Utsuro No Hako To Zero No Maria / Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria Vol 1 Chapter 1

Volume 1

It’s not like I’ve completely forgotten about it. I probably still remember this place, and I even dream of its scenery, just as I’m doing now.

I can only remember this place in my dreams.

Right—it’s not like I’ve forgotten about it. I just can’t find any clues to help me retrieve these memories. Nothing could possibly trigger my memories of this scene. There’s simply nothing in the real world that resembles it at all. If I tried, I could certainly remember it, but I lack the opportunity to do so.

Nothing from my everyday life could possibly remind me of the person before me.

“Do you have a wish?”

The face of the person who calmly asked me that question, was continuously morphing into new and different faces. My dream was generated by my own subconscious, but somehow, I couldn’t grasp the features of his (or her) face. I saw it, of course—at least, I believe I did. It’s just that he (she) somehow resembled everyone and no one at the same time.

Back then, I guess I gave a passive, harmless answer to his (or her) question, though I don’t remember my precise response. Anyhow, when he (she) heard my answer, I was presented with a container of some kind.

“This is a box that grants any wish.”

It did look like a box, now that he (she) mentioned it.

I squinted at the box. My vision wasn’t bad, but I still couldn’t see it clearly. There was nothing in the box, yet it exuded a strange feeling. It was like holding a closed cookie box that made a rattling sound when you shook it, but was empty once you opened it.

I think I asked him (or her) something trivial at that point, along the lines of ‘Why are you giving this to me?’

“Because you’re truly interesting! I can’t distinguish one human from another human, even though I’m fascinated by humanity. Ironic, don’t you think?”

I didn’t really understand what he (she) was trying to say, but I nodded halfheartedly nonetheless.

“But you’re an exception—I can distinguish you from the rest of humanity. You might think that this is nothing special, but it’s more than enough to capture my interest!”

I looked inside the box. Even though the box was empty, I felt as if I were being attacked by an unpleasant sensation and my entire body were being drawn toward the bottom of the box. I quickly looked away.

“This box will grant any wish. I don’t care what you wish for—I won’t stop you even if your wish destroys all of mankind. I’m just interested in what you, or your species, choose to wish for.”

I said something in response, and he (she) smiled.

“Hehe… No, no. It’s not some kind of special power. Humans already have the ability to grant wishes just by forming a clear image of what they desire. I’m only able to give that power a little push.”

I accepted the box.

Of course, I wouldn’t remember this dream when I woke up.

But I would clearly remember what I thought about him (or her). It was the same impression that I had of him (or her) in the dream.

Somehow, isn’t that person—

—disgusting?

 

 

 

1st time

 

“I am Aya Otonashi. I’m pleased to meet you,” says the transfer student with a faint smile.

 

23rd time

“I’m Aya Otonashi.…Regards,” says the transfer student, uninterested, emotionlessly.

 

 

1,050th time

“Aya Otonashi,” utters the transfer student without even looking at us, seemingly bored beyond belief.

 

 

13,118th time

I look at transfer student Aya Otonashi, whose name I don’t yet know, standing on the platform.

“Aya Otonashi.”

The transfer student murmurs her name to her classmates in a low voice, as if she doesn’t care whether we can understand her. Nevertheless, her voice is clear.

—Yeah. I somehow already know her name, even though I’ve just heard it for the first time.

We all wait with bated breath, but not because of the blunt, simple self-introduction that barely even qualifies as a greeting. It’s probably because she is stunningly beautiful. She stands out effortlessly from everyone else in the room.

Everyone waits for her to continue speaking.

She opens her mouth.

“Kazuki Hoshino.”

“…Huh?”

She calls out my name for some reason. Everyone else in the class looks at me curiously. Don’t look at me like that, I’m just as clueless.

“I’m here to break you,” she suddenly proclaims. “This is my 13,118th school transfer. Even I can’t help but get annoyed after so many iterations. So for a change of pace, I’ll declare war this time.”

She doesn’t even spare a glance for our dumbfounded classmates, and gazes straight at me.

“Kazuki Hoshino. I’ll make you surrender. You’d better give me your most precious thing soon. Resistance is futile. Why? That’s simple. Because I’ll—”

Aya Otonashi smiles, and then finishes her sentence.

“—always be by your side, no matter how much time passes.”

 

10,876th time

It’s ‘March 2nd’. It’s supposed to be ‘March 2nd’ today.

Why am I confirming today’s date?

…Probably because the sky’s still cloudy, even though it’s already March. That’s almost certainly it. I’m a bit melancholic because of the weather; lately, the blue sky has been hiding behind the clouds.

Geez, I wonder when the weather will finally clear up.

I’m in my classroom before school starts, staring out the window, just idly thinking about nothing of import.

I guess I’m having these thoughts because I’m feeling unwell. No, I don’t feel bad. I feel how I’ve always felt. I’m just…uncomfortable. I can’t explain it, but it feels like I’m suddenly the only one without a shadow. It’s more like the ‘something’s imperceptibly wrong’ kind of uncomfortable.

…Odd. I can’t come up with a reason. Nothing unusual happened yesterday, I ate breakfast this morning, I listened to the new album of my favorite artist on the train, and I got an uneventful ‘average luck’ rating according to the fortune-telling show that I happened to watch.

I decide not to wrack my brain any further thinking about it, and take an Umaibō [1] from my bag. Today’s Umaibō is pork flavored. I take a bite. No matter how many I eat, I never get tired of that taste.

“Again with the Umaibō—? You really can’t get enough of those, can you? If you keep eating Umaibō all the time, your blood will turn Umaibō-colored, you know?”

“…err, what color is that?”

“Who knows!”

The girl kidding around with me is my classmate Kokone Kirino. Her brown hair, somewhere between long and quite long, is bound in a ponytail high up on the back of her head. Kokone changes her hairstyle all the time, but she seems to like her current choice. At least, I think so—I feel like Kokone’s recently been sticking with just this style.

Kokone casually grabs the seat beside me. She starts doing her makeup with the help of her blue hand mirror. She’s also making use of a tool that I, as a guy, don’t know very well. I wish she’d put this much effort into everything, and not just into doing her makeup.

“Come to think of it, you have a lot of blue stuff, don’t you?”

“Oh yeah, I like blue… Ooh, right, Kazu-kun! Isn’t there something different about me today? Isn’t there?” Kokone suddenly says, looking at me with sparkling eyes.

“Hm…?”

How should I know? There’s no way I could respond if you ask me that all of a sudden.

“I’ll give you a hint! My charm point has changed!”

“Eh?”

I instinctively look at her breasts.

“Whoa, hey! Why my breasts?!”

Well, because you’re always boasting that you finally crossed into D-cup territory, so I was sure…

“Of course my eyes are my charm point! And anyway, breasts don’t just suddenly get bigger! Or is that what you’d like?! You closet perv! You titty maniac!”

“…Sorry.”

There’s no way I could have known about a self-proclaimed charm point like that, but I’ll just apologize for now.

“…So?”

Kokone looks expectantly into my eyes. I have to admit her eyes are quite large. I feel a bit bashful as I realize this.

“…I think your face looks the same as always…?” I say, not really looking at her face.

“Eh? What? My face looks cute as always, you said?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Say it!”

I am being compelled.

“To tell you the truth, I’m using mascara today. How is it? How is it?”

I don’t see any difference. I can’t distinguish between how she looked yesterday and how she looks today.

“……no, there’s really no way I could judge something like that,” I tell her in with utter honesty—and fail her test.

“‘Something like that’…you say?!”

She hits me.

“Ow…”

“Tch! What a boring rascal you are!” she says in a forced voice, but…Aah, she might really be a bit angry. Kokone pretends to spit at me and walks off to show off her mascara-covered face to some of our other classmates.

“Haa…”

Now I’m tired. Kokone may be funny, but I can’t cope with her temper.

“Done with your lover’s quarrel?”

The first thing I see when I turn are three piercings in a right ear. There’s only one person in my school with such piercings.

“…Daiya. That was nothing like a lover’s quarrel. How the heck did you come to that conclusion?”

My friend Daiya Oomine just sneers at my objection. Yeah, he’s arrogant as always. Well, I guess it would be weird if someone like Daiya were to abase himself. After all, he chooses to wear such extreme accessories and doesn’t just ignore the school rules, but instead deliberately flaunts his violation of those rules.

“But did you really not notice the mascara? Even I noticed the difference. And I’m absolutely, completely uninterested in her.”

“…Seriously?”

They are neighbors and have been childhood friends since kindergarten. That he isn’t interested in her is undoubtedly a lie. That being said, overlooking something that even Daiya noticed might be a small problem. After all, he’s totally uninterested in others and doesn’t even seem to look at people.

“…But, y’know.”

I have the feeling that she applied that mascara yesterday as well.

“I see, I got it, Kazu. So you told the bitch ‘I’m not interested in you.’ I agree with you. I’ll adopt the same position. But I’ll do it more bluntly.”

“You malicious class president! I can hear you quite clearly!”

Daiya ignores the sharp-eared girl and keeps talking.

“Kazu, let’s not talk about that irrelevant chick anymore—did you know that a transfer student’s arriving today?”

“A transfer student?”

I’ll confirm this again—it’s ‘March 2nd’ today. Why would someone transfer in so late in the school year?

“A transfer student?! Really?!”

As expected, Kokone has heard us talking, and raises her voice to ask a question.

“Kiri. I’m not talking to you. Don’t come butting in from over there. Oh, and don’t come closer, either! That desperately made-up face of yours isn’t good for my mental health.”

“W-What—?! You’re one to talk, Daiya! You should start fixing that dishonest personality of yours ASAP. Maybe we should hang you upside-down for 24 hours so some blood can finally get to your brain! Maybe you’ll finally be able to say something of value after that.”

In order to interrupt their mutual abuse-fest, I raise my voice a bit and return to the original topic.

“A transfer student, right? I think I heard something about that.”

Daiya closes his mouth on cue and glares at me.

“…Who told you that?” he asks with a serious look.

“Eh? Why do you want to know?”

“Don’t answer a question with a question.”

“Err…who was it again? Weren’t you the one who told me?”

“Impossible. I only heard about it just now when I went to the staff room. There shouldn’t have been an opportunity for you to find out.”

“Really?”

“This kind of rumor immediately spreads everywhere. But apparently even this babbler, Kiri, didn’t know about it.”

Daiya’s probably right, considering Kiri’s reaction just now. And not just her; no one in first year class 1-6 seems to have known.

“That’s why I concluded that the information was kept secret until today, the day of the transfer. But if so, how did you find out?”

“…Err?”

I wonder.

“Well, whatever. But isn’t it weird, Kazu? Why would someone transfer in at this point in the school year? There are probably special circumstances involved. For example, could she be some company chairman’s problem child who was expelled from a bunch of other schools? If that were the case, it’d make sense that the information was hidden.”

“Daiya, it’s not good to be speculating about the transfer student like that; it’s just prejudice on your part. I mean, that student’s already in a difficult situation even without your ‘help.’ Also, everyone’s listening on the sly.”

The rest of the students, who have indeed been surreptitiously listening to our conversation, smile awkwardly.

“Ah? Why should I care?”

Uwaa…

The moment I let out a sigh at Daiya’s high-handed attitude, the bell rings. My classmates scurry back to their seats.

Kokone, who sits next to the window, opens it and leans out. Apparently she wants to see the transfer student as soon as possible.

“Ooh!”

She raises her voice—she’s probably spotted someone who looks like the transfer student. After letting out that “Ooh,” Kokone then sits back in her seat with a frozen expression, even though she was so cheerful just moments ago before she looked out the window.

I wonder what’s wrong.

Kokone smiles and murmurs ‘this is amazing!’ Everyone probably wants to know what’s up, but our homeroom teacher enters the room at this point. The silhouette of a girl can be seen behind the cloudy glass of the classroom door. It has to be the transfer student. After looking around the classroom, the teacher realizes that everyone is wondering about the person behind the door, and quickly calls her in.

The silhouette behind the cloudy glass moves.

And then I see—her.

 

In an instant—

The scenery changes at once, as if I had been pushed off a cliff.

First, I hear a sound. The sound of the scenery being ripped away. Forcefully, violently, one image after another is thrust into my mind. Over and over, similar bits of scenery appear. I feel as if my consciousness is about to be blown away, but it’s then pulled back and firmly fixed in place, as if it were forcibly crammed into a little metallic box. Déjà vu. Déjà vu.

“I am Aya Otonashi.” I heard you.

“I’m Aya Otonashi.” I heard you.

“I’m Aya Otonashi.” Enough, I heard you already!

I reject the massive amount of information that’s trying to pierce my consciousness. I mean, there’s no way all this could fit. My brain would overload. I can’t process it all.

“Ah…”

What,

What incomprehensible things—am I…?

I realize that my thoughts are becoming completely jumbled, and forcibly shut down my brain—and then I return.

Eh? What was I just thinking about?

Having lost my train of thought, I face the front of the room and look at her again. I look at the transfer student, Aya Otonashi, whose name I don’t know yet.

“Aya Otonashi.”

The transfer student murmurs her name in a low voice, as if she doesn’t care whether we can understand her.

Aya Otonashi steps off the platform.

Her extremely simple self-introduction spawns a rush of chatter in the classroom.

She doesn’t care one bit about her bewildered classmates, and starts walking.

Towards me.

Looking directly at my face.

She sits down naturally in the empty seat beside mine, almost as if this seat had been prepared for her from the start.

Otonashi-san scowls at me suspiciously as I watch her silently, like a deer caught in headlights.

…I guess I should say something.

“……Err, I’m pleased to meet you.”

Her frown, however, does not change one bit.

“That’s all?”

“Eh…?”

“I asked if that was all.”

Was there something else to say? Even if you say so, I can’t think of anything. After all, this is the first time we’ve met.

But the atmosphere forces me to say something.

“……Err, your uniform. Is that uniform from your previous school?”

Otonashi-san does not react to my frantic words in any way and just keeps staring at me.

“…Eh, well?”

Seeing my confusion, Otonashi-san lets out a sigh for some reason and smiles. Her smile seems to demonstrate amazement at a shallow-witted child.

“I’ll tell you something good, Hoshino.”

…Eh? I didn’t tell her my name yet.

But that thought is a mere trifle. Otonashi-san says something to me that makes me sit completely still for a full five seconds.

“Kasumi Mogi is wearing light blue panties today.”

 

Kasumi Mogi’s basic attire during P.E. is her regular uniform rather than a gym outfit.

Today, she is once again watching the boys play soccer. She’s wearing her uniform like normal while remaining as expressionless as an ornament.

The white legs that peek out from Mogi-san’s skirt are so thin, they seem as if they could snap at any moment.

And I, for some reason, am sleeping with my head on her lap.

Ah, yeah. I don’t have a clue anymore about what’s going on, either. While I’m certainly feeling a sensation of bliss, I can’t really enjoy it since I’m desperately trying to stop my nosebleed with a tissue. Things wouldn’t go well if I failed.

By the way, I can remember how I ended up this way. Because Otonashi-san’s actions had left me all confused, I let a soccer ball hit me right in the face during gym class and got a nosebleed. Mogi-san was worried about me and for some reason, let me rest my head on her lap.

Mogi-san’s legs aren’t soft at all; to be honest, lying on them actually hurts my head a bit.

I wonder why she cares for me that way. I look up at Mogi-san, but her expressionless face tells me nothing.

But I am happy.

Very, very happy.

Otonashi-san’s comment about ‘panties’.

Of course it surprised me, and not just due to its abruptness and lack of context. What I mean is, Otonashi-san said ‘I’ll tell you something good.’ Basically, she declared that information about ‘Kasumi Mogi’ was ‘something good’ for me.

I haven’t even told Kokone or Daiya about my crush on Kasumi Mogi. So there is no way Otonashi-san, who I met for the first time today, could know about it. Nevertheless, she still said what she said.

“…Say, Mogi-san.”

“What is it?”

Mogi-san answers quietly. Her voice is like that of a little bird’s, which dovetails nicely with her small body and delicate appearance.

“Today, um, did Otonashi-san talk to you?”

“…The transfer student?…No.”

“You two aren’t otherwise acquainted, right?”

Mogi-san nods.

“Did she do something suspicious to you?”

She thinks for a moment and then shakes her head. Her slightly wavy hair sways.

“Why are you asking about this…?” she asks and inclines her head.

“Ah, no…if nothing happened, that’s fine.”

I shift my sight to the field. Otonashi-san stands alone in the center of the schoolyard with a daunting pose, showing no interest in the ball or the girls swarming after it. When the ball rolls casually toward her, she weakly kicks it back.…Err, did she just kick it to a girl on the other team?

“Mmhh.”

I might have been reading too much into what she said, thinking that Otonashi-san noticed my feelings for Mogi-san.

Otonashi-san had quite an impact on me because of her appearance and attitude. Yeah, I merely read too much into her comment because it was made so abruptly by a person with remarkable presence. That’s logic anyone could agree with.

And yet—why can’t I believe that?

Otonashi-san fixes her gaze on me, not looking away for a moment.

Staring straight into my eyes, she boldly lifts the corner of her mouth. Although class has not yet ended, she starts walking toward me.

Before I know it, I stand up. I’ve abandoned the privilege of sleeping on Mogi-san’s lap, which is supposed to be the source of my utmost happiness. My entire body shudders. It’s not hyperbole—I really am shuddering from head to toe.

Mogi-san, who seems to have noticed Otonashi-san as well, tenses up anxiously and stands up next to me.

With a daring smile, Otonashi-san points at me…no, at Mogi-san.

Just then.

There’s a sudden gust of wind—a completely random gust. A gust no one could possibly have foreseen.

This sudden gust lifts Mogi-san’s skirt.

“~~~!!”

Mogi-san immediately pushes her skirt down, but only in front. I am standing behind her. Right after the gust passes, Mogi-san turns around and looks at me. She is indeed expressionless as always, but her cheeks seem a little red.

She silently forms the words “did you see them?” with her mouth. Actually, she might actually have spoken out loud, but I can’t hear her low voice. I shake my head frantically. I guess that my frantic reaction clearly indicates that I’ve indeed seen her panties. But Mogi-san doesn’t respond and instead casts her eyes downward.

By this point, Otonashi-san is standing right next to me.

I get a glimpse of her expression.

“Aah—”

I realize why I am trembling so hard—I understood Otonashi-san’s expression. It reflects a feeling that has never in my life been aimed at me until now.

—Hostility.

Why? Why is there hostility directed at someone like me?

Otonashi-san raises the corner of her mouth and scowls at me. While I am still shaking but otherwise paralyzed, she places her hand on my shoulder and puts her lips to my ear.

“They were light blue, weren’t they?”

Otonashi-san knows everything. My affection towards Mogi-san, that a sudden gust would expose her panties, she knew it all.

Otonashi-san’s statement this morning wasn’t some kind of joke. It was a—threat to insinuate that she knows me perfectly, that she has grasped my way of thinking, that she’s in control of me.

“Hoshino, you should have recalled it by now, right?”

Otonashi-san observes me while I stand petrified. We stay like this for a few moments, but when I stay silent, she lets out a sigh and drops her gaze to the ground.

She murmurs her complaint: “So it’s useless, even though I went this far…I see, you’re even one level duller today.”

“If you’ve forgotten, remember it now. My name’s ‘Maria.'”

…’Maria’? No, err…you’re ‘Aya Otonashi’, aren’t you?

“…I-Is that your pen name or something?”

“Shut up.”

She scowls at me, not even trying to hide her irritation.

“Well then. You aren’t challenging at all like this, but in that case I’ll act at my own convenience,” Otonashi-san says and turns her back to me.

“Ah, wait…”

I instinctively stop her. She turns around, appearing stressed out. I can’t help but wince at the sight of her frown.

I’m not sure. But judging from Otonashi-san’s attitude, maybe—

“Could it be that we’ve met in the past?”

Hearing these words, Otonashi-san raises the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah, we were lovers in our previous life. Oh mine beloved Hathaway, how miserable thy current state! Thou wert not so lily-livered when thou cameth to save me, princess of thine enemy’s land.”

“………Umm, what?”

I am at a loss for words. Otonashi-san seems satisfied after seeing my confused state. For the first time today, she displays what seems like a genuine smile.

“I’m joking.”

 

The next day.

I saw Aya Otonashi’s corpse.

 

 

Jump up↑ Umaibō (うまい棒) or “delicious stick” is a small, puffed, cylindrical corn snack that resides at the bottom of most Japanese convenience store candy shelves

 

8,946th time

Upon hearing my words, Mogi-san’s eyes turn sad and she ponders for a while. With an uncomfortable look on her face, she then mutters:

“Please wait until tomorrow.”

 

 

2,601st time

“I’m Aya Otonashi.”

The transfer student murmurs only these words, and nothing more.

 

 

“Oh my god! That’s intense!”

My friend Haruaki Usui, who is sitting next to me, says so in a rather loud voice. He does so even though class is still in session, and vigorously slaps my back.

Haruaki? You know, that really hurts, and the looks that our classmates are giving us are also quite embarrassing…

Haruaki’s gaze is already turned toward the back of the room, where the transfer student, Aya Otonashi, is sitting.

“Our eyes met! That’s intense!”

“Well, when you turn around to look at her, then it’s only natural that your eyes meet.”

“Hoshii, it’s DESTINY!”

Wait, what? Destiny?

“Anyway, she’s just too pretty! She would definitely pass muster as a work of art on the world market…and then be acknowledged as a national treasure. Oh, it’s too late for me, my heart has already been stolen…I’ll go confess to her.”

That’s fast!!

The bell rings. After we stand up and bow to our teacher, Haruaki makes a beeline for Otonashi-san without bothering to sit down first.

“Aya Otonashi-san! I fell for you at first sight. I love you!”

Uwaa, he’s seriously doing it…

I cannot hear Otonashi-san’s reply but Haruaki’s face is a dead giveaway. Ah, no…it’s not even necessary to look at his face.

Haruaki comes back and stands in front of my desk.

“Absurd…I got dumped?”

He thought his confession could succeed…? It’s scary because he actually seems serious.

“Isn’t that obvious? Confessing to her out of nowhere will only annoy her!”

“Mh, I see your point. Well then, I shall confess again. But next time, I won’t do it so suddenly! My feelings are bound to get through to her one day!”

On the one hand his positive way of thinking is almost enviable, but on the other hand, I’d rather just avoid it entirely.

“Having fun? You’re providing me some pretty good entertainment, but the girls are giving you guys some serious looks of disdain.”

Daiya joins us with these words.

“Eeh?! Isn’t it only Haruaki who’s getting looked down on?!”

“Nope, you are, too. The girls regard you as birds of a feather.”

“Oho, flocking together with me as the same kind of bird? What an honor! Don’t you think so, Hoshii?”

A-Anything but…

“Leaving that aside, Daiyan, even you’d want to make a move on her, right?”

Haruaki elbows Daiya. He’s able to do that to Daiya without fear, probably because they are childhood friends. Or maybe it’s just because he acts impulsively without any concern for consequences…

Daiya sighs and answers right away.

“Not at all.”

“That’s impossible! In that case, Daiyan, who could possibly move your heart?”

“It doesn’t matter whether my heart beats faster because of Otonashi-san’s looks. I may have to acknowledge her beauty, but I still have no desire to make a move.”

“Huuh…?”

“Haruaki, you have zero understanding, don’t you? Well, of course such feelings can’t be understood by a monkey like you, who lives by following his instincts and would take any girl as long as she’s got a pretty face.”

“What!? To begin with, what does instinct have to do with caring about appearances?!”

“It’s human instinct to be attracted to someone beautiful because a beautiful child will increase the chances that your bloodline will survive.”

“Ooh”, “Ooh” Haruaki and I let out simultaneous breaths of admiration. Daiya looks amazed, as if he were shocked that we didn’t know something so basic.

“Ah, I got it, Daiyan! So you’re saying that her beauty is so far beyond our reach that even you can’t make a move on her! Inevitable defeat! That’s it, right? Like that fox who made himself think that ‘this grape is sour’ when he couldn’t reach it. Your behavior is called rationalization. How uncool! That’s so uncool, Daiyan!”

“How much of my talk did you listen to? What the hell?…well, the first half of your statement wasn’t necessarily wrong. But as for the other half of your speech—I’ll kill you!”

“Oho, so you really can’t make a move on her.”

Haruaki has a triumphant look on his face. Daiya finally punches Haruaki. Uwaa, it looks like all of Daiya’s frustration went straight into his punch …

“It’s not ‘I can’t make a move on her.’ It’s ‘she won’t make a move on me.'”

“How cocky…hey, Hoshii, isn’t that guy getting carried away just because of his looks?” Haruaki says without showing any sign of remorse.

“It’s not that she won’t make a move because I’m out of reach! Well, that could be possible as well, but in her case that doesn’t even apply.”

“Uwaa, he’s boldly saying strange things.”

“She doesn’t regard me as outside her reach, no, she doesn’t even engage in such a classification. She’s not interested in us to start with. She’s not even looking down on us. Just as we only register bugs as bugs, she registers people as people. That’s all. She doesn’t care about slight differences among people like my pretty face or Haruaki’s ugly face. Just like the gender of cockroaches doesn’t even cross your consciousness. How can you possibly make a move on such a girl?”

Even Haruaki seems overwhelmed by this merciless statement about Otonashi-san, and stays dead silent.

“…Daiya.”

I open my mouth in Haruaki’s place.

“Looks like you’re surprisingly interested in Otonashi-san.”

Daiya is at a loss for words. Ah, that’s an extremely rare reaction. But aren’t I right? Setting aside whether his opinion is correct, he must have observed her a decent amount in order to perform such an analysis.

“…tch, I have no interest!”

“Oh, you blushed!”

“…hey Kazu. You’re going to step on a land mine if you keep going down that road. Do you want me to show you a way to use a leek that you can barely imagine? You’ll end up with such a bad case of PTSD that the mere sight of leeks will cause you to break out in hives! “[1]

I realize that Daiya is quite angry, so I try to change the subject by laughing awkwardly.

Anyhow, Daiya seems to understand that he and Otonashi-san are totally incompatible.

“Despite your crap sense of intuition that’s on par with that of an insect, even you’ll soon become aware of her abnormality.”

It sounded a bit like a bad excuse.

But it really wasn’t.

You know, he was totally right.

 

Right after homeroom has ended, Otonashi-san suddenly raises her hand. Our teacher, Hokubo-sensei, notices her, but Otonashi-san doesn’t even care if he acknowledges her or not. She stands up and starts speaking before he even assents.

“I’m going to have everyone in class 1-6 do something right now.”

Otonashi-san ignores our dumbfounded response, and continues.

“It will take five minutes. You can spare that much time, right?”

Nobody replies, but she heads for the platform anyway. She nonchalantly ushers Hokubo-sensei out of the classroom, and then takes his place at the platform. Although this is definitely an abnormal situation, she somehow makes it seem totally natural. Judging by the my classmates’ reactions, they feel the same way.

It’s dead silent in the classroom.

While standing on the platform, Otonashi-san speaks as she gazes straight ahead.

“You will now write ‘a certain thing’ for me.”

Otonashi-san steps down from the platform and hands some papers to the students in the front row. Those students each take one sheet and pass the rest on to the students behind them; it’s just like they normally do with handouts that need to be distributed to the entire class.

I finally receive a copy. It is an ordinary, plain sheet of recycled paper that’s about 10cm long on each side.

“When you’re done, please hand it back to me.”

“So what’s that ‘certain thing’?”

After Kokone asks the question that’s buzzing through everyone’s head, Otonashi-san responds plainly:

“My name.”

With this comment, the previously silent classroom starts to get noisy. Fair enough, I don’t get it either. Her name? Everyone knows her name. She just introduced herself as “Aya Otonashi” this morning after all.

“How idiotic!” someone exclaims. There is only one person who could possibly say such a thing to Otonashi-san.

Daiya Oomine.

My classmates all hold their breath. Everyone knows that Daiya would make a terrible enemy.

“Your name’s Aya Otonashi. Why do you want us to write that down? Do you want us to memorize your name that badly?”

Otonashi-san stays composed despite Daiya’s aggressive speech.

“I would write ‘Aya Otonashi’. But I just told you that. So there’s no need for me to write it anymore, right?”

“Yeah, I don’t care.”

Apparently he didn’t expect such a simple affirmation and is left bereft of speech.

He clicks his tongue, tears up the paper as noisily as possible and leaves the classroom.

“What’s wrong? Why won’t you start writing?”

No one was able to start writing. It may not be obvious, but everyone is surprised and overwhelmed by her and her behavior. She just talked back to Daiya. As Daiya’s classmates, we know just how impressive that is.

Everyone stays frozen for a while. But once the scratching sound of someone’s pencil breaks the silence, the sound of scribbling starts to echo across the classroom.

I bet no one understands Otonashi-san’s intentions. But it doesn’t matter. In the end, there is only one thing we can write, after all.

There’s only the name ‘Aya Otonashi’.

The first person to deliver his paper to Otonashi-san is Haruaki. Once he stands up, several classmates follow suit. Otonashi-san’s expression doesn’t really change when she accepts Haruaki’s paper.

It was probably…the wrong answer.

“Haruaki.”

I call out to him as he returns to his seat after exchanging a word or two with Mogi-san.

“What’s wrong, Hoshii?”

“What did you write?”

“Mh? Well, you can only write ‘Aya Otonashi’, right? I almost forgot to write the last letter, though,” Haruaki says while seeming a bit disconsolate for some reason.

“…well yeah, I guess that’s the only choice…”

“Don’t vacillate so much—just write it down!”

“Do you really think she went through all that just to make us write down her name?”

If that were the case, I can’t understand why she bothered.

Haruaki immediately answers with “Of course not,” confirming my doubts.

“Eh? But…you wrote ‘Aya Otonashi’, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.…listen, Daiyan is so intelligent it’s not even funny, right? Well, on the other hand, his personality is so bad it’s not funny, either.”

Because he suddenly changed the topic, I incline my head.

“And he said he would simply write ‘Aya Otonashi’. So he couldn’t think of anything else to write. Of course I’d do no better. What I’m trying to say is, well, we can’t come up with an alternative, so we can’t write anything else, either.”

“If you can’t think of something…you can’t write it down.”

“Exactly. In other words, this exercise wasn’t directed at us.”

I get the feeling that Haruaki just hit the bull’s eye. He must be right.

In other words, Otonashi-san doesn’t care about most of her classmates and is only doing this for the person who can actually think of something else.

I understand why Haruaki seemed so depressed just now. I mean, he fell for her at first sight. His confession might have been half in jest, but I don’t know of anyone else he’s confessed to. So he was actually more or less sincere.

But she didn’t return his affections. His existence was being ignored…just like Daiya said.

“…Haruaki, you’re surprisingly bright.”

“The ‘surprisingly’ is unnecessary!”

While I try to hide my rude comment behind a bashful smile, Haruaki reacts by smiling bitterly.

“See you later. If I don’t leave now, I’ll get killed by my seniors. No, I’m not exaggerating!”

“Ah, yeah. Go for it.”

Our so-so baseball team seems to be pretty demanding.

I look down at my blank sheet of paper. I am about to write ‘Aya Otonashi’, but just can’t do it.

I gaze at Otonashi-san. Her expression doesn’t change in the slightest as she looks through the papers that were handed to her. I guess ‘Aya Otonashi’ is written on every single one.

—someone who can’t think of anything can’t write anything.

“——”

Then what am I supposed to do?

After all that, I do manage to think of something. For some reason, the absurd name ‘Maria’ comes to mind.

I’m aware that something’s wrong with me. ‘Maria’ of all things. I have no idea where this name came from. If I hand my paper to her with this name, she will just roar something at me, like ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me!’

But what if this is, by chance, the answer she’s wishing for…?

After some severe equivocation, I start writing on the piece of 10cm by 10cm recycled paper.

‘Maria’

I stand up and head over to Otonashi-san. There isn’t a line anymore. Looks like I am the last person left. I nervously hand her my paper. Otonashi-san accepts it wordlessly.

Then she looks at what’s written there.

And her expression changes. Massively.

“…eh?”

Otonashi-san’s eyes are wide open, even though she didn’t show the slightest stirrings of unease when facing off against our teacher and Daiya?

“Fufufu…”

She suddenly bursts into laughter.

“Hoshino.”

“Oh, you remembered my name.”

I instantly regret saying that. Because, when she stops laughing, she scowls at me as if I were her arch-enemy.

“…You…! Are you freaking kidding me?!?”

She seems to have frantically suppressed her anger, since she only manages to speak in a low, chesty voice. I expected the ‘kidding’ part, but the tone of her voice is rather surprising.

She seizes me by the collar with all her strength.

“Wa! I-I’m sorry! I-It’s not like I was messing with you…”

“So you’re telling me that you can write such an answer without it being some kind of joke?”

“…err, well. You…might be right. I might have been kidding around.”

This may have been the finishing blow.

Without ever letting go of my collar, she drags me in her wake, all the way to the back of the school building.

 

 

“Hoshino. Are you making fun of me?”

Otonashi-san shoves me against the wall of the school building and glares at me.

“I’m not that good at coming up with plans. I’m aware of that. So I came up with an insane plan that’s on the level of saying ‘Culprit, turn yourself in!’ No, you can’t even call it a plan. And yet…Why the heck are you taking the bait!? And this is already the second time I’ve done this! The first time you completely ignored it!”

She removes her hand from my collar, but the pressure of her furious gaze is more than enough to hold me in place.

Otonashi-san continues to glare at me while chewing on her lips, and then sighs.

“…no, I lost my composure because I finally got a response by using such a ridiculous method. But that means the situation is definitely improving, so I guess I should actually be happy.”

“…yeah, I guess. You should be happy! Hahaha.”

Otonashi-san scowls again at my forced smile. I should probably just stay silent.

“…I don’t get it. Actually, I was thinking you might have been defeated by my persistence…but what’s with this ignorant, relaxed face of yours!”

I’m not ignorant, I have no clue what you’re talking about!

“You kept ignoring me for 2,600 iterations. I refuse to surrender, however many times this endless recurrence shall continue. However, I still feel fatigue. You should feel the same, so how can you maintain such composure?!”

What should I…I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Apparently she finally notices my bewilderment and looks at me suspiciously.

“……are you perhaps not self-aware?”

“Self-aware? Of what?”

“…very well. Whether you’re acting or not, an explanation shouldn’t do much harm. Hm, right. To put it simply—I’ve already ‘transferred’ 2,601 times.”

All I can do is be blankly amazed.

“If you’re just acting then you’re quite amazing. But if you really ‘didn’t know’, it’d certainly be natural for you to have such a dull look. Whatever. I’ll explain what I know. Mh, right—today’s March 2nd, right?”

I nodded.

“It would be easier to say that I’ve repeated this March 2nd 2,601 times, but that isn’t quite right. For that reason I use the expression school transfer, although that’s not really appropriate either.”

“Haa…”

“I’ve been sent back to March 2nd, 6:27 A.M. 2,601 times.”

“……”

“‘Sent back’ is the correct expression from my own perspective, but it’s not universally correct. So I’m using the expression school transfer here, since it’s closer to what actually happens—”

Otonashi-san sees that my jaw has dropped and scratches her head.

“Aah, geez! Just how dumb are you! If there’s anything you disapprove of around 06:27 A.M., you simply declare it ‘void’, don’t you!” She shouts at me, practically boiling over inside. No, no…no one in my position would be able to follow her line of reasoning, right?

“…I don’t really understand, but you’ve been repeating the same day over and over?”

It happens at the very instant I say that.

“Ah—”

What? What’s this?

I press my chest, where an intense, strange sensation is attacking me. I feel uneasy…no, ‘uneasy’ is an understatement. It’s a deeply eerie sensation, as if your hometown were suddenly replaced by a totally different town and you’re the only person who noticed.

It’s not like my memories have returned. I haven’t recalled anything new.

But for some reason I can feel that something was there.

Otonashi-san is telling the truth.

Just the bare truth.

“Do you finally understand?”

“…w-wait a sec.”

She’s experienced March 2nd 2,601 times. That alone would be more than enough to throw me off my stride, but basically Otonashi-san is stating:

“…I am responsible for this?”

“Yeah,” Otonashi-san answers on the spot.

“W-Why would I do that?”

“How could I possibly understand your motives.”

“I’m not the one doing this!”

“How can you say that when you’re not even self-aware?”

I was about to say, ‘Why me?’ but I realize there’s only one thing that made me stand out.

I wrote ‘Maria’ on that sheet of paper.

“Just as you were unaware of these recurrences until now, other people who were dragged into this situation have no means to remember the iterations that were rendered ‘void.’ In other words: besides me, only the culprit should be able to write down the name ‘Maria’, which I’ve only mentioned in previous iterations.”

But I remembered this name. I have to admit that it’s unthinkable for a name like ‘Maria’ to spontaneously pop up in my head.

“I don’t know whether it’s effective, but I always try to behave so that I stand out in the memories of everyone else. I’ve been waiting for the culprit, who must also remember the past iterations that were rendered ‘void’, to make a mistake. Well, I wasn’t really expecting much from this strategy…”

“…when did you start suspecting me? I mean, you specifically mentioned this name-‘Maria’-to me in a previous iteration, right?”

“Actually, you seemed basically harmless, so I didn’t specifically suspect you.”

“So…?”

“Hmph, of course I tested each person one at a time by mentioning this name. After all, my time is basically unlimited.”

Her time is unlimited.

The time Otonashi-san has spent. A length of time so great, “unlimited” can’t even be called a figure of speech anymore.

I understand. Her time is basically unlimited, so that’s why she came up with this random plan of making the class write down her name–in the slight hope that someone would write ‘Maria’. Even if she didn’t have any real chance of success. All her best plans had been exhausted long before the 2,601st school transfer, so it was probably just a way to kill time until she came up with a new plan. In order to stay sane, trying a nearly hopeless plan is still better than doing nothing at all. After all, the time she spends within these ‘School Transfers’ could possibly last forever.

That’s why Otonashi-san got so angry when I fell for this trick. It’s like when no matter how hard you try, you can’t beat an enemy in an RPG and thus train and level up desperately–but in actuality, you could have easily beaten him just by using a certain easily obtained item. You reached your goal in the end, but you desperately resent wasting all that time and effort.

“Well, let’s cut short this idle chatter. After all, nothing’s been resolved.”

“Is that so?”

“Of course. Or does the situation seem settled to you? Does this consecutive nightmare, the Rejecting Classroom, look like it has ended to you?”

The Rejecting Classroom? I guess that’s what she calls her repeating hell.

At any rate, there is just one point that still bugs me.

“You know, I can understand why you treat me as the culprit because I’ve written ‘Maria’. But listen, to begin with, why are you not affected by this Rejecting Classroom?”

“It’s not like I’m unaffected; actually, I’m just as affected by the Rejecting Classroom as anyone else. If I surrendered and stopped trying to preserve my memories, the ‘Classroom’ would capture me right away. I would live meaninglessly within this endless recurrence. Giving in would be as easy as spilling a cup of water that you’re precariously balancing on top of your head. We would forever continue experiencing this one day that you’re rejecting.”

“All that would happen if you just forgot?”

“Think about it. Is there any other person who could possibly notice this recurrence? After all, even you weren’t aware of the recurrence, and you’re the one who set it up…”

…she might be right. After all, she already has repeated 2,601 iterations.

“It would be infinitely easier for me to abandon my efforts to remember. But that will absolutely never happen.”

“…never?”

“Yeah, never. It’s not possible that I give up. I don’t care if have to repeat this day 2,000 times, 20,000 times or a bajillion times, I will overcome this recurrence and achieve my goal.”

2,000 times. We often come across ‘2,000’ as a unit in our daily lives. But if we have to really pile it up piece by piece…for example, there are 365 days in a year, 1,825 days equals five years…and that still wouldn’t be enough yet to hit 2,000 days.

Otonashi-san has already spent more time than that in the Rejecting Classroom.

“Hoshino. Are you also unaware of why you created this Rejecting Classroom?”

“Eh?…yeah.”

“Fufu, I see. Assuming that you’re playing dumb just to dodge this question, there’s certainly some meaning behind all this. If so, your acting is quite solid.”

“I-I’m not acting!”

“Well, then I’ll ask you—”

Otonashi-san smiles faintly.

“Hoshino, you have met—him, haven’t you?”

—who?

…Is not the question I ask myself right now, for whatever reason. Who have I met? I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Still, I understand.

I have met ‘*’.

When? Where? Of course I couldn’t know such a thing. That isn’t part of my memories. Even so, I can feel that we’ve met.

I try to remember. But the information is blocked off, as if by a shutter coming down at extreme speed. Attention! You may not enter. Authorized personnel only.

“Fufu, so you met him,” she chuckles.

Otonashi-san is now convinced. And I am convinced as well.

I, Kazuki Hoshino, am the person responsible for this situation.

“He should have handed it over to you. The box that grants you a single wish.”

She suddenly uses the word box. Based on what she’s said thus far, that box seems to be the tool that produced this Rejecting Classroom.

“Ah, I didn’t tell you my goal yet,” Otonashi-san tells me while chuckling.

“My goal is—to obtain the box.”

Then her laughter disappears without a trace. Otonashi-san, who is convinced that I own the box, scowls at me coldly and issues a command:

“Now hand over the box.”

I definitely have the box. There’s no alternative, right?

But is it really alright to hand over this box that grants any wish to her?

I mean, Otonashi-san has endured 2,601 repetitions just for the sake of obtaining this box. So she has a wish that justifies such an enormous effort. She wants to grant her own wish; even if it means making light of my wish by stealing my box.

—She is driven by a determination that borders on abnormality.

Right, that’s abnormal. Aya Otonashi is abnormal.

“…I don’t know how.”

I’m not lying. But I’m also trying to show some resistance.

“I see. So you’ll hand it over to me once you figure out how to do it?”

“Well…”

“Forgetting how to give it up is common. But you haven’t forgotten permanently; somewhere, deep down, you still know how to do it. Just like you never forget how to ride a bicycle: you may not be able to teach other people to ride it, but you still instinctively understand how to do it. You’re just bewildered because you can’t convert that understanding into words.”

“…is there no way to end the Rejecting Classroom without removing the box?”

Otonashi-san shoots a cold glance at me.

“So you don’t plan to hand it over to me. Is that what you’re trying to say?”

“I-It’s not like that…”

Sensing my obvious panic, Otonashi-san lets out a quiet sigh.

“Let’s see. I guess the Rejecting Classroom would also end if we crushed the box along with its owner.”

“Crush it along with its owner…?”

‘Owner’ probably refers to the culprit holding the box—in other words, me. Crush it along with me? In short—

Otonashi-san represses her feelings and says coldly: “The Rejecting Classroom will end if you die.”

 

Is this reason enough to prepare a ‘******’?

Are you telling me that you plan to do this to me as well if necessary? In that case, please do it quickly; that’d be easier to bear.

The morning of March 3rd. At a rainy crossroads with poor visibility.

I have thrown aside my umbrella and look at the ‘******’. Nothing else really registers. The truck that has crashed into the wall and Otonashi-san, who is just standing there, neither is being processed by my brain. A red liquid is flowing continuously; there’s so much of it that the rain can’t even wash it away.

A cor***, missing half of its head, whose bra** have splashed everywhere. ***pse. Corpse. Corpse. CORpse. CorpseCorpseCORPSE. corPSE. CorpsecorpseCORPSE. Corpse. Corpse. Corpse!

Haruaki’s ‘Corpse’.

“—ah”

Once I finally recognize the thing before my eyes, I start to vomit.

I look at Aya Otonashi. She is staring expressionlessly at me.

“……Haruaki”

But don’t worry, Haruaki!

You know, this will be undone anyway.

This will be conveniently declared ‘void’.

……Oh? Could it be…

Could this be the reason I wished for the Rejecting Classroom…? Because I’m rejecting a situation like this?

 

Jump up↑ a not-so-subtle reference to a folk remedy that involves the use of leeks (well, technically, spring onions) as a suppository in order to cure colds. http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1233508952

 

2,602nd time

“I’m Aya Otonashi.”

“—ah”

Right at that instant, a crimson image flashes through my mind. It’s an image that has been buried in the depths of my memories, although I saw it for a moment just now.

And as if my brain were connected to that image by a thread, the rest of my recollections of the 2,601st school transfer are also drawn into my consciousness.

I have to praise myself for not screaming out loud.

“Mh? What’s wrong Hoshii? You look really ill, are you ok?”

Haruaki, who is sitting beside me, is worried about me.

Haruaki, who should have been run over by a truck, smiles at me.

An inevitable unease. Nausea. A giant flood of information completely overwhelms me, as if I am its prey and just got totally consumed. My mind can’t keep up with the information overload and gets severely stressed.

Last iteration’s memories just got connected with my current memories.

The connection is so lively and clear—

“But really, Aya-chan is too cute. I’ll confess my love to her.”

—because of Haruaki’s corpse.

And now he falls in love at first sight with Aya Otonashi once more, although she made him suffer so horribly.

I look at Otonashi-san and our eyes meet. She is glaring at me. With a daring grin, she is glaring at me.

…was making him into a corpse supposed to coerce me into handing over my box?

If so, her plan is way too effective. Threatening me by showing me a corpse, implying that “I’ll kill you”…And by using the corpse of my friend, she also corners me with guilt. I realize that in theory none of this is my fault; it’s all Otonashi-san’s doing. But confronted by an actual corpse, theory gets blown away and instinct takes over—my spirit is easily broken.

If I could, I would give her the box right away. But fortunately, I just don’t know how.

…fortunately? That’s not right. I mean, since this attack is so effective, Otonashi-san will definitely continue.

Until she breaks my spirit.

Otonashi-san descends from the platform and approaches me.

She stands right beside me.

Staring straight ahead without looking at me, she murmurs:

“Looks like you remember.”

 

If things continue like this I’m going to break.

I played dumb and ran away from Otonashi-san, even though I know it’s useless.

I somehow have to come up with a counter-measure while avoiding her.

That’s why—

“Have you told me everything, Kazu?”

—I consulted the most intelligent person I know, Daiya Oomine.

Daiya leans against the corridor wall and is obviously in a bad mood—probably because my explanation used up the entire break between first and second period.

“So? What do you want from me after telling me about this novel idea?”

I bluntly unloaded the entire story, including the stuff I learned from Otonashi-san, without omitting a single detail. Still, it is what it is—I didn’t expect a realist like Daiya to believe my tale, so I turned it into the scenario of a novel.

“I was wondering what the protagonist of this story should do.”

“If we think broadly about his options, he’s probably supposed to oppose that ‘transfer student.'”

Naturally, I’m the protagonist and Otonashi-san is the transfer student in this scenario.

Since I adopted the story as is, Daiya noticed that the transfer student is ‘Aya Otonashi’. But he just smiled wryly and said, “so she was the model.” He appears confident that our discussion is purely hypothetical.

“But…I don’t think the protagonist can compete against the transfer student.”

“I guess that’s true at the present time.”

The opponent is Aya Otonashi. A person that goes so far as to transfer 2,602 times and even produces corpses in order to obtain the box. I don’t think that I have any chance of beating her.

“But it’s possible for the protagonist to obtain power at a later point that matches the transfer student’s,” Daiya says carelessly.

“Eh—?”

Of course I consulted with Daiya in order to find a solution. But I did so with low expectations, like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Honestly, I didn’t expect that he would come up with anything.

“What’s with that reaction? Well then, tell me, what makes the transfer student superior to the protagonist?”

“Eh? Well—”

“Aah, no, you’d better not answer. You’d just piss me off with some totally stupid answer.”

…I’m allowed to get angry, right?

“The difference between the protagonist and the transfer student is a difference of information. The transfer student can use this difference to manipulate the protagonist like a puppet. It’s simple. All she needs to do is control the flow of information and only give the protagonist info that helps her out.”

That’s…right. Otonashi-san can toy with me at her leisure as soon as I forget about what’s going on.

“On the other hand, if he narrows the gap between their levels of information—the main reason he can’t compete with her—it could somehow work out for him. So he just n

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