t just discuss on the corridor. While the room’s small, I could only invite them in.
With Miss Kamishiro around, there shouldn’t be any problems.
“Of course, come in.”
I said, and held the door with the left hand, backing up.
Nitadori passed me by, but did not enter the room.
She merely took a step forward, stopped right at the door, and reached her right hand out for the handle.
At that moment, I was taken aback, and then I understood that she did not want to enter the room without me entering first. Thus, I moved my left hand away.
I then entered the room, as she hoped, and turned back to see Nitadori follow suit.
After that, Miss Kamishiro was about to enter through the door–
But Nitadori suddenly shouted, and barged into Miss Kamishiro on the shoulder.
I looked over at her, giving an awkward cry.
Miss Kamishiro, who was suddenly attacked, severely lost her balance. However, she did not trip over. She stumbled a few steps back, and was barely able to maintain her balance.
This action alone was enough to force her out of the room.
And Nitadori reached her hand out, closing the door slowly.
Miss Kamishiro’s face was blocked by the door, and the door get a crisp sound as it shut, and locked itself.
I might have been taken. Nitadori turned her head around, and smiled at me,
“Sorrry to startle you.”
Right behind her, I could hear the forceful twist of the door knob. Of course, it wouldn’t budge.
I thought Miss Kamishiro would be screaming, but she never did.
Of course, she probably knew she would be disturbing others, and immediately stopped doing so.
“Is this fine?”
“This is fine.”
Nitadori answered with a different intonation.
I had a thought.
Nitadori might have something very important to tell me.
That she would not say in front of Miss Kamishiro, if possible.
I understood everything till this point.
As for what she wanted to say however, I did not know.
“Understood…I’ll hear you out. It’s inconvenient to talk standing up. If you don’t mind, have a seat.”
It might the first time in my life that I used the expression ‘it’s inconvenient to talk standing up’. So this is also applicable in real life. I’m a little moved.
“Thank you. Yes, it seems so.”
Nitadori answered, and this time, she moved forward, passed me, and into the room.
All I had to do was to reach out, exert some force on the door, and it’ll open.
I brooded, and wanted to say that since it’s Miss Kamishiro outside, things should be fine. I did not open the door, and gave chase after Nitadori instead.
I felt that if I opened the door, I would have wasted all of Nitadori’s efforts and determination. I was scared of what she would say to me, but I did not open the door.
Nitadori went deep inside the room, quickly turned the chair at the windowside desk around, and sat down.
This time, she did not follow the usual routine of tying her wig, and draping it forward.
Instead, she sat down, placed her hands on her chest, and in a fluid motion, ripped off her wig.
Once she took off the black wig, the real hair beneath the net–the faint brown hair, almost grey appeared before me.
She quickly rolled up the wig in her hands, and placed it next to the phone on the table. Then, she immediately took the net off with one hand, and let her delicate and short hair flutter gently.
She then removed her glasses, and gently laid it beside the wig on the table, She then widened her right eye with her left fingers, and reached her right fingers into the eye.
It might look scary, but I knew what she was doing. She was removing the colored contacts beneath her glasses.
Once she took it off, she casually dumped it into her pocket.
I suppose it was a customized colored contact lens.
I had good vision, and never wore one, so I was unfamiliar with them. However, is it okay to keep contact lenses like this without storing within solution?
Then, I realized that she intended to abandon it.
I did not know whether it was because it was close to expiry, and she intended to discard it after taking it out, or to give up everything she could use to show her resolve.
Nitadori was turning into Stella.
Or rather, the opposite.
She was reverting back to being Stella. However, I did not know the intent behind this.
Was it more of a ‘since it’s late at night, I’m changing back’, or ‘to show my real self and interrogate this person before me?
I stood still, and Stella turned towards me.
She was staring at me with her grey right eye and brown left eye.
Once I clearly saw the difference in eye colors, I found them to be really strange, yet really beautiful.
“Please have a seat, sensei.”
Stella said tersely.
“Ah, erm, eh, yes.”
I did some suspicious gestures as I wondered where I should be sitting. So I could only sit on the bed, close to her.
I gave a good ol’ fashioned grunt to hide my anxiety, and sat at the side of the bed.
After that, I found myself less than a meter away from Stella, who was on the chair.
Though we were closer while seated on the train, she was always shoulder to shoulder. I never once st facing her.
Again, I had a new experience, an uncomfortable one.
Stella once looked down.
Whenever she talked, she would typically look at the other party in the eye. I was wondering if she was asking me to take the initiative, but probably not.
Stella placed her left hand on her left thigh, right before her eyes, and she was tapping her white slender hand atop the pocket there.
It was big, and probably had the capacity to store lots of things; however, it looked really flat. There might be a lump even if the pocket contained a smartphone.
At the same time, i could hear the friction between the hand and the fabric, along with the no-so-strong air-conditioning. I didn’t know what this ritual meant, but Stella repeated the same motion over and over again.
Thanks to that, I had some time to think.
After some consideration, I got an answer.
I didn’t know what Stella wanted to say–but at this moment, I should apologize first.
Give a proper apology like a man.
On the train, I was thinking ‘if she’s angry, I’ll apologize’.
This overly pessimistic, reactive attitude just won’t do.
So I decided to apologize first. Don’t people say that attack is the best defense?
Stella took a short sigh, and then moved her left hand away from her thigh.
I saw her lips curl into a blissful smile, and thought of a metaphor, that a beast would grin before its prey.
She lifted her head slowly, and took a quick breath. She was about to speak.
No way will I lose.
I spoke up.
It’s mano-a-mano, like a quickdraw duel in a Western flick. The first to shoot wins.
I took a deep breath.
I once saw a saying that when gunmen have a showdown, there would be occasions when both would fire at once.
During such situations, only a gunshot can be heard.
This was the situation that happened to both of us.
Both Stella and I said the same thing, at the exact same moment.
We were completely in sync.
I hastily lowered my head as I spoke, so I did not see the expression shown on Stella’s face.
As I slowly lifted my head, I saw Stella lifting her head too.
In other words, we both apologized and lowered our heads at the same time.
If we were any closer, I might have knocked Stella in the head. That was very close.
We both lifted our heads, and our eyes met.
What we said next was different. However, intent-wise, it was the same.
With stunned looks, we stared at each other.
I had the immediate urge to say something–but I stopped myself.
Good thing I didn’t say anything. If I did, I would have spoken at the same time as Stella.
“Please talk.” “Please talk.”
And we were in unison again. Surely both sides must be feeling awkward by now.
I listened to Stella, and said,
“It’s nothing…I wanted to apologize, so I did…”
“Ah, because I thought you’re angry.”
Stella’s tone was utterly terrifying, so I blurted in response. I wanted to respond, but I sounded so arrogant, and I immediately regretted my words.
“No, I’m angry because you’re saying that–”
Stella refuted, and stopped.
“You have no need to apologize at all, sensei!”
And then, she hollered.
I was completely overwhelmed by her, and so I thought.
“I came here to apologize!”
She said with utmost vigor. It appeared she was livider than whenever Meek was misunderstood.
But even so, I could not understand the reason at all.
“Eh-eh? Erm…huh? Erm…what’s going on? Did you do…something to me, Nitadori?”
I was waving my hands with intrigue, utterly speechless, and completely sweating, but I barely managed to respond. Nitadori then widened her eyes.
Her right eye was a grey hue, her left brown. The whites around the pupils widened.
Her slightly opened scarlet lips were quivering.
I had been thinking nonchalantly that if she was utterly seething, she would be so furious that she would end up transforming.
Stella got up from her seat without uttering a word.
She immediately brought her face and body towards me.
She grabbed my shoulders, and shoved me down.
My head and back crashed into the mattress. Of course, it didn’t hurt.
Just like this, I ended up lying face up on the bed instead of seated. My posture was a little crooked, and everything beneath the knees were beyond the bed.
One second right after I was looking at the ceiling of the hotel room–
My vision was covered in a shadow, and I was being strangled.
Once my neck felt an icy sensation, I could hear Stella right atop my face, saying this,
“Why!? Why!? Why?–I! Did this! To you!”
She did not exert more force onto the neck.
I would say she was ‘touching’ my neck, rather than choking it.
If ‘this thing’ meant choking me back on the train, she’s not doing this now.
This was simply ‘touching the neck’, not choking it. She could have exerted more strength into it,
Even so, her icy hands stroking my neck seemed to have removed much excess heat from my carotid artery, and I felt that it’s comfortable.
“I! Tried to! Kill you!”
I was lying on the bed, and my neck felt comfy. I had relaxed completely as I heard Stella yel at me.
“I peeked into your manuscript! I was livid that Meek might die, so I tried to kill the person who did that!”
My eyes were facing the light, so I was able to see Stella’s face, that her large eyes were brimming with tears.
I remembered this expression before; I saw it on the train.
Unlike the train ride though, Stella was not wearing glasses or contacts, and showed no malice on her face.
“I thought of killing you once! Even so! Why don’t you hate me? Why aren’t you hating me? Why did you forgive me immediately? Why were you willing to shield me?”
I heard her express her thoughts, and I thought, sorry to her, but “Let’s hope the neighbor won’t hear these shouts”.
If this happened, what would happen?
I really hoped the hotel walls were sufficiently thick.
If the building materials are worse than I thought, let’s just try to pull a fast one by say we’re just practicing for an act, ahaha”.
But even so, Stella (or Nitadori) was worrying about this trivial thing…she’s probably been brooding over this ever since then.
To be honest, I’m really sorry.
I just felt that it was a good thing i had just apologized.
“Please! Tell me! WHy–”
Slowly, I stopped Stella from shouting further.
“Erm, it’s fine not to yell like that. It’s okay, calm down, alright?”
I tried to say so. This should be gentle enough, right?
Stella replied tersely.
Looking at her eyes, I found that she was on the verge of tears, but she managed to rein it in, and the rain-like tears did not drip upon me.
I felt that her hands were slowly leaving my neck.
I reached my hand out, and clamped Nitadori’s hands down on the sides of my neck.
Upon hearing the shriek, I knew that I scared her, so I said,
“Ah, sorry. But I hope you’ll touch my neck a little longer. Your hands are really cold, really comfortable.”
“Really comfy and cold. I feel that I can forget a lot of things. I’ll be happy if you keep it at for a longer time.”
I did not want her to be terrified, so I begged her.
I did not want her to be any more terrified than she was, but at this point, it was too late.
But even so, I was troubled.
She asked something really unexpected.
Could I ask?
Could Stella understand if I didn’t explain everything?
But even so, could I just act a bit and pass it off as some hysterical nonsense?
I didn’t think it was the right thing to do either.
What should I do?
If I got choked to death, she could run away, but things wouldn’t end up this well.
What should I do?